PITTSBURGH – Riese Zmolek took a few moments to compose himself and assess the question, but the tears still came.
"Obviously, it's tough what we just went through,'' the Minnesota State Mankato senior defenseman and captain said. "Sorry. But obviously proud of that group we have in there. A special group of guys. Proud of every single person in that locker room that brought us to this point.''
Minnesota State had just lost 5-4 to St. Cloud State in the first semifinal of the NCAA Frozen Four at PPG Paints Arena, and it came in heartbreaking fashion for the Mavericks.
After trailing 3-1 in the second period, Minnesota State rallied to tie it late in the second and take a 4-3 lead on Dallas Gerads' goal in the third. St. Cloud State would tie it, then win it on a goal with 54 seconds left in the third.
"Not a great start. A good middle of the game and not a great ending,'' Mavericks coach Mike Hastings said.
The loss left Minnesota State (22-5-1) two victories short of its ultimate goal of winning the national championship, but it won't erase the achievements the Mavericks had in 2020-21.
They won an unprecedented fourth consecutive WCHA regular-season title, posted their first two NCAA Division I tournament victories and won 114 games in a four-year span, the most of any team in college hockey.
Hastings was asked to describe his postgame talk with his players.
"Hard,'' he said. "One thing you don't want to do as a coach is disappoint your players.
"And there's a group of upperclassmen in there and seniors that have helped pave the way for our program to get to where it's at today and they're very prideful individuals. They've done all the heavy lifting.
"To walk in there and see them feeling the way that they do and you as a coach know you can't take that away,'' Hastings added, "it's not a great feeling.''
Zmolek believes there will be future Frozen Fours for the Mavericks.
"This organization's unreal,'' he said. "This is just the starting grounds for them. The coaching staff in there, Coach Hastings, they'll be back, they'll be back for more.''