The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports

March 24, 2013

MSU hockey team gets NCAA bid

MANKATO — There was some nervousness over the last three days as the Minnesota State men’s hockey team waited to see if its record-setting season would continue.

After losing to Wisconsin in the WCHA Final Five on Thursday, the Mavericks did not control their own destiny, and their fate was in the hands of the teams still playing around the country.

“After practice (Saturday), we looked at what was going on, and it wasn’t until the Quinnipiac (win over Yale) that we knew we were in,” Mavericks senior defenseman Tyler Elbrecht said. “We were on the edge of our seats.”

On Sunday night, it was official.

Minnesota State will be the No. 3 seed in the Midwest Regional and play No. 2 Miami (Ohio) at 3 p.m. Saturday in Toledo, Ohio.

It will be MSU’s second trip to the Division I national tournament and first since 2003.

“It was great to look up there and see the Minnesota State Mankato emblem on the screen with everybody else in the tournament,” coach Mike Hastings said after a public gathering at Buffalo Wild Wings to watch ESPN’s selection show.

Hastings, too, was nervous after the Mavericks lost 7-2 to the Badgers on Thursday.

The Mavericks set a Division I-era record with 24 wins, going 24-13-3, and tied for fourth place in the WCHA. They’re ranked eighth in the country (11th in the Pairwise). While they seemed to have a comfortable hold on an NCAA berth, some scores weren’t falling their way on Friday and early Saturday.

“It was a little different for us,” Hastings said. “Throughout this year, we’ve been able to control our destiny, whether it was where we finished in the league and securing home ice. For the first time this season we were waiting for other people to do their business. It was a little different, stressful.”

Finally, some teams came through..

“We were excited,” Elbrecht said. “It’s the best feeling, knowing we’re going to play in the tournament.”

Now MSU will play Miami. Ranked third in the country (fifth in the Pairwise), the Redhawks are 24-11-5 and coming off the Central Collegiate Hockey Association regular-season championship. On Saturday, Miami lost to Michigan in the CCHA tournament semifinals. The Redhawks have a Hobey Baker Award finalist in sophomore forward Austin Czarnik. He was also named CCHA Player of the Year.

“They’re a good hockey team,” Hastings said. “I know that when you get to this time whatever card you draw is going to be tough.”

The other Midwest semifinal in the Midwest features top-seeded Notre Dame against No. 4 St. Cloud State. The regional final will take place at 3 p.m. Sunday with the winner advancing to the Frozen Four April 11-13 in Pittsburgh.

“We’re excited to keep playing, to be one of 16 teams still playing,” MSU sophomore and leading scorer Matt Leitner said. “We have the chance to do something really special.”

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