This may not be the WCHA of old, but Minnesota State now has 15 wins in league play with six games to play.
Last season, the Mavericks had a program-best 16 conference wins. They also hit the 15-victory mark in 2002-03, the Grant Stevenson-Shane Joseph season, and 1999-2000, their first official year in the league.
Looking at the upcoming schedule, it’s almost a sure bet that the Mavericks will reach an all-time win total for WCHA play, possibly as soon as this coming weekend against Alabama Huntsville (although you can’t take any opponent for granted; just ask Michigan which was shut out at Penn State on Saturday night).
Given that Minnesota State is unranked (receiving votes in the latest U.S. College Hockey Online poll), currently on wrong side of the Pairwise Rankings dividing line (tied for 20th as of Monday afternoon) and having some troubles on the road (6-12-0 record away from Mankato), the season hasn’t been perfect.
I received a text message from a fan following Saturday night’s 3-2 victory and series sweep over Bemidji State that said, “A win is a win.”
Pretty high standards, I thought.
First, folks simply wanted the Mavericks to win. Now they want them to win by five goals.
I, for one, don’t mind a little drama with my sporting events (although blowouts do wonders for my deadlines!).
No, the WCHA isn’t the same as it once was, and Minnesota State went winless in four games against some of their former league foes earlier this season. But the Mavericks, even with all of the expectations and preseason praise heaped upon them last fall, weren’t the only team in the revamped league looking to make a big splash.
Ferris State was one, and it’s in first place, two points ahead of MSU. Michigan Tech was another and needed a sweep over Huntsville last weekend to leap into third place. Alaska Anchorage entered the season determined not to be a league punching bag anymore and currently finds itself in the hunt for home ice for the playoffs.
“It’s hard to sweep in this league,” Mavericks coach Mike Hastings said on Saturday.
It’s also hard to argue that his hockey team hasn’t been good, especially at the Verizon Wireless Center where it is 11-1-0 and has won nine straight.
The atmosphere’s been good there, too, with packed student sections and crowds of 3,500-4,000-plus the last two home weekends with Ferris State and Bemidji State in town.
There have even been two marriage proposals during games this season, so the games must be meaningful, right?
Before last season, Hastings’ first at MSU, the fans endured three straight years of single-digit WCHA wins and nine straight of with marks of .500 or below.
The times — and the expectations — sure have changed.
Shane Frederick is a Free Press staff writer. Read his blog at mankatofreepresshockey.blogspot.com and follow him on Twitter @puckato.