“Pick your black cloud,” Hastings said.
Things began to perk up around Thanksgiving, however.
Lehrke changed his mind and returned to the team, making an immediate impact, especially on what had been a struggling power play. Nelson, a senior defenseman and assistant captain, eventually came back (although is out again now). Leitner caught fire, scoring 41 points in 30 games. Cole Huggins took over in goal and found his own rookie magic. LaFontaine and Johnny McInnis became 20-goal scorers.
“(Getting to the NCAAs) was definitely a goal coming into the season,” junior forward and assistant captain Chase Grant said. “We didn’t necessarily have the start to the season that we wanted. We had to learn where not working hard and not doing the little things will get you.”
The Mavericks closed out the first half of their schedule with a seven-game winning streak, but they weren’t all they way back quite yet.
A roller-coaster January included a big home sweep of first-place Ferris State sandwiched by a 1-3-0 trip to Alaska and a disappointing performance in the inaugural North Star College Cup against former WCHA mates, Minnesota Duluth and St. Cloud State.
The low point came a week later when Minnesota State lost 5-2 at Northern Michigan. The Mavericks were 14-13-0, 12-7-0 in the WCHA, and their chances of being in the hunt for a league title and national tournament appeared to be shaky at best.
“Against Northern Michigan, I really thought that Friday night we got what we deserved,” Hastings said. “Then Saturday night (a 5-1 MSU win) we got what we deserved. The leadership group — everybody inside the locker room – said, ‘You know what? This just isn’t good enough.’”
The Mavericks haven’t lost since that Jan. 31 game at Marquette, Mich., reeling off 13 games without a loss.
A tie with Michigan Tech on the final day of the regular season kept them one point short of the WCHA’s championship. But the Mavericks won the league’s playoff title a week ago.