Minnesota State men’s hockey coach Mike Hastings talked Saturday night after his team’s lone exhibition game about how it would be nice to play a few more games that don’t count before the regular season.
“(Like) back in the junior days when you have four, five, six exhibitions or like the National Hockey League,” Hastings said. “We just don’t get to do that.”
The Mavericks did get one game, though, defeating the Canadian college Mount Royal 7-3 at the Verizon Center. This Friday, things will get real as No. 8 Boston University comes to Mankato for a pair of nonconference games.
Hastings acknowledged that his 11th-ranked Mavericks got at least got one practice game, while other teams had to jump right in Saturday and Sunday, the first two official days of the Division I men’s season.
“You’ve got Minnesota and (Minnesota) Duluth playing each other tonight, and it’s for keeps,” he said, “So we’re fortunate we got tonight.”
The Gophers and the defending national-champion Bulldogs played two games, tying on Saturday at Duluth before moving down to Minneapolis where Bob Motzko got his first win as Minnesota’s new coach, 7-4.
Five of Minnesota State’s WCHA brethren were in real action, too, getting mixed results in nonconference play (two others, besides MSU, had exhibition games).
Lake Superior State swept Merrimack 5-4 and 1-0, and Bowling Green defeated Mercyhurst 8-2. Alaska Anchorage split at home against Colorado College, rebounding from a 10-2 drubbing with a 4-3 victory and getting the first career victory for coach Matt Curley. Alaska’s new coach Erik Largen didn’t get his first win as his team and Alabama Huntsville were swept by Arizona State (3-0, 5-0) and Miami (5-1, 4-0), respectively.
As Hastings said, those games were “for keeps.” They not only count on those teams’ records but also will impact their and other teams’ Pairwise Rankings, the system that ultimately determine the NCAA tournament field, even though selection is a whole season — six months — away.
With their own important nonconference games coming up against BU, No. 13 North Dakota and now-No. 6 Minnesota, with a WCHA-opening series against Alaska mixed in over the next four weekends, an exhibition game gave Minnesota State a chance to get its players going at game speed and to mix lines to get a feel for what’s there at the start of the season.
The Mavericks do look different, too, and not just because they’ve finally embraced their school colors and put on purple-and-gold uniforms, top to bottom. Saturday gave them a chance to see how things look without a lot of reliable, longtime lineup staples who departed after last season — the forward group without C.J. Suess, Zeb Knutson and Brad McClure and the defensemen without Daniel Brickley.
Those are indeed big losses, although Saturday’s game, which featured seven different goal scorers for the home team, may have helped them realize those losses aren’t too big to absorb.
“We learned that we’ve got a good group, for sure,” said sophomore center Jake Jaremko, who had a goal and two assists. “We’ve got things to work on for sure, but we have a good group in the locker room, and there was a lot of stuff to be proud of.”
Shane Frederick is a Free Press staff writer. Call him at 507-344-6373 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @puckato.