On Feb. 16, 2013, the Minnesota State men’s hockey team defeated Michigan Tech 6-1 at home for it 20th victory that season.

It marked the first time in 10 years that the Mavericks reached the 20-win milestone, and the significance was not lost on the players that night.

“Obviously, it’s pretty special, coming from where we were the last two years,” Eriah Hayes told The Free Press that night, referring to the 12- and 14-win seasons the team struggled through previously. “It says a lot about the kind of team we’ve got. But I think there are some special things to come.”

Hayes was right in his prediction, whether it was for that season — the first year for coach Mike Hastings — or beyond.

Minnesota State went to the WCHA Final Five and the NCAA tournament that year, getting to both for the first time since that previous 20-win season of 2002-03.

Since then, the Mavericks have gone to four other NCAA tournaments, won four MacNaughton Cups as WCHA champions (sharing one) and clinched three WCHA playoff titles.

And, oh yeah, they’ve also won at least 20 games in each season since.

Last year, they won 32 games, breaking the school record and hitting the 30-win milestone for the first time in the Division I era. Only the 1979-80 team that won the D-II national title had won 30 games.

This season, the Mavericks look like they could be well on their way to another 30-win season.

On Saturday, they defeated Ferris State 5-1 on the road for their 20th victory.

Twenty wins — a record of 20-3-1 — on Jan. 11. It’s the earliest Minnesota State has reached 20 victories. Last year, the Mavericks hit the mark on Jan. 25.

Seven and a half years ago, winning 20 games was considered a breakthrough, something “special” for a team that rarely experienced that kind of success.

Now, with 12 games remaining in the regular season and, potentially, three weeks of conference playoffs after that, 20 wins seems to be a bit of a yawner.

It shouldn’t be.

Of course, the bar has been raised: 20 wins to 25 wins to 30 wins. WCHA championships are expected, as are national-tournament appearances. The next item to check off is that elusive NCAA tournament game victory, and, for this year’s veteran team, that — and more — is the goal.

The Mavericks started the season in impressive fashion, going 15-1-1 in a schedule that included a win and tie at home against North Dakota (currently tied for No. 1 in the country), a home sweep over Arizona State (No. 14) and road sweeps at Minnesota Duluth (No. 8) and Michigan Tech (No. 19).

They won 10 games in a row and sat at No. 1 in the nation for five weeks (they’re currently No. 3).

The winning streak began in a home split against Bowling Green (currently No. 15) and ended in a road split at Northern Michigan (No. 17).

The Mavericks followed the loss at Marquette with its only real clunker of the season, a 7-2 disaster against St. Cloud State in the first game of the Mariucci Classic.

“Obviously our entire team took Saturday off against St. Cloud, including the coaching staff, and so that didn’t work very well for us,” Hastings recalled before the team left for Ferris State. “We got back on it on Sunday.”

The loss to St. Cloud State ended up being more hiccup than market correction, as the Mavericks have reeled off five straight wins since.

Maybe 20 wins doesn’t quite mean what it did in 2013, but it’s still a number worth appreciating.

Especially in early January.

Shane Frederick is the Free Press sports editor. Call him at 507-344-6373 or email him at sfrederick@mankatofreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @puckato.

Follow Shane Frederick on Twitter @puckato

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