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Mavericks use a different recruiting model than the other three powerhouse programs at Frozen Four

Minnesota State University-Mankato has the fewest draft picks of the teams in the Frozen Four, but the most wins.

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Minnesota State University-Mankato lines up for the start of their game against St. Thomas University during Hockey Day Minnesota on Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022, at Blakeslee Stadium in Mankato. Mavericks starting goalie Dryden McKay (29) is one of three finalists for the 2022 Hobey Baker Award.
Jason Wachter / The Rink Live

BOSTON — When you look at the makeup of the rosters of the four teams at this year's Frozen Four, there are a couple of things that jump out.

Perhaps the most striking is when you look at the number of NHL draft picks on each roster: Minnesota has 14, Michigan 13, Denver 12 and Minnesota State University-Mankato has two.

The Mavericks are also the oldest team at this year's Frozen Four with an average age of 22.7. Denver has the second-youngest roster (21.4) in NCAA Division I men's hockey, Minnesota the fourth-youngest (21.5) and Michigan is eighth-youngest (21.6) among the 59 teams.

But here's the statistic that coaches care the most about: MSU leads the nation in wins (37). The Mavericks (37-5-0) play Minnesota (26-12-0) at 7:30 p.m. Thursday (ESPNU) in the national semifinals. This will be the second straight Frozen Four for the Mavericks and the first for the Gophers since 2014.

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Mike Hastings is in his 10th season as MSU's head coach and in that span, he has won more games (273-73-19) in that span.

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"One thing that's great about college hockey is that you can find a way successful in many different ways," Hastings said. "We just have to do it a little different way.

"It's well-chronicled that we recruit a little bit older players. We're still trying to mix in some of the young talent that's out there. But we, at the end of the day, we come in with a little bit heavier roster in terms as far as experience is concerned."

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Dryden McKay

One of the big reasons why the Mavericks are back in the Frozen Four is because of the play of Dryden McKay in goal. He is a good example of the type of player that has helped the Mavericks to all that success.

Undrafted, the 24-year-old from Downers Grove, Illinois, played four seasons of junior hockey, including two in the North American Hockey League and two in the United States Hockey League. His last season of junior eligibility in 2017-18, McKay played for the Madison Capitols, who finished eighth in the nine-team Eastern Conference with a 22-33-2-2 record.

The Capitols gave up the second-most goals in the league (224, 3.73 per game). McKay was second in the league in minutes played (2,754), but finished 21st in goals-against average (3.38). Perhaps a statistic that was a better indicator of things to come was that McKay was 11th in the league in save percentage (.907).

He has been the starting goalie for the Mavericks for four seasons. In 138 college games, he is 112-19-4 with a 1.45 goals-against average, .932 save percentage and 34 shutouts in his career.

This season, McKay is 37-4-0 with a 1.28 GAA .934 save percentage and 10 shutouts. He leads the nation in wins, is second in GAA and shutouts and third in save percentage. He is one of three finalists for the Hobey Baker Award.

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Minnesota State forward Nathan Smith (8) looks for a teammate to pass to against Bemidji State during the first period of the Mariucci Classic Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, at the 3M Arena at Mariucci in Minneapolis, Minn.
Jason Wachter/The Rink Live

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Smith leads the offense, Livingstone the defense

Perhaps the Maverick who has the most name recognition is junior center Nathan Smith, who played for Team USA in the Olympics and is third-round draft pick of the Winnipeg Jets. Smith, who was a top 10 finalist for the Hobey Baker, is second in the nation in points (50), tied for third in assists (31) and has won 57% of his faceoffs.

"We're going to rely upon what we've relied upon all season long: a leadership group that has been around the block," Hastings said. "We've got two super seniors in (defenseman) Jack McNeely and (forward) Reggie Lutz and then a group of seniors with Dryden McKay, an NHL draft pick in Nathan Smith and we're going to let them do what they've done, which is lead us on the ice, off the ice and everywhere in between.

"We're going to try to utilize our depth on Thursday to try to move on to a national championship game."

Oh by the way, undrafted senior forward Julian Napravnik is tied for third in the nation in points (49) and tied for second in the nation in plus/minus (plus-36) with McNeely.

Junior forward Brendan Flurry (12-31—43, +32) and junior forward Cade Borchardt (15-25—40, +36) round out the Mavericks' top four in points. Junior forward Ryan Sandelin is tied for sixth in the country in goals (21), has 33 points and is a plus-33.

Jake Livingstone, an undrafted 22-year-old sophomore from Creston, British Columbia, was named the CCHA Defenseman of the Year. Livingstone has 30 points, is a plus-26 and has 44 blocked shots for the Mavericks.

Mick Hatten is a reporter and editor for Forum News Service and helps manage TheRinkLive.com, a website dedicated to hockey. He began working for Forum Communications in November 2018 and has covered St. Cloud State University hockey since 2010. A graduate of St. Cloud State, he has more than 30 years of experience as a journalist and has been a youth hockey coach since 2014. mhatten@forumcomm.com
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