By Shane Frederick
Free Press Staff Writer
— Less than two months ago, the Minnesota State men’s hockey team was still trying to learn how to win hockey games.
The Mavericks had some early success, including a nice home win over Minneota, but a pair of close home losses to Denver made folks wonder if the Mavericks, — even with a new head coach — would ever become a team that knew how to win those tough, one-goal games that often define play in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association weekend after weekend on a regular basis.
After getting swept by the Pioneers, though, the Mavericks began to taste the thrill of victory, and they savored it. The Mavericks went on to win nine of 10 games, a stretch that included an impressive seven-game winning streak.
After seeing their streak end at Nebraska Omaha on Dec. 15 and going on a short Christmas break, the Mavericks returned and immediately started a new streak. This past weekend, they defeated Brown and Connecticut to win the UConn Hockey Classic in Storrs, Conn.
Two years ago, Minnesota State went to suburban Chicago and won a holiday tournament. They surprised the college hockey world by upsetting Notre Dame and then defeated Brown to steal the Irish’s Shillelagh Tournament championship.
The difference between that New Year’s weekend and this one was that Minnesota State was the tournament favorite this time around.
The Mavericks got the job done out east, a perfect bounce-back from the loss at Omaha two weeks earlier.
On Monday afternoon, the U.S. College Hockey Online rankings came out, and Minnesota State moved up four spots to No. 14 in the poll.
While polls are mostly meaningless (I say that as one of USCHO’s weekly voters), they are indicitive of the current sentiment surrounding a team.
The Mavericks are considered one of the hottest teams in the country, and at the halfway point of the conference schedule, they sit in fourth place in the WCHA standings, just two points out of first.
Even with the higher expectations that came with the hiring of Mike Hastings, could you have imagined that scenario last spring, at the beginning of the season or even after that Denver series in mid-November at the Verizon Wireless Center?
But as 2012 ends and 2013 begins, the 12-win Mavericks are no longer flying under anyone’s radar.
After hosting Providence in their final nonconference series of the season on Friday and Saturday, they will get back to legaue play with a legitimate claim on an upper-half finish and home ice for the first round of the WCHA playoffs.
So now the question goes from, Can the Mavericks learn how to have success? to, Do the Mavericks know how to handle success?
Should be fun to watch.
Shane Frederick is a Free Press staff writer. Read his blog at mankatofreepresshockey.blogspot.com, and follow him on Twitter @puckato.