Practice makes perfect: Mavericks prepare for the Frozen Four

With 11 days between games, the Minnesota State men’s hockey team must stay prepared for their upcoming Frozen Four matchup against the University of Minnesota. 

Following wins over Harvard and Notre Dame in the Albany Regional of the NCAA tournament, the Mavericks now await a trip to Boston in the hopes of claiming their first NCAA Division I title. MSU head coach Mike Hastings was excited to be returning home with the Mavs making their second straight Frozen Four appearance. 

Neither Harvard nor Notre Dame were an easy task for Minnesota State, where the team squeaked by with two one-goal wins.

Hastings explained in a press conference Wednesday, “I thought we had a really good start against a talented Harvard team and were able to get out to a lead and actually extend the lead. Then you knew Harvard was going to make a push, and they did. (Harvard) came back and stressed us out a little bit.” 

“It’s difficult to move on. … At this time of the year, you play a lot of one goal games. We were fortunate to get the first goal against Notre Dame and be able to ride Dryden McKay’s play as well as our defenders.”

The Mavericks are now practicing hard to face the Gophers in Boston, where the Frozen Four will see two Minnesota-based teams facing each other in the semifinal round. This year’s Frozen Four will mark not only the second straight year the Mavericks made it to the semifinal round of the tournament, but also the second straight year two or more Minnesota-based teams claimed a bid in the semifinal. Last year’s teams included Minnesota Duluth, Minnesota State, and St. Cloud State. 

Practices don’t quite look the same as they do in the middle of the year. Hastings explained them as, “Short and crisp and hard, and that there’s purpose to them.” 

The Mavericks head coach went on to explain the team will be taking the team captains’ word into account, as it is most important to be staying healthy and sharp with a long week ahead. 

“(Next) Thursday is a long way away from today. We don’t have to be perfect today. We’ve gotta be prepared when that puck drops a week from this Thursday.”

Teams close to home have Hastings’ eye this late in the season, and Minnesota fits that mold when it comes to game planning. 

“I know they are excited about playing us,” said Hastings.

“They’ve had success throughout this season. They had a bump in the road against Michigan in the championship game, otherwise they are a number one seed. They are everything that everybody talks about. They’ve got guys that once the season’s done are gonna step in and probably play in the NHL.”

The Gophers will pose a tough task despite coming into the Frozen Four as the only team slotted into a No. 2 seed. Minnesota claimed the Big Ten regular season title this year and made it to the Big Ten championship before eventually falling to the University of Michigan. 

Minnesota is a well-known producer of NHL talent, and coach Hastings did not sell the Gophers short when it came to that department. The Mavericks’ coach got the chance to coach a few of the Gophers’ players at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics on team USA, one being captain Ben Meyers. 

Meyers is having an incredible season for his team, scoring 17 goals and tallying 24 assists for a total of 41 points.

Hastings stated Meyers as a, “really good hockey player, really good.” Hastings went on to say, “He can beat you in a lot of different ways. He plays with pace, he’s strong. [Meyers] has no fear of playing inside the dots or getting to the paint.”

The Gopher’s captain is making a lot of noise around the NHL scene and is expected to get signed by an organization when the season ends. Meyers has even found himself inside the top 10 in voting for the Hobey Baker award, which is given to the best player in college hockey. 

“He’s energy driven, a self motivator. He’s a heck of a hockey player and a really good guy you want to be around,” said Hastings. 

The Gophers bring a lot of talent from Minnesota, and with several players on the Mavericks originally from the state as well, there will be a lot of familiar faces for both teams on the ice. Senior defenseman Andy Carroll, a Northfield native, is excited to get back to playing some of his former teammates and foes. 

“As a Minnesota kid, myself, I’ve played with and played against a lot of these kids growing up.”

But for Carroll and the team, “It’s another hockey game. You’re going to approach it the way you approach every game. We’re going to prep the way we always prep, but it’s always exciting playing an in-state rival for sure.”

Carroll did not forget to mention however that, “It’ll be an exciting time to play the maroon and gold.”

Header Photo: Senior goaltender Dryden McKay (right) saves a shot from sophomore center Ondrej Pavel (middle) at practice on Wednesday. March 30. The Mavericks are preparing to play Minnesota in the Frozen Four on April 7. (Mansoor Ahmad/The Reporter)

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

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