After a tough exhibition game loss at the hands of the unranked University of Nebraska-Omaha, the #5-ranked Minnesota State University Mankato men’s hockey team is prepared to kick off their regular season action this weekend against the #2-ranked University of Minnesota. The Mavericks will make the drive up I-169 to Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis on Friday night before returning to Mankato for a Saturday-night tilt.
This weekend will mark meetings 62 and 63 all-time between the two storied opponents and their last meeting since Minnesota State handled Minnesota 5-1 in last year’s Frozen Four. But Maverick fans shouldn’t be quick to label this weekend’s series as they lost two scorers from last year’s meeting and will be facing a younger, much more talented Gopher team in addition to several returning elites.
Taking a look at the Gopher roster, it becomes very apparent at the collection of talent they’ve been able to recruit: junior defenseman Brock Faber, freshman forward Logan Cooley, and sophomore forward Matthew Knies, among others. Minnesota State head coach Mike Hastings commented on this talent and how the Mavericks have been planning to contain it.
“With it being the first game of the season, we have a lot on our own plate,” Hastings said. “We have to make sure we’re defending and bringing it to their players. If we give them too much time and space, especially on an olympic sheet, they can make it count.”
Mariucci Arena is one of the few arenas in all of collegiate hockey that still uses an olympic sheet of ice. Compared to a standard sheet of ice, an olympic sheet is wider, giving more room to maneuver, but forcing skaters to skate more.
Senior Maverick forward Sam Morton commented about skating on an olympic sheet this Friday and how much of a difference it makes. “It’s a bigger sheet and that makes a difference, and it’s something we’ll see a little bit this year in other places like Northern and St. Cloud,” Morton said.
Regardless, the Mavericks seem to be energized and excited heading into the first series of the season. And while last weekend’s tough loss at the hands of Omaha has provided a plethora of learning opportunities, Hastings also believes there’s a lot to be proud of.
“Between Adam Eisele and the play made by Luc Wilson, I thought our freshmen showed themselves well,” Hastings said. “The energy is good. Every time we play the University of Minnesota, the guys are excited.”
Starting this year, the Mavericks are experiencing partial déjà vu from last year, opening on the road against a top ranked opponent. And as Hastings explained, the players seem excited and rejuvenated to turn the page and get the season rolling once again.
“I think it’s definitely an easy game to get excited for,” Morton said. “But I think there’s a fine line between being excited and being over-excited. We’re obviously taking it seriously and we’re excited but just playing it like any other game.”
Minnesota State will travel to the University of Minnesota on Friday to take on the Gophers for their first series of the year before heading back to Mankato on Saturday for game two. Start times are 7 p.m. on Friday and 6:07 on Saturday.
Header Photo: Minnesota State University, Mankato Mavericks will play the University of Minnesota this Friday at Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis, Minn. at 7 p.m. (Lilly Anderson/The Reporter)
Write to Karson Buelow at Karson.Buelow@mnsu.edu