SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — The Minnesota State men’s hockey team has a veteran team, but only three players actually have experience playing in the NCAA hockey tournament.
Senior forwards C.J. Suess and Brad McClure played in the Mavericks’ last regional game, a 2-1 upset loss to RIT in 2015 when they were freshmen.
Goaltender Connor LaCouvee, a graduate transfer from Boston University playing in his lone season for Minnesota State, got time in goal for in an NCAA game for the Terriers in 2016.
“The last time I was at a regional, there was unfinished business,” said Suess, who scored MSU’s lone goal against RIT, “and I guess we’re looking to capitalize on that this year.”
The Mavericks went through an hour-long practice on Thursday afternoon in preparation for tonight’s game against Minnesota Duluth. The game will follow one between St. Cloud State and Air Force.
“It’s a little different because we’ve experienced it before,” McClure said. “The nerves and butterflies are still there, thought, and that’s a good thing. We’re trying to pass our experience down to the younger guys.”
Minnesota State is looking for its first NCAA Division I tournament win.
“We have to play our game, and we can’t really let the outside noise get to us,” Suess said. “There’s going to be a lot of stuff going on, but what matters this weekend is us and potentially winning a game or two.”
Home ice for MSU?
The West Regional is being played at the Denny Sanford Premier Center, which is the home rink of the United States Hockey League’s Sioux Falls Stampede.
Five current MSU players are Stampede alumni — Suess, Zeb Knutson, Clint Lewis, Parker Tuomie and Ryan Schwalbe — prompting the question to Mavericks coach Mike Hastings if his team will be a fan favorite.
“We’ll take it,” he said. “Any support we can get. I think it’s a unique opportunity for these guys. I think they’re looking forward to trying to take advantage of that.”
The current Stampede also have Minnesota State connections. Former Mavericks player Rylan Galiardi is an assistant coach in Sioux Falls, and goaltender Jaxon Stauber is an MSU commit.
St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko is a former Stampede coach, and said the city and arena are a perfect regional location — even without host school North Dakota in the tournament.
“This is just a phenomenal facility,” Motzko said. “The NCAA, we’ve been looking for venues and communities in the west to have a region site. There’s so much talk that neutral sites don’t work, but it’s going to work here. It’s going to be a big success.”
Minnesota State and Minnesota Duluth split with each other during the regular season with each team winning at home. The Bulldogs won 3-1 on Nov. 25, and the Mavericks won 1-0 on Jan. 23.
“We know each other,” Hastings said. “I don’t think there are a lot of secrets. It’s about going out and executing.”
Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin said expects a different game than the two regular-season meetings, the second of which was a rare Tuesday-night game.
“I don’t think either team was at their best,” Sandelin said. “It was a hard game. I think you’ll see a much better game tomorrow from both teams.”
Minnesota State was idle last week after getting knocked out of the WCHA semifinals by Michigan Tech. Perhaps the rest will do it some good.
Hastings said Ferris State coach Bob Daniels called him and told him how his team won the CCHA in 2012, got knocked out of the first round of the conference playoffs and ended up advancing to the Frozen Four.
“He said, ‘It was the best thing that happened to us,’” Hastings said.
Hastings also talked to Ohio State assistant coach Steve Miller, who was an assistant at Denver in 2004, when that team won the national title despite missing the WCHA Final Five.
“I talked to some guys that I respect about how they handed it,” Hastings said. “I think will be probably be answered by the end of the weekend if it was a good piece for us or not.”