For the third Saturday in as many WCHA weekends, the Minnesota State men’s hockey team came through in a must-win game. The Mavericks defeated Bowling Green 3-2 on a Bryce Gervais goal 90 seconds into overtime to get a series split on the road.
That had to make the long bus ride home in the wee hours of Sunday morning a little more palatable.
If the must-win label seems a little strong for a pre-Thanksgiving game, feel free to call it a very much-needed victory, just like the overtime win over the Falcons two weeks earlier in Mankato and the Saturday-night win at Bemidji State on Nov. 3.
At 3-3-0 in conference play, the Mavericks certainly are in much better shape in the standings than they were a year ago when they had to dig out of a 1-5-0 hole.
While there are reasons to compare this season to last, there are some differences. The Mavericks are 2-4-0 so far in nonconference play, with the four losses coming on the road at Providence and Minnesota, now the No. 4 and No. 1 teams in the country, respectively.
A season ago, it was out-of-league success that boosted Minnesota State’s ranking. The Mavericks went 6-0-2, including a home sweep of Providence.
There remain two big nonconference games on this year’s schedule, and they will take place in the North Star College Cup in January at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center. The Mavericks will play Minnesota Duluth and either Minnesota or St. Cloud State in the tournament
In the meantime, Minnesota State has to make its hay in conference play.
The overwhelming preseason favorite to win the league is finding out — along with everyone else — that it’s not going to run away with the MacNaughton Cup.
While it’s too early to read too much into the standings due to the different number of league games each team has played, Ferris State is banking points, getting off to a fantastic, 7-0-1 start in WCHA play.
Going into the season, the perception of the WCHA is that it’s wasn’t nearly as strong as it was before the great college hockey schism of 2013 and that it could be a one-bid league for the NCAA tournament. An automatic bid will go to the Final Five winner.
Right now, it appears that the conference is stronger than that, though. Ferris State is ranked sixth in the nation now, and Lake Supeior State is 16th. Three other teams have overall winning records, and Bemidji State has 11 points after playing 10 conference games.
If the conference continues to stay strong, that’s a good thing for Minnesota State – provided it starts living up to those preseason expectations.
Funny thing about perception. After losing in overtime on Friday and being down 2-0 on Saturday, the Mavericks appeared to be in big, big trouble. After coming back to win and get a that split on the road, all might not have been well, but it sure was better.
The Mavericks need to stop putting themselves in positions to very much need those wins.
Perhaps they need to consider all of them that way.
Shane Frederick is a Free Press staff writer. Read his blog at mankatofreepresshockey.blogspot.com and follow him on Twitter @puckato.