The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Columns

September 24, 2013

MSU hockey needs to set the bar high

When the Minnesota State men's hockey team takes the ice at the Verizon Wireless Center for an exhibition game in less than two weeks, the building finally will feel like home.

Workers at the Mankato arena are putting the finishing touches on a summer renovation that included a new ice-making system and rink floor, as well as new boards and glass. The most visible change will be the seats, as the original red and blue chairs — wrongly colored from the start — have been replaced by purple ones.

Of course, if the seats are full of fans, it really doesn't matter what color the seats are.

On the eve of the college-hockey season, though, it's difficult to foresee what kind of crowds the Mavericks will draw this year.

On the one hand, MSU ought to be a pretty darn-good team. A few preseason prognosticators already have put them in the national top 10 following last year's record-setting season, and in the first USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll released Monday the Mavericks were ranked No. 14. On Wednesday, it's expected that Minnesota State will be named the team to beat in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, the favorite to win the MacNaughton Cup.

But, oh, that conference. That's the other hand.

This is the year the big conference shakeup finally takes effect. The once-great WCHA has been blown up and is no longer considered the best conference in college hockey. Gone are the well known power programs like Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota, as well as MSU's in-state rivals St. Cloud State and Minnesota Duluth. They've been replaced with less-familiar schools like Ferris State, Lake Superior State, Bowling Green and others.

But how much should the conference matter, really?

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