Less than a week removed from his team’s season ending, Minnesota State men’s hockey coach Mike Hastings said he was already working on next year.
“We’re recruiting, we’re giving the guys a little time (off) and we’re focusing on the ’18-19 season,” he said in an interview in his office Tuesday afternoon. “We can control that part. That’s it.”
He hasn’t forgotten about the way 2017-18 ended, though.
“This is going to sit for awhile,” he said.
The Mavericks lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Friday, falling 3-2 in overtime to Minnesota Duluth, which is now preparing for next week’s Frozen Four.
Minnesota State had a 2-0 lead after one period and led 2-1 after two despite having no shots on goal in the middle 20 minutes. But for the first time all season, the Mavericks failed to win a game in which they led going into the third. They were 25-0-0 in those situations before the tournament.
“We can’t rewind time,” Hastings said. “We’ll learn from it. We’ll use that experience to better ourselves.”
Minnesota State finished the season 29-10-1 with their third MacNaughton Cup as the WCHA regular-season champion in four years and their fourth trip to the national tournament in six years.
Hastings said he doesn’t want the season to be defined by one loss in late March, as painful as that loss might be.
“I don’t want it lost that we won 29 hockey games, that we hung another banner,” he said. “We have a lot pride in the banners that are there. But we won’t be satisfied as a staff, as a group. We’re always looking forward. We want to keep climbing the ladder.”
The Mavericks are losing plenty of experience and points. Senior forwards C.J. Suess (22 goals, 43 points), Zeb Knutson (15 goals, 43 points) and Brad McClure (11 goals, 21 points) are graduating. Junior defenseman Daniel Brickley (10 goals, 35 points), considered the top college free agent in the country, is getting ready to sign with an NHL team. And goaltender Connor LaCouvee (23 wins), a graduate transfer from Boston University, will also depart following his lone season at MSU.
Defenseman Clint Lewis, who played in 37 games this season, and third-string goaltender Aaron Nelson are also graduating.
Suess, the WCHA Player of the Year, Knutson and McClure were part of three league championships, one conference playoff title and two NCAA appearances, racking up a combined 140 goals and 306 points over four years at Minnesota State.
The cupboard is hardly bare for next year, though.
At forward, sophomore Marc Michaelis (18 goals, 40 points) and freshman Jake Jaremko (15 goals, 39 points) will be the top returning scorers after their outstanding seasons. Michaelis was a First Team All-WCHA pick for the second year in a row, and Jaremko was the WCHA’s Rookie of the Year.
Reggie Lutz (26 points) and defenseman Connor Mackey also made the league’s All-Rookie Team, while defenseman Riese Zmolek and forwards Jared Spooner and Dallas Gerads had strong finishes to their freshman seasons.
Sophomore forward Parker Tuomie tied with Knutson for the team lead in assists with 28 and had 37 points. Defenseman Ian Scheid, another sophomore, made Third Team All-WCHA, scoring 26 points. Forward Nick Rivera and defenseman Edwin Hookenson also had solid second seasons.
Other skaters of note include junior Max Coatta, who served as a captain along with Suess and McClure; sophomore Josh French, who played in 32 games; and freshman defenseman Jack McNeely, who played in 23.
Junior Ryan Schwalbe, sophomore Charlie Gerard and freshman Walker Duehr saw limited action this season but could compete for bigger roles, along with the incoming freshmen.
In goal, Jason Pawloski, who will be a senior, will be the lone returner. He went 6-3 with a .895 save percentage and a 2.57 goals-against average before LaCouvee took the reins for the final 17 games. Pawloski, who has 22 career wins, will be competing with two rookies for the No. 1 job next season.
“I really like the mentality of the group that’s returning and them wanting to write their own story,” Hastings said.
Hastings added that he likes that the makeup of next year’s team includes a large group of players who went through the experience of this season — 13 potential returners played on Friday, while seven others were scratches along for the trip to the regional — because the bar won’t be lowered for them.
“I’m proud of what the expectations are for our program. I am,” said Hastings, who has 151 career wins at MSU. “I think there are expectations that we compete for championships every year.”