So often in sports, we try to put labels on teams.
You’ll hear analysts talk about teams needing an “identity,” whether it centers around a certain player or group of players, or the philosophical way a team approaches competition.
Heck, sometimes it’s the coaches trying to create the label.
For last season’s Minnesota State men’s hockey team, it would’ve been easy to come up with any number of identities, as there were All-Americans at all three levels.
However, after nearly 50% of last season’s goals walked out the door, along with three top defensemen, what would be the new identity?
Goalie Dryden McKay, a returning All-American, could be a candidate, as could the word “heavy,” which keeps coming up as a way to describe the team’s style of play.
Maybe this team will develop a certain trait or traits that it becomes most known for, but there’s also a chance it won’t.
Luckily for the Mavericks, you don’t need an identity to be a great hockey team.
If I would’ve given you 10 guesses on who would be leading the team in points through seven games, I bet Cade Borchardt wouldn’t have been one of them. Fifteen guesses, maybe, but it’s likely most who follow the team closely still wouldn’t have named him.
However, here we are Jan. 7, and a sophomore who played in only 10 games as a freshman leads the team with nine points.
On the blue line, freshman Akito Hirose had plenty of hype in the preseason, but no one could have expected it could be as good as it’s been. The way Hirose is playing, he’s as valuable as anyone on the team, and is quickly establishing himself as one of the better defensemen in the WCHA.
At the start of the season, coach Mike Hastings was asked plenty about who would fill the big shoes of those who were leaving. While he certainly expressed confidence in several individuals repeatedly, his message was clear: It would be a team effort.
That’s not the kind of talk that leads to identities, but to this point, it’s exactly what’s happened.
Individuals like McKay, Borchardt and Hirose have shined, but no one player is driving the bus. Instead, it seems to be different players stepping up each night, as Hastings has consistently played four lines and six defensemen.
From a team standpoint, MSU has won in different ways, a characteristic all great teams seem to have. Whether it’s a high-scoring affair or low-scoring, physical contest, it’s clear this team can play either style, something that should serve it well come postseason.
Identities are fun because they lead to the narratives so many love about sports.
But that’s really all they are — narratives.
There doesn’t need to be a face, formula or buzzword synonymous with this team.
Winning is the only thing the Mavericks need to be known for, and you certainly don’t need an identity to do that.
Kevin Dudley is at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter @Dudley7Kevin.