Minnesota State relishing moment as flagbearers of state's southern hockey hotbed
“We had … people come and enjoy and see what it is now and to understand there’s hockey in southern Minnesota, and throughout our borders, that it’s not just the Iron Range. Down here in Mankato the saying was, ‘This is how we hockey,’’” said Mavericks coach Mike Hastings.
MANKATO, Minn. — Years from now, kids sitting around the campfire at Lake Zumbro or Sakatah Lake or on the banks of the Minnesota River may hear their parents tell stories of the glory days of southern Minnesota hockey, and the amazing winter of 2021-22.
Long before a coach originally from Austin (Minnesota’s Bob Motzko) had beaten a coach from Rochester (Western Michigan’s Pat Ferschweilier) and a woman from Lake City (Gophers star Taylor Heise) had claimed the top individual honor in women’s college hockey, they had somehow crammed 10,000 frostbitten fans into a 6,500-seat football stadium on the Minnesota State Mankato campus to watch the Mavericks beat CCHA rival St. Thomas as the showpiece of Hockey Day Minnesota 2022.
“We had … people come and enjoy and see what it is now and to understand there’s hockey in southern Minnesota, and throughout our borders, that it’s not just the Iron Range. Down here in Mankato the saying was, ‘This is how we hockey,’’” said Mavericks coach Mike Hastings, who has his roots in the 218, in Crookston. “There’s just a lot of quality hockey and a lot of quality hockey people within this state. We’re proud to be a part of it, and it just continues to grow the game.”
Of course, the biggest accomplishment — which could forever hang on a banner inside the Mavs’ rink — would involve getting two more wins (to add to the ridiculous 37 they already have) in Boston and claiming MSU’s first Division I national championship. The Mavericks got to Pittsburgh last year, falling to in-state rival St. Cloud State in the semifinals. The luck of the draw has them head-to-head with Minnesota in the semis this year. They’re hoping to draw on experience when they face the Gophers, who MSU beat in a regional final last season.
“There’s a little bit different vibe because they have had an experience of being in a Frozen Four,” Hastings said, admitting that with a full complement of fans in the building and a post-pandemic experience ahead, they’re looking forward to having more fun this time around.
And if nothing else, they could provide a story fans can tell their grandkids someday about the best of times for hockey in southern Minnesota.