By Shane Frederick
Free Press Staff Writer
MANKATO — There are similarities between the Minnesota State and Miami hockey teams. Perhaps they are just coincidences.
Each team has 24 wins this season. Each has the Coach of the Year and Rookie of the Year in its respective conference. Each has been backstopped by a rookie goaltender (or two in the case of the Redhawks). Each is coming off a disappointing loss in last weekend’s conference tournaments.
Mavericks coach Mike Hastings said that the teams, which play each other on Saturday in the NCAA Midwest Regional in Toledo, Ohio, are not mirror images, though.
“I don’t make that comparison,” he said. “The difference is they won their league, and they’ve been third or fourth in the country.”
Ranked fifth in the final Pairwise Rankings, Miami is the No. 2 seed in the region; No. 11 Minnesota State is seeded third.
Miami also knows a thing or two about the NCAA tournament. This will be the Redhawks’ 11th appearance and their eighth in a row, the second-longest streak in the country. They made it to the national championship game in 2009 and returned to the Frozen Four in 2010.
“We’re really proud of the culture we have here at Miami,” Redhawks coach Enrico Blasi said during a radio interview on Wednesday night.
It’s the kind of culture Hastings, in his first season with the Mavericks, is trying to build at MSU.
Minnesota State will be making its second Division I tournament trip and its first in a decade.
The Redhawks have been doing it with defense this season, allowing just 69 goals in 40 games — an average of 1.73 per game (only No. 1 Quinnipiac is better) — and that total includes an uncharacteristic six given up in Saturday’s Central Collegiate Hockey Association semifinal loss to Michigan.
“We’re going up against one of the best defensive teams in the country,” said Hastings, whose team has allowed a still-stingy 95 goals (2.38 per game, 12th best in the country), including a surprising seven in last Thursday’s Final Five loss to Wisconsin.
Minnesota State’s 3.17 goals scored per game ranks 10th in the country, more than half a goal per game better than Miami.
“We play a good brand of team defense,” said Blasi, the CCHA’s Coach of the Year. “Our goaltending has been very good, but our entire forward group and our defensive corps really work well together. They’ve done a nice job not giving teams too many second chances.”
Freshman goalies Ryan McKay and Jay Williams each have played in 21 games and have a combined .934 save percentage (McKay leads the country with a 1.37 goals-against average and is second with a .948 save percentage).
By comparison, MSU goaltender Stephon Williams won the WCHA Rookie of the Year award and has a .925 save percentage and a 1.96 goals-against average in 34 games.
The CCHA’s Rookie of the Year went to Miami forward Riley Barber, who scored 15 goals and 38 points in his first season.
Miami also had that league’s Player of the Year and Hobey Baker Award finalist in sophomore forward Austin Czarnik. Czarnik tied with Barber atop Miami’s scoring list with 38 points, including 14 goals. He’s also plus-19 and leads the country with four short-handed goals.
The Mavericks, too, are led in scoring by a sophomore, Matt Leitner, who has 47 points, including 17 goals.
“They’re good,” Hastings said. “They deserve to be in the tournament, and so do we.”