The Free Press, Mankato, MN

March 27, 2014

MSU, Lowell have shared national stage before

Teams met in Division II playoffs more than 30 years ago

By Shane Frederick

---- — MANKATO — Don Brose thought his team might be in a little trouble. All he had to do was look at the calendar.

His Mankato State hockey team was playing for the 1979 Division II national championship against Lowell on St. Patrick’s Day, and the opponent’s roster seemed to have the luck of the Irish, starting with coach Bill Riley.

“Craig MacTavish was on that team,” Brose said. “A number of their players had Irish names. … We did lose.”

MacTavish, an All-American who went on to have a long National Hockey League career, scored the game-winning goal in Lowell’s 6-4 victory over the Mavericks that day.

A year later, the Mavericks got their revenge, knocking out the Chiefs 8-1 in the semifinals en route to winning their first and only national title. The two teams met in the semifinals again in 1981 with Lowell edging MSU in a wild 8-7 overtime game. The Chiefs went on to win the second of its three titles.

Lowell jumped up to the Division I ranks in 1983, and MSU did the same more than a decade later. This weekend the two teams — now known as Minnesota State and UMass Lowell (its nickname has also changed, to the River Hawks) — will meet for the first time in the Division I national tournament.

“It brings back good memories,” said Brose, who was among the crowd who welcomed home current coach Mike Hastings and the Mavericks from their WCHA Final Five championship on Sunday morning.

The Mavericks will leave today for Worcester, Mass., where they will play Lowell in the Northeast Regional on Saturday evening. Boston College and Denver are the other teams in the region. The two winners will meet on Sunday with a trip to the Frozen Four April 10-12 in Philadelphia on the line.

Minnesota State and UMass Lowell qualified for this year’s tournament in similar fashion. Each took second place in its respective conference, the WCHA and Hockey East, but won its conference tournament to earn automatic bid to nationals.

The Mavericks defeated Bowling Green 4-0 and Ferris State 4-1 in the Final Five last weekend in Grand Rapids, Mich. The River Hawks knocked off Notre Dame 4-0 and New Hampshire 4-0 in the Hockey East tournament in Boston.

With one goal allowed between the two teams last weekend, an 8-7 overtime game doesn’t seem likely this time around.

Both programs have undergone transformations in recent years to become conference and national contenders, just as they were more than 30 years ago.

UMass-Lowell, which was ranked No. 1 in the nation in the preseason polls, hired alumnus Norm Bazin in 2011. In three years, he has led the River Hawks to 77 victories, a Hockey East regular-season championship, two conference playoff titles and three NCAA tournaments, including last year’s Frozen Four).

Bazin’s first two victories took place in Mankato, a series sweep over the Mavericks in October of 2011.

Minnesota State hired Hastings in 2012, and in two years he’s led the Mavericks to 50 victories, a WCHA playoff title and two NCAA tournament appearances.

“I’m just really excited,” Brose said. “Everybody who comes in leaves the program a little better than what they were given,” Brose said. “It keeps getting better and better.”