MANKATO — One of the keys to the Minnesota State men’s hockey team’s success and one of the reasons why it's back in the NCAA tournament has been the ability to avoid losing streaks.
The Mavericks haven’t lost more than two games in a row, and they did that just once during the regular season — way back in November.
However, they also had a more recent one in the playoffs, dropping their last two games, the second and third of a WCHA tournament semifinal series against Michigan Tech on March 10-11. The first of those losses broke up a 14-game unbeaten streak.
Avoiding a third consecutive loss would mean winning in the NCAA tournament for the first time in the program’s Division I era.
“That’s something we talked about as a team,” junior forward Max Coatta, one of MSU’s three captains, said after Tuesday’s practice. “When you’re on a winning streak like we were, I think you can start to get away with a few things. Looking back on those two games to Michigan Tech, you could see some of our habits weren’t too good. Last week was good. I think we’ve touched on a lot of those things.”
The No. 6 Mavericks (29-9-1) will play No. 12 Minnesota Duluth in the first round of the West Regional at 6:30 p.m. Friday at the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. That follows the regional's opening game between No. 1 St. Cloud State and Air Force.
Minnesota State will leave Mankato for Sioux Falls after practice today. Although the Mavericks wanted to be playing in the WCHA championship game last Saturday, they tried to make the most of their off week, focusing on the details that helped them on their unbeaten streak, one that included victories over Minnesota Duluth and St. Cloud State in January.
“We had to heal a little bit mentally and physically, reset on both sides to get to Sunday and then go Sunday to Friday,” coach Mike Hastings said. “We’re going through the process. Through Tuesday’s practice it’s been very good. We have a lot left to prepare for Friday.”
Scoring is one area they're looking at. The Mavericks scored just 1.67 goals per game against Michigan Tech — a 2-1 win, a 4-2 loss and a 2-1 overtime loss — after averaging 4.62 for the previous 13 games. For the season, they lead the nation in scoring at 3.87 goals per game. They’re fourth in goals allowed at 2.08.
“At this time of year it’s really hard to score goals,” Hastings said. “On the flip side, going heads to tails, we have to make sure we’re difficult to score against. We have to play in groups of five, not as individuals, and help each other — offensively and defensively.”
The Mavericks aren't just trying to break their most recent losing streak. They're trying to break one in the NCAA tournament, too, going 0-4 in the Division I tournament.
"Experience is the best teacher, and our experience is, if you don’t play well at this time of the year your season is over," Hastings said. "These guys care about each other, and they want to keep playing together."