MANKATO – Mike Hastings has taken more than his share of punches to the gut.
In 2014, a 2-1 loss to Massachusetts Lowell in the NCAA tournament’s first round. A year later, a 2-1 defeat to Rochester Institute of Technology as the No. 1 overall NCAA seed. That 3-2 overtime loss to eventual champion Minnesota Duluth in the 2018 NCAA first round. And last season’s 6-3 NCAA loss to Providence, after Hastings’ Minnesota State Mavericks had a 3-0, first-period lead.
Yet he’s still standing.
“I’ve probably learned more from the things that have hurt the most than I have from the ones have been successes,” the coach said during the Puck Drop Tour of Minnesota stop in Mankato.
On Friday and Saturday, Minnesota State opens a season full of potential against Arizona State at the Mankato Civic Center. The Mavericks are a deep group with 15 upperclassmen that includes a top line that produced 45 goals and 67 assists last season, plus a goalie who won 24 games. They’re a unanimous pick to win their third consecutive WCHA championship and were ranked No. 3 in the nation in the U.S. College Hockey Online preseason poll. Over the past two seasons, Minnesota State has won 61 games, the most in college hockey.
Of course, an NCAA tournament breakthrough is what Mavericks fans are hoping to see and expecting this season. For that to happen, however, Hastings knows there’s much work to be done.
“We can’t get there,” he said, “without building what we need to build.”
That starts with a challenging nonconference schedule. After playing host to the Sun Devils, an NCAA tournament team last season, Minnesota State gets a visit from perennial power North Dakota. A quartet of WCHA series follow before the Mavericks travel to two-time defending national champion Minnesota Duluth in what might be the premier nonconference series in college hockey this season. In late December, MSU plays St. Cloud State and either Minnesota or Bemidji State in the Mariucci Classic in Minneapolis.
“You want to play against teams that can make you better,” Hastings said. “We’re biting off quite a bit.”
Hastings is trying to keep that Minnesota flavor on his future schedules, too. “We’re talking to Bobby [Motzko, Gophers coach] about making sure we’re playing them during the regular season,” he said. “We’re really close to dotting some ‘I’s’ and crossing some ‘T’s’ against St. Cloud. We’re playing Duluth consistently over the next three, four years.”
First, though, comes this season. Hastings embraces the six-month process required to make it back to the NCAA tournament.
“To have the opportunity to check another box of winning at that tournament, you’ve got to go back to getting there. That’s where we are now,” he said. “We’re going back to building our book of business.
“… I’m excited about the opportunities that are in front of us. But if you start looking too far ahead, you’re going to miss today. We don’t have that luxury.’’