With their heartbreaking 4-0 loss to the St. Cloud State Huskies in the first round of the NCAA tournament, the Minnesota State Men’s Hockey team concluded the 2022-23 season with a 25-13-1 overall record including going 16-9-1 in CCHA play.
The Mavericks were faced with tough shoes to fill heading into this season, following the most successful season in program history that saw the team fall just short of the national title. But the biggest question surrounded the goaltending position following the leave of the 2022 Hobey Baker winner, Dryden McKay.
McKay had been the backbone of the Mavericks’ program ever since arriving on campus as a young, but promising goaltender. His leave required Minnesota State head coach Mike Hastings to do a fair share of searching among his three goaltenders early this season to find out which could be his go-to man.
And with three non-conference matchups with college hockey’s historic powerhouses to start this season, Hastings was given opportunities to test out both sophomore and freshman goaltenders, Keenan Rancier and Alex Tracy. While Hastings was searching for his potential starter those first six games, two unlikely forwards were blooming at point-per-game averages, in senior Sam Morton and junior David Silye.
In retrospect, not many could say they picked Morton or Silye to open the season with their respective scoring streaks considering the talent they had around them. But the Mavericks took the first major blow to their roster in their first meeting with St. Thomas, when Morton took a nasty fall into the boards and injured his knee, knocking him out for the rest of the season.
The Mavericks were lacking in production from their group of seniors which had taken them to two straight Frozen Fours heading into this season. And the question marks surrounding the group affected their record as well, as the Mavericks were swept in two straight home series – a stat which hasn’t happened in several years.
But the Mavericks were looking to make a momentum shift heading into the 2023 calendar year. Minnesota State opened 2023 by winning eight straight games including a statement series sweep on the road against CCHA foe Northern Michigan.
In the process, Hastings found trust in Rancier as his starting goaltender who started the rest of the games during the season. The Mavericks had a few hiccups during the last few games of the regular season.
“Just the selflessness over the second half,” said sophomore forward Zach Krajnik. “I think we’ve grown a lot in these last couple months and there’s nobody I want to go to battle with than these guys.”
But a dramatic regulation win in the final game of the regular season against Michigan Tech was enough to secure the Mavericks their sixth-straight McNaughton Cup awarded to the CCHA’s regular season champion. Minnesota State took care of business in the first two rounds of the conference playoffs, outscoring Lake Superior and Ferris State by a 15-4 margin in three games.
Taking care of business in the opening rounds, Minnesota State met up with Northern Michigan one final time in the CCHA championship for the coveted Mason Cup. In one of the most heart-stopping, thrilling games in Maverick history, Minnesota State defeated Northern Michigan to secure their spot in the NCAA tournament.
Under 24 hours after the Mavs knocked out the Wildcats, they learned that they’d be facing off in the toughest region in the tournament against St. Cloud State. The Mavericks had lost two one-goal games against St. Cloud earlier in the season, but were a different team and were looking to leave that series a distant memory.
Unfortunately, the Mavericks couldn’t hold off the Huskies and were eliminated from the tournament by a 4-0 final score.
“The group that is gonna be moving on whether it be guys graduating or some underclassmen getting opportunities to play at the next level, I want to say thank you,” said Hastings. “I want to make sure they’re recognized for the work they’ve done in elevating our program to where it’s at.”
Write to Karson Buelow at Karson.Buelow@mnsu.edu
Header Photo: MSU Men’s Hockey team season concluded with a 25-13-1 record. Highlights of the season were reaching their sixth-straight MacNaughton Cup win, two-time Mason Cup Champions, and back-to-back NCAA D1 tournament appearances. (Dylan Engel)