This is the third of four previews for teams playing in the 2022 Men’s Frozen Four this week in Boston. Click here for all of USCHO’s Frozen Four coverage.
Season record: 37-5-0.
How they got to Boston: Won the Albany Regional, beating Harvard 4-3 and Notre Dame 1-0.
Top players: F Nathan Smith (19-31-50), F Julian Napravnik (18-31-49), F Brendan Furry (12-31-43), F Ryan Sandelin (21-12-33).
Top goalie: Dryden McKay (37-4-0, 1.28 goals-against average, .934 save percentage).
Why they’ll win the national championship: Depth. The Mavericks are a complete college team. They have balanced scoring down their lineup, and of course the defense anchored by McKay is outstanding. But the best thing about the Mavericks is their ability to adapt their style to fit their opponents. As they proved in the regional, they’re just as comfortable winning a grind-it-out 1-0 defensive battle as they are at trading goals for a high-scoring win.
Why they won’t win the national championship: This Frozen Four field is unlike any in the recent past in that three of the four No. 1 seeds made it — last season, none did. Not that anyone would have called Minnesota Duluth or Massachusetts Cinderellas, exactly, but this season’s field is unusually strong. The Mavericks will be facing Minnesota in the semifinal but it’s not like they got a “break” by facing the only No. 2 seed left in Boston: The Gophers were a win over Michigan away from being a No. 1 seed, have a Hobey Hat Trick finalist in Ben Meyers and have lost only once in the past two months. The other side of the bracket isn’t much more inviting: Michigan handed Minnesota State one of its five losses this season, while Denver matches up very well against them too. The road to the national title is never easy, but the Mavericks are going to have to win two tough games to do it against top-tier competition.
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Minnesota State might never be considered one of college hockey’s “blue bloods” on par with the other three teams in this year’s Frozen Four, and that’s OK with coach Mike Hastings.
After years of sustained success in two different conferences and two consecutive Frozen Four appearances, the Mavericks are proving to the college hockey world that one doesn’t necessarily need a Big Ten budget to compete with the big boys.
“I think one thing that’s great about college hockey and our sport is you can find a way to be successful many different ways,” Hastings said. “You’ll see over time a No. 1 team be beat by somebody that might be 30 or below in the PairWise. I think the parity in college hockey from top to bottom shows every single season. And this season has been no different.
“We just have to do it a little different way. We do it — this is well chronicled — we recruit a little bit older player. We’re still trying to mix in some of the talent that is out there. But at the end of the day, we come in with a little bit heavier roster as far as the experience is concerned.”
This season’s Mavericks are anchored by a pair of super-seniors in forward Reggie Lutz and defenseman Jack McNeely — neither of whom is necessarily a household name compared to the other high-end players in the Frozen Four. Nevertheless, they’re essential to Minnesota State’s sustained success.
“We’re going to rely upon what we’ve relied upon all season long, which is a leadership group that has been around the block. They’ve been here,” Hastings said, referring to both Lutz and McNeely but also the more well-known players like McKay and Smith. “And we’re going to let them do what they’ve done, which is lead us on the ice, off the ice and everywhere in between.”
One big advantage that the Mavericks have over the rest of the field is that experience. They’re the only team left that made it to Pittsburgh in 2021, so Hastings said he can already see a difference between the team now and at this point last season.
“There’s a little bit different vibe, just because they have had an experience of being at a Frozen Four,” he said. “And it was a little different in Pittsburgh because we were doing that in COVID. And the stresses that were on the student-athletes were daily.
“But I can tell you our guys are focused on trying to get through that game on Thursday. It’s not something where they’re as bright eyed as maybe they were a year ago. And I think experience can teach you something that is hard to get. So we’re hoping to lean on that experience throughout this tournament.”