By Shane Frederick
Free Press Staff Writer
— There was an emotional scene on the ice following the Dec. 15 Western Collegiate Hockey Association game between Minnesota State and Nebraska Omaha at Omaha’s CenturyLink Center.
The game ended in a 5-1 Omaha victory and a weekend split, and the traditional post-series handshake morphed into a nontraditional hockey hug-fest.
Minnnesota State players embraced UNO assistant coach Troy Jutting, while Omaha players did the same with MSU coach Mike Hastings.
Last April, big changes took place with the hometown Mavericks.
After a second-straight 11th-place finish in the WCHA and a third consecutive year of declining attendance at the Verizon Wireless Center, Minnesota State decided to relieve Jutting of his head coaching duties after 12 seasons and reassigned him to an administrative role in President Richard Davenport’s office for the remainder of his contract.
About two weeks later, MSU hired Mike Hastings, then the associate head coach at Nebraska Omaha, and charged him with the task of turning around the MSU hockey program.
Hastings began his duties on April 17. Four months later, Jutting was hired to work for coach Dean Blais’ staff on the Omaha bench. Although it was not a direct job swap (Jutting replaced a second assistant who left that offseason), it did make for a touching scene after a hard-fought couple of games before Christmas.
“It’s a perfect example of how small the hockey world is with Troy there,” Hastings said the week before the UNO series.
At the midway point of his first season at Minnesota State, the school couldn’t be more pleased with the hire.
Hastings might be the coach of the year so far, leading the Mavericks to a 10-6-2 record that included a seven-game winning streak and a No. 18 ranking in the most recent national poll. The team’s eight WCHA wins already equal the total it had last year as well as the year before.
And while attendance at MSU’s seven home games hasn’t skyrocketed, the average is up 458 from last year to 3,696 per game. The Mavericks are 4-2-1 at home so far and have nine home games remaining in the regular season, including Jan. 11-12 against Wisconsin, Jan. 26 against Minnesota, Feb. 15-16 against Michigan Tech and March 8-9 against North Dakota.
With the way the first half of the season has gone, of course, Hastings and the Mavericks are hoping they’ll have a couple of home playoff games, too.