BOSTON — The first period of Thursday’s national semifinal game between Minnesota and Minnesota State offered a stark contrast between the two teams.
The Golden Gophers led by a goal but the two-man breakaway was an anomaly caused by a rare neutral-zone turnover. The Mavericks had otherwise dominated play and they understood how they could control the game flow in the second and third periods.
Minnesota State, after all, outscored opponents by more than a 3-to-1 ratio in the second and third periods. The Mavericks were 31-1-0 when leading after two periods and hadn’t dropped a game in the third period since the 3-2 loss to Michigan in October. They hadn’t lost a game overall since Northern Michigan beat them 4-2 on the Upper Peninsula in mid-January.
There was no way they were letting Minnesota buck that trend, and after a 5-1 win, the 18th straight win that sent the top-seeded Mavericks to their first-ever national championship game felt more like a special twist to business as usual than it did some monumental victory.
“There is a difference when you’re playing toward the end of your season and it’s a Friday or Saturday night [that] you know you’re not packing your bags if it doesn’t go well,” said Minnesota State head coach Mike Hastings. “There’s a definite difference there, but I will tell you … I haven’t heard it. I haven’t heard our guys talk about it.”
It’s always impossible to identify the start of a streak at its genesis point. A single goal or win exists innocuously as an individual accomplishment and doesn’t turn into something bigger until it snowballs over time. Trends have to emerge, and winning streaks in particular have to produce every conceivable kind of game.
Minnesota State follows that idea by showcasing how the Mavericks were able to win every conceivable kind of game. Five one-goal games exist during their 18-game winning streak, but the Mavericks offense pounded St. Thomas and Northern Michigan over a two-game span during the postseason. The team beat Bemidji State with a 10-2 aggregate and later defeated the Beavers with a comeback, overtime win in the CCHA championship. A win over Bowling Green was a 5-0 shutout one night after a two-goal victory, and overtime wins dot the front end of two weekend series between the Mavericks and Michigan Tech.
“When we sat down with our leadership group, planning our week, it [didn’t] come up,” Hastings said, “whether it be through the coaches or with the players. They’ve done a good job of continuing to turn the page and moving onto the next one.”
Winning every conceivable type of game built confidence in the Minnesota State locker room, which is why the win over the Gophers didn’t feel like a one-goal rally after one. The Mavericks knew they had long proven how to win in the second and third periods, and even after trailing, the team never came unglued.
“I believe the big part of it is making sure that every single game we just give it 100 percent,” said forward Ondrej Pavel. “Our ability to win hockey games is a big part of that. Even yesterday, we went down [by a goal] and there was no panic, just confidence in the details that we are good at, keeping to our game. If we do that, we are successful [and] will win hockey games.”
On Saturday night, that quiet streak that started so innocently now has the potential to become the longest winning streak since Michigan State won 19 straight games in 1988. It won’t push Minnesota State to the first 20-game winning streak since the Paul Kariya-led Maine Black Bears of 1992-93 but it would earn a national championship, the first of its kind for Southern Minnesota’s hockey capital.
“There hasn’t really been any chatter at all about the kind of streak we’re on,” said forward Ryan Sandelin. “We’re focused on playing good hockey and our identity. I think we’ve done that consistently for a while now, and we need that to continue if we want to have success on Saturday.”
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