The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports

March 30, 2013

Minnesota State ready for national stage

TOLEDO, OHIO — Of course today marks the biggest day in the college hockey careers of Eriah Hayes and Tyler Elbrecht.

They’re just trying not to think of it that way.

“Obviously, we haven’t been to the national tournament before, so that’s pretty special,” said Hayes, the senior forward and co-captain of the Minnesota State men’s hockey team. “But we’re kind of taking it just like any other game, same kind of gameplan. … like a league game.”

It’s hardly a league game.

The 11th-ranked Mavericks will play in an NCAA tournament game for the first time in 10 years when they face No. 5 Miami in the Midwest Regional at 4 p.m. at the Huntington Center.

Minnesota State is a postseason neophyte compared to the Redhawks, who are making their eighth straight appearance in the national tournament.

If there are playoff jitters, the Mavericks hoped they quelled them in their last game.

Nine days ago, during their first WCHA Final Five game in a decade, the Mavericks might have let the bright lights and the hype get to them, said Elbrecht, MSU’s other co-captain. Minnesota State got off to a rough start and lost the game 7-2 to Wisconsin.

“Last week might have been good for our team,” Elbrecht said. “We have a lot of young guys, and it was our first experience being in the Final Five, as big as that is. Coming in here after having that big weekend and being disappointed, you realize that you can’t get caught up in the spotlight. We just have to play our game.”

Minnesota State coach Mike Hastings noted that while his team is new to the national tournament — especially compared to Miami and the regional’s other teams, St. Cloud State and Notre Dame — even the experienced programs have plenty of players who haven’t experienced a regional before.

“Just because you’ve been here doesn’t guarantee you success,” Hastings said. “And because you’ve never been here doesn’t mean you’re going to fall on your face.”

The Mavericks practiced at the Huntington Center for the first time on Friday afternoon and went through their usual day-before routine.

“It’s an opportunity,” Hastings said. “There are only 16 teams in the country that have the opportunity to play either today or tomorrow. (You have) to look at that for what it is, respect it, appreciate it, but then to actually go back and do what you’ve been doing since you got together at the beginning of the October, the end of September. That hasn’t really changed.”

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