How Minnesota State men’s hockey built a winning culture

The Minnesota State men’s hockey team seemed to be a sure lock for an under .500 season before current head coach Mike Hasting’s tenure began. The 2011-12 season was coming to a close for the Mavericks as they looked forward to the WCHA postseason against a top-ranked No. 3 Duluth team. 

The Mavs had finished the regular season 12-22-1 overall before heading into the WCHA postseason and drew the No. 3 Bulldogs for one final time. MSU ended up getting swept in the series, bringing the team’s final record to 12-24-1 heading into the 2012-13 season. 

It became an “out with the old, in with the new” offseason for the Mavericks, as they moved on from their previous head coach Troy Jutting. Jutting finished his 12-year tenure with the team with an overall record of 184–224–55 with a .457 win percentage. While contemplating many coaching prospects, Hastings won the job and took over the program to make it the best it has ever been.

It was going to be hard to pass up Hastings’ impressive resume as he came onto the scene, where the coach led the USHL’s Omaha Lancers to zero losing seasons in his tenure. The Lancers captured three Clark Cup playoff championships along with two USA hockey national championships under Hastings, helping him win three coach of the year awards.

Hastings finished his tenure as the Lancers’ head coach as the USHL’s all-time winningest coach with a record of 529-210-56 before leaving the league for collegiate hockey in 2008. 

Hastings wanted to turn the Mavericks into winners, and he did just that in his first season. It felt like a whole new beginning for the team, as they went 24-14-3 including the postseason and inevitably made it to the WCHA final five before being knocked out by Wisconsin and Nebraska Omaha. 

It was disappointing to see the team turn the program around so fast but get knocked out of the WCHA playoffs, but it would only be a matter of time before the Mavs would never feel that way again. In less than a decade, coach Hastings has turned the Minnesota State men’s hockey team into a conference and nationally recognized program that is now known as “one of the best.” 

In his tenure, the Mavs have now played in six NCAA tournaments while making their first Frozen Four appearance in the 2021 season. The MacNaughton Cup, the prized possession of the WCHA regular-season champion, has practically made itself a permanent stay at the Mavericks training facility as the team has won the award six times in seven years (2015, 2016, 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021). 

MSU has also found themselves continuous contenders in the NCAA tournament, competing in the tournament six of eight possible times during Hastings’ time as coach. Most recently the Mavericks have been bouncing back from a heartbreaking loss in the 2021 Frozen Four.

The Mavs made it to the tournament drawing Quinnipiac in the first round. The team made an amazing comeback to bring the game to overtime tied 3-3. MSU ended up taking home the win after current junior forward Ryan Sandelin grabbed a rebound in the front of the Bobcat net to help the Mavs move on. 

From there, the Mavericks were faced with the West Region’s top seed Minnesota Gophers and took care of business with a 4-0 shutout to move onto the Frozen Four in Pittsburgh. Minnesota State inevitably was eliminated by St. Cloud in the first round of the Frozen Four, but their efforts that season will always be remembered as it is the team’s most successful season to date.

In accordance with his accomplishments, Hastings has brought loads of prospects and fans to the program who might have never considered Minnesota State a home. The Mavs head coach has won the American Hockey Coaches Association’s Spencer Penrose Award twice in his tenure at MSU, each coming in 2015 and 2021.

Hastings is also a four-time WCHA coach of the year and was picked as the WCHA coach of the decade in the 2010s as a part of the conference’s 70-year anniversary celebration in 2021. In addition, Hastings has gone on to coach the U.S. World Junior Team in 2019 and led Team USA to a silver medal.

The Mavs’ head coach is  now in line to join team USA once again as an assistant coach for the Beijing Olympics along with player Nathan Smith. Hastings explained in a press conference on Jan. 19 that there is a huge degree of importance that players make the national teams and that they always come back better players.

It is hard to look over the MSU head coach’s prestigious resume, and that has undoubtedly helped the Mavericks bring in top talent from across the world. In his time at MSU, Hastings has coached seven ACHA All-Americans including two-time nominee Dryden McKay. 

McKay has also become a top-three finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, which is awarded to the best player in college hockey while also being top-three twice for the Mike Richter Award, which is given to the nation’s top goaltender. Hastings has coached four players into ACHA First Team honors as All-Americans, which included Matt Leitner, Winnipeg Jets draft pick C.J. Suess, current Toronto Marlie Marc Michaelis, and McKay. 

The list looks to expand itself this year in addition to the previous players, as junior forward Nathan Smith and senior forward Julian Napravnik are both having tremendous seasons. The two players are in the top ten in points for this year, with Smith leading the group at 35 heading into Hockey Day Minnesota. 

Hastings has brought loads of fans to the team from across the country due to his successes in building the team. Success never goes unnoticed, which has helped the team gain national recognition from people who would have had little to no knowledge of the team outside of the state of Minn. 

For the team’s players, the Mavericks have gained more professional recognition than ever from  across the globe.

Header photo: Under head coach Mike Hastings, the Minnesota State Mavericks have reached the NCAA tournament six of eight possible times. The Mavs most recently made their first appearance at the Frozen Four in program history while taking down the Quinnipiac Bobcats and Minnesota Gophers in the NCAA West Regional.

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