By Shane Frederick
Free Press Staff Writer
Mike Hastings was hired in April to turn around the Minnesota State men’s hockey program after it had fallen on tough times in the last few years.
The school identified the coach quickly and confidentially. University President Richard Davenport, who was directly involved in the process, even went so far to call meetings with Hastings “clandestine” during a reception for Hastings last summer.
Minnesota State made the decision to ramp up its hockey program and make it a “window to the university.” It awarded Hastings with a $225,000-per-year contract — a stunning number for the school (although not so much for college hockey or the Western Collegiate Hockey Association) but also money that officials believe will be well spent if the coach indeed makes the Mavericks into a consistent winner.
The Mavericks had a solid start to the season, going 2-0-2 and showing come come-from-behind spunk in that stretch. No MSU team since 1998-99 had started the season undefeated through four games.
Reality set in on Friday and Saturday, however, when the Mavericks started their WCHA schedule at St. Cloud State.
The National Hockey Center is never an easy place to play, and the Huskies have the look of a team that will finish in the upper half of the conference.
Those things don’t excuse the way Minnesota State played in the series opener when players opted to sit back and watch Ben Hanowski, Drew LeBlanc and Nic Dowd put on an ice capade that resulted in a 5-1 win.
There was no hitting — no colliding, as Hastings put it — as those players roamed freely in open ice.
The next night was better for two periods before the Mavericks’ old penalty problems broke out. That caused an unraveling in the third period, as they coughed up four goals and again fell 5-1.
During the weekend, though, it was refreshing to hear Hastings talk about what had occurred.
“From me on down, we just weren’t good enough tonight,” Hastings said Friday. “We’re in this together.”
Those are words one didn’t hear a lot under the previous regime.
On Saturday, Hastings said of once-tolerated penalty issues: “That’s the Mavericks of old.”
The buck indeed does stop with the head coach, and, considering everything that took place last April, expectations for an eventual turnaround are high.
They’re maybe a bit too high for an immediate reversal, especially with No. 2-ranked Minnesota and No. 3 Denver coming up on the schedule.
But even with last weekend’s losses, change is happening.
Shane Frederick is a Free Press staff writer. Read his blog at mankatofreepresshockey.blogspot.com, and follow him on Twitter @puckato.