For too long, Minnesota State has relied on its WCHA affiliation for recruiting and selling tickets. Now, the focus finally has to be on its own product and its own standards. Is the expectation to be simply competitive, as it so often was in the old conference? Or is it to be a consistent, 20-win team that expects to be playing deep into March?
Despite being a Division I sport, it can learn a lot from its Division II brothers and sisters. Minnesota State already has proven in basketball and football that conference affiliation does not matter.
Sure, folks look fondly at the rivalries and the top-to-bottom quality of the old North Central Conference days. But it's been as a member of the Northern Sun that those program have had their best teams and best seasons, competing on the national stage.
Those teams have defined themselves by who they are, not by who they play.
Hockey should be no different.
In coach Mike Hastings' first season, Minnesota State made its move, winning 24 games and getting to the national tournament for the first time in a decade. Now the Verizon's getting cleaned up, and there remains hope for future improvements to the facility.
The Mavericks have a team this season that would be good in any conference. But this isn't about looking good for the schools that jilted them and left them behind.
It's about being the showcase team at the civic center. It's about raising the bar and leaving it high.
Shane Frederick is a Free Press staff writer. Read his blog at mankatofreepresshockey.blogspot.com and follow him on Twitter @puckato.