By Shane Frederick
The Free Press
In just four days, Mike Hastings will make his debut on the bench of the Minnesota State men's hockey team, as the Mavericks will play an exhibition game against the University of Lethbridge.
Given that the puck drops at 5 p.m. on what's expected to be a lovely fall Sunday afternoon -- not to mention right around halftime of the surprising 3-1 Vikings' game -- it will be interesting to see what kind of crowd will show up at the Verizon Wireless Center to see the new coach in action.
As for the regular-season home schedule (which begins Oct. 19-20 against RPI), the university is undoubtedly expecting to see reinvigorated crowds at the downtown arena. The atmosphere certainly should be livelier than the tomb-like feeling one got there most of last year. Can it return to the raucous rink that it was in 2007-08?
The schedule will help, with Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin all returning to Mankato after being away a year ago. But, especially considering the conference shakeup coming after the upcoming season, Minnesota State will have to sell itself -- not its opponents -- as the team to go see on Fridays and Saturdays.
That's one of the reasons, of course, why the university made a coaching change last spring and hired Hastings.
"You're always optimistic this time of year," said Tim Marshall, MSU's associate athletic director for operations and finance, "but there's a little extra buzz. "There's definitely a different feeling."
Immediately upon introducing the new coach to the community on April 16, officials were passing out season-ticket information plastered with Hastings' picture.
According to Marshall, the phones started ringing in the athletic department office right away that week.
"The buzz and the interest is still strong," he said on Tuesday. "It's shown in renewals with our current season-ticket holders, and several people who had dropped off re-upped."
The economy and other factors have led to some lost tickets, something that happens every year, Marshall said, but he added that season-ticket sales right now are expected to be at or above what they were last year. This week has been busy with last-minute renewals coming in as they often do this time of year when hockey finally returns to fans' minds.
Marshall said MSU typically has about 1,200 season tickets between individual seat holders, Blue Line Club memberships and corporate packages, including suites. In addition 1,100 tickets are distributed to students during the weeks that precede home games.
Given those numbers, it's not hard to figure out not only how few single-game tickets were sold but just how many no-shows there were last season.
Those single-game tickets went on sale on Monday, and that's where Marshall expects to see the biggest increase in attendance this year.
"And if we have any kid of on-ice success," he said, "that should just snowball."