Minnesota State moved back into the national rankings on Monday. The Mavericks are 20th, after winning their sixth- and seventh-consecutive games over the weekend at Alabama Huntsville.
The Mavericks started the year with much hype. They were 14th in the preseason polls and rose as high as No. 11 before sliding back down the charts and out of the poll completely after a 4-6-0 start that included road losses at Providence and Minnesota, currently ranked No. 5 and No. 1 in the nation, respectively.
Polls are relatively meaningless, just the opinions of writers, coaches and other observers put into a spreadsheet and spit out every Monday morning for fans to debate and discuss.
Ultimately, it’s the wins and losses and ties that determine who makes the playoffs (in the case of the WCHA, anyway, which will toss out the ninth- and 10th-place finishers for the playoffs), who wins championships and who gets to go to the national tournament. Sure, the Pairwise Rankings decide the latter — and sometimes there is controversy on Selection Sunday — but winning takes care of most ills.
Just as they did a year ago between Thanksgiving and Christmas break, the Mavericks have won seven league games in a row to get themselves on track. They’re in second place in the WCHA, four points behind red-hot and No. 2-ranked Ferris State, a team that hasn’t lost in 15 straight games (12-0-3), dating back to Oct. 18. Their power play is downright scary right now, clicking at nearly 40 percent over the course of the win streak.
Minnesota State will play an exhibition game against the U.S. Junior National Team tonight at the Verizon Wireless Center before going on its break.
The Mavericks will return from their vacation to take on perhaps their toughest stretch of the season. They’ll go to Alaska for 12 days and play Alaska (Fairbanks) and Alaska Anchorage on consecutive weekends (Jan. 3-4 and Jan. 10-11) before returning home for what could be quite the showdown against Ferris State (Jan. 17-18).
Will the Bulldogs still be just as high in the rankings at that time? Will Minnesota State rise up during its Alaska trip and get the college-hockey nation’s focus on Mankato in mid-January?
Right now that sure looks like a weekend to circle on the calendar.
Following the Mavericks’ series sweep against Northern Michigan on Dec. 6-7 in Mankato, MSU coach Mike Hastings said he thought his team played well but was fortunate to have caught the banged-up Wildcats at a good time.
Now, folks are again noticing what the Mavericks are doing and again putting them in their polls. Minnesota State has swept three straight series and outscored opponents 27-11 over the last seven games.
Perhaps it was a few other teams, early on, that caught the Mavericks at a good time.
Shane Frederick is a Free Press staff writer. Read his blog at mankatofreepresshockey.blogspot.com and follow him on Twitter @puckato.
Tonight's game Minnesota State men's hockey vs. U.S. Junior National Team (exhibition) 7:37 p.m. today, Verizon Wireless Center Radio: KTOE 1420 AM Live blog: mankatofreepresshockey.blogspot.com Twitter: @puckato Notes: Mavericks freshman F Zach Stepan is member of the U.S. team. ... MSU is also without sophomore F Teddy Blueger, who playing for Latvia in the World Junior Division I A Group Championship currently underway in Poland. ... Sophomore D Blake Thompson will make his MSU debut tonight after transferring from Minnesota a year ago. ... The U.S. has 29 players but will trim to 23 before the World Junior Championship, which takes place Dec. 26-Jan. 5 in Sweden.