The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports

October 6, 2013

MSU hockey team looks for more progress

MSU hockey team getting plenty of preseason hype

Everybody remembers the end. The NCAA tournament. The Final Five. The first home playoff games in a decade. The record 24 victories for the Minnesota State men’s hockey team a season ago.

Coach Mike Hastings remembers "the process."

“The program made some steps on the right direction,” he said. “But, ultimately, did we understand the process? Because the process was 1-5 at one point, if you don’t recall. And I don’t remember there being a lot of pom-poms and a lot of, ‘This is great!’ going through that. It was hard. …

“The process a year ago was substantial, so you can’t forget about that.”

What happened after that rough start was historic for the program. Now, the Mavericks enter the season with more preseason accolades than ever had in their Division I era.

They’re ranked 11th in the nation and made the favorite to win the new Western Collegiate Hockey Association. Junior forward Matt Leitner has been mentioned as a potential All-American and Hobey Baker Award candidate. Sophomore goaltender Stephon Williams was drafted by the New York Islanders over the summer, and his name adorns lists of the best goalies in college hockey.

Hastings, who is beginning his second season at MSU, treads cautiously around the hype. Those honors don’t win games, he says, and neither do last year’s statistics.

“I think how we handle progress is going to be paramount to whether or not we continue to progress,” he said during an interview in his office last week.

Indeed, Hastings’ WCHA Coach of the Year Award from last year isn't displayed prominently for his visitors to see when they walk in the door. Rather, it rests on a lower shelf, below photographs of his family and former players.

“We made some steps,” he said. “But just like with anything, I think if you don’t continue to push to get better, you’re going to take a step or half a step back in some of the areas.”

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