Mavericks hockey prepares to face Bemidji State in CCHA final

Since its discontinuation after the 2012-13 season, the Mason Cup is now up for grabs. The Minnesota State men’s hockey team is now onto the Central Collegiate Hockey Assotion’s tournament finals, where they could become the first team since Notre Dame to claim the CCHA title. 

With an 8-1 semifinal win over the Northern Michigan Wildcats this past Saturday, the Mavericks now move onto the finals game against the Bemidji State Beavers. The Beavers took down the two-seeded Michigan Tech Huskies in their semifinal matchup, defeating Tech 5-2 on the Huskies’ home ice.

Bemidji is no stranger to facing teams who are destined to receive a bid to the NCAA tournament later this month, which includes matchups against North Dakota, St. Cloud State, and Minnesota Duluth on top of the Michigan Tech Huskies. The Beavers have taken down North Dakota and Michigan Tech in several of those bouts, and have proven recently they still have what it takes to do it again after reaching the CCHA finals after their semifinal win over MTU. 

“I don’t think the scores are indicative of the games we have played against Bemidji. Look at the history of our battles year in and year out. It’s usually 2-2 or 3-1,” said Mavericks head coach Mike Hastings on Wednesday. 

“They’re playing really good hockey right now. For them to do what they did, winning back to back hockey games in elimination at home against Bowling Green, and then go up to a very difficult place in Houghton and win 5-2… They’re battle tested.” 

Coach Hastings later explained, “We’ve got to be disciplined, stay out of the box, manage the puck, and make sure we are defending first. When we defend first, we are a better hockey team,” on what the team needs to do to be successful this weekend. 

Bemidji should make it a great contest on Saturday, but the Mavericks are more than ready to claim their first Mason Cup under the CCHA.

This week marked the week of awarding the end-of-season CCHA awards, with several Mavericks claiming team of the year and individual honors. 

Junior center Nathan Smith, senior winger Julian Napravnik, sophomore defenseman Jake Livingstone, and senior goaltender Dryden McKay all landed spots on the All-CCHA First Team for their respective positions. Freshman defenseman Bennett Zmolek also landed a spot on the All-CCHA Freshman Team.

As far as individual honors go, Smith, Livingstone, and McKay all earned CCHA player of the year for their work on the ice for their respective positions, with Smith and McKay also reaching the top-10 in the Hobey Baker finalist voting.

All three players have been undeniably great for the Mavs this season. Smith has totaled 18 goals and 30 assists this season while playing in 33 games. Smith also made his Olympic debut this past month at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics where he finished with one goal, one assist, and an average time on ice of 10:21 over a four game span.

Livingstone has been a great defender for the team this season, not only defensively but also by getting points on the board. The sophomore is sixth on the team in total points, where he has eclipsed nine goals and 20 assists. 

“He’s put a lot of effort into his diet, his training, and you’re seeing a lot of that come out this year. He is a guy that we rely on in all situations, power play, penalty kill, top four minutes as a defenseman,” said Hastings.

“If you’ve had a chance to get to know Jake [Livingstone], you appreciate him one as a hockey player, but even more so as a young man. He’s put an awful lot of work into getting to where he is at right now, and I am happy that he is having the success that he is.”

McKay has been an unbelievable backbone in the Mavericks’ success this season, playing in 38 games for the team while holding an NCAA-leading 34-4-0 record. McKay holds a .933 save percentage in the net, while also collecting nine shutouts in those games. 

The Minnesota State players are ready for the game this weekend, and even went out of their way to hand out student tickets at the Minnesota State campus’ Centennial Student Union on Wednesday. Seniors Reggie Lutz and Wyatt Aamodt represented the team on campus, and fellow senior Jack McNeely commented on the importance of the team not only welcoming the general public to their games but also the student population.

“The whole season we have had unbelievable support from both the community and the students here. I think the student section has been very loud this year and very supportive of our group. They make the atmosphere more fun for us. The crowd has been unbelievable this whole season. A big credit to that goes to our student section.”

Puck drop for the CCHA final game is set for 6:07 p.m. at the Mayo Clinic Health System Event Center on March 19th. 

Header Photo: Senior goaltender Dryden McKay (29) holds an NCAA-leading 34-4-0 record, has earned a .933 save percentage in the net, and has collected nine shutouts this season. McKay is a top-10 finalist for the Hobey Baker award and was most recently named the CCHA goaltender of the year. (Mansoor Ahmad/The Reporter)

Write to Kole Buelow at kole.buelow@mnsu.edu.

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