Since the program’s inception in the late 1990s, Minnesota State’s Men’s Hockey team has been a work in progress. That progress peaked in recent years as the team consistently packed the Mayo Clinic Health System Event Center made back-to-back appearances in the Frozen Four.
With the departure of a considerable number of names including long-time bench boss Mike Hastings this past week, Maverick fans have been left in disbelief and shock as Minnesota State’s athletic department continues the search to find replacements. But amid all the back-turning and uncertainty, there still remains a great deal of optimism for Maverick fans regarding the future.
Turning the page and dealing with adversity is something the Mavericks have had to deal with all year with their mediocre encore following last year’s National Runner-up performance. But the current loss of seven players to professional deals and an additional four to the transfer portal is a new kind of adversity.
“I think we were one of the only teams in the country that didn’t have a player go in or out of the transfer portal last year,” said Maverick Blue Line Club president Jason Beal. “It’s kind of a unique time right now, but I’ve never seen anything like this before.”
Many Maverick fans understood they’d be pushing their luck hoping any of their eligible seniors would return for a fifth year, but when news broke surrounding the coaching changes, it began a downhill effect that saw freshmen Christian Fitzgerald and Simon Tassy, sophomore Bennett Zmolek, and junior standout David Silye enter the portal. But according to MSU Athletic Director Kevin Buisman, Minnesota State has had a contingency plan for several months in the event that Hastings stepped down as head coach.
To add fuel to the fire, the Mavericks released a statement three following Hastings’ resignation that associate head coach Todd Knott declined the opportunity to fill the position, leaving the Maverick faithful in frustration.
“When you’re having the success you’re having, you become a highly desirable prospect,” said Beal regarding Hastings. “When jobs like the Wisconsin job open up, you can’t fault him for taking it; it’s a career move that’s exponential.”
“In my role I’d like to see what the collateral damage is going to be,” said Beal. “I’m sure there’s going to be some changes, but I don’t think we’re set up for doom and gloom.”
With arguably half of last year’s team not returning, it begs the question: what’s next? How can a team with such high praise in the college hockey scene transition from losing several key components of this year’s roster to putting together a squad that can skate with anyone in the nation?
The answer to that question is: nobody really knows. What’s understood, however, is the Mavericks have built a passionate community of fans that is hard for recruits and transfers to dismiss. And with 12 solid names on Minnesota State’s recruiting list, fans should understand the bright future around the program.
Cade Littler, a Maverick commit and 2022 draft pick with the Calgary Flames, currently sits at 68 total points in 51 games with the Wenatchee Wild in the BCHL and is expected to join the Mavericks as early as next year. In addition, Graham Ganache of the USHL’s Tri City Storm is currently projected to finish this year with 59 points in 62 games and is also available to make his Maverick debut as early as next year.
Furthermore, the Mavericks’ recruiting list features San Jose Sharks draft pick Resse Laubach, NAHL 58-point scorer Kade Nielsen, and offensive defenseman Aaron Pionk (brother of NHL defenseman Neal Pionk).
To acknowledge the elephant in the room, yes, every one of these players has the option to decommit from Mankato following the recent coaching changes of Hastings and Knott. But it’s highly unlikely all of them will, and an even better chance we’ll see these young players in purple and gold starting next season.
Additionally, the Mavericks have the opportunity to recruit current players from the NCAA’s transfer portal. Some of the top current players in the portal the Mavericks should express interest in are 35-point scorer Ryan Miotto of Canisius, 25-point scoring defenseman David Melaragni of Canisius, and possibly sophomore goaltender Logan Terness of the University of Connecticut.
But in order for these players to fully commit to the program, finding a head coach is first priority. Who should the Mavericks target? The list isn’t that long.
Dan Muse, head coach of the U.S. National Team Development Program 18s has a resume like none other. Other than leading USA’s premier development program, Muse has coached in the NHL with Nashville, in the NCAA with Yale, and in the USHL with Chicago.
Another top candidate includes Nick Oliver, head coach of the USHL’s Fargo Force. Oliver has also had other positions as an assistant coach with St. Cloud State University and director of scouting with the USHL’s Sioux Falls Stampede.
So what’s next for the Mavericks after a week of unprecedented change and adversity? Find a coach and understand that the future remains bright with the groundwork laid in previous years by Hastings and Knott.
“The last 11-12 years have been really special and the support has built that up,” said Beal. “It’s not only coach Hastings, it’s the community and the business people in the community that have boosted this team up. I’m just hoping the next coach gets a fair shot to do something similar.”
Write to Karson Buelow at Karson.Buelow@mnsu.edu
Photo Header: Minnesota State’s Men’s Hockey team looks to build up a new roster for the upcoming season after facing huge losses this off-season. (Dylan Engel)