The day has arrived, and the Minnesota State Mavericks will play in their first ever National Championship in program history during the Division I era tonight.
After beating Minnesota 5-1 on Thursday and Denver beating Michigan 3-2 in overtime, the title game is set. The Mavericks will be facing a tough Pioneers team that prides themselves behind tough defense and the nation’s leading scorer and Hobey Baker Hat Trick Finalist, Bobby Brink.
Yesterday marked the award ceremony for the Hobey Baker award, which is given out to the nation’s best hockey player. The three finalists included Brink, Minnesota’s Ben Meyers, and Minnesota State’s Dryden McKay.
McKay inevitably won the award, giving the Mavericks their first ever Hobey Baker recipient in team history. Brink could not have been far behind McKay in the eventual voting results by the Hobey Baker committee, and the Mavs’ goaltender is more than aware of Brink’s skills.
During McKay’s acceptance interview upon receiving the award, the moderator of the Hobey Baker show made sure to dig into what the Mavericks might have in store strategically for the National Championship game.
McKay looked towards the Denver forward at the front end of the stage and said, “They’ve got a pretty good leading scorer.”
Brink held the scoring title this year, totaling 14 goals and 43 assists this season, one point being in the form of an assist on Denver’s game winning goal against Michigan in the semifinal game on Thursday.
The Mavericks will have much more to stop outside of Brink if they want to be successful today. Both rosters have nearly identical looks atop their statistical standings, with one player being a 50-point member and three players being 40-point members.
For Denver, that group includes Brink at 57 and sophomore Carter Savoie, and seniors Cole Guttman and Brett Stapley within the 40s. Minnesota State’s 50-point getter is Olympian and future Arizona Coyote Nathan Smith, while senior Julian Napravnik and juniors Cade Borchardt and Brendan Furry round out the Mavericks’ 40-point members.
With offensive firepower and heavily disciplined defenses on both sides of the puck, Minnesota State head coach Mike Hastings knows the task at hand tonight will be difficult in bottling up and attacking Denver.
“Both teams, you watch Denver, watching the amount of tape that we have, they’re about as detailed a team that I’ve seen with their sticks, getting back on top,” said Hastings.
The head coach continued to say, “I just think there’s two sides of the game. You have to be committed to both sides of that I think to be effective at this time. That’s why I think both teams moved on with the opportunity for Saturday.”
It is hard to give an accurate guess on who will come out on top tonight, but Minnesota State’s 18-game win streak is one that many people find hard to look past. Despite the common notion being that this is something the team is wishing to remain intact, the Mavericks are only worried about one thing right now, and that’s a National Championship.
“There hasn’t really been any chatter at all about the streak we’re on,” explained junior forward Ryan Sandelin Friday. “We’re focused on playing good hockey and sticking to our identity. I think we’ve done that consistently for a while now. We need that to continue if we want to have success on Saturday.”
With the chance at holding a National Championship trophy tonight, the Mavericks could join elite company as one of the few programs ever to hoist their first trophy in Boston. The idea of being able to do so is something coach Hastings would never forget.
“To see the history, even Northeastern, the history of the game, what it’s meant, being from Minnesota, seeing some teams come out this direction and be successful, it would mean everything for this program just because of the work that these young men have put in from day one till today,” explained Hastings.
Hastings’ son committed to school out on the East coast, going to Northeastern. During visits out to the Eastern part of the States, the coach and his family made sure to learn and visit the extensive history of hockey.
Hastings and his family traveled to Boston to see Boston University, Boston College, and even Harvard, which allowed Hastings to grow appreciation for the state of hockey beyond his home state of Minnesota. Now Hastings and his group of Mavericks have a chance at making history and bringing something worth more than words can describe to the city of Mankato and the Southern part of Minnesota.
“When I grew up, you thought hockey died in the Twin Cities. It wasn’t anywhere south of that,” said Hasings. The Mavericks’ head coach continued saying, “What I’ve seen over the last 10 years is just growth, all the way from our grassroots.”
“I just think when you can become part of the fiber of the community at growing a game like that, everybody can enjoy it. Our building has become a place that people come to gather and then there’s a hockey game there, which I think is pretty unique.”
This year has been different from top to bottom for the Mavericks’ squad, and it has helped them reach successes the program has never seen before. The biggest part of it all: the team’s mentality.
All year long the players and coaches have preached playing game by game and focusing on what is possible, not what has been done. A MacNaughton Cup, a CCHA title, and reaching the Frozen Four out of the Albany Regional were great accomplishments for the team, but winning a National Championship is all the team has had in mind from the beginning.
“This year, when we won the regional, I just sensed a little bit different attitude from our guys. Had multiple individuals in that celebration come up and say, Hey, you know what, we’re not done yet. We want to get to where we’re trying to get to this Saturday,” explained Hastings.
“That was a big difference. I think that’s that experience where I think they were excited about getting here a year ago. I think there’s a little bit more focus on getting to the top instead of having this be short of what we experienced a year ago.”
Header Photo: Sophomore forward David Silye (10) celebrates with juniors Sam Morton and Lucas Sowder following his goal in Thursday’s semifinal game against the Minnesota Gophers. Silye’s goal helped the Mavericks gain a three-goal cushion on their way to a 5-1 win. (Mansoor Ahmad/The Reporter)
Write to Kole Buelow at firstname.lastname@example.org.