The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports

March 23, 2014

Mavericks will head east for NCAAs

MSU to play UMass-Lowell in Northeast Regional

MANKATO — Johnny McInnis’ cell phone started buzzing shortly after 11 a.m. Sunday morning, and it didn’t stop.

“My phone’s been blowing up,” he said.

It started shortly after it was announced that Minnesota State would be playing Massachusetts-Lowell in Worcester, Mass., on Saturday in the first round of the NCAA men’s hockey tournament.

The Mavericks and River Hawks will play the 6:30 p.m. game in the Northeast Regional. The game will not be televised but will be available online on ESPN3.

McInnis, a Boston native and the Mavericks’ senior captain, was getting texts from friends and family out east, many of whom, McInnis said, would be attending the game.

“We’re going to make it a home game as much we can,” McInnis said.

That might be tough with just McInnis’ folks alone or even with the other Minnesota State fans who make the cross-country trek.

Lowell, the region’s No. 2 seed (MSU is third), and top-seeded Boston College each are located about an hour’s drive from Worcester. Boston College will play Denver in the 3 p.m. game Saturday.

“It’s a full-circle kind of deal,” McInnis said during a Selection Show viewing party at Buffalo Wild Wings. “In the back of my mind, that’s where I wanted to go. But the best part is just getting there. I’m just happy to be playing another game.”

The Mavericks qualified for their second straight national tournament on Saturday night when they won the WCHA Final Five championship game in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Minnesota State (26-13-1) is on a 13-game unbeaten streak. A year ago, the Mavericks limped into the NCAAs after getting thumped in the first game of the Final Five and were bounced out of the regional just as quickly.

Mavericks coach Mike Hastings said his returning players learned from that experience.

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