If you live in the Mankato area and are looking to experience some German culture, you can hop on U.S. Hwy. 14, drive about 30 miles to New Ulm and take in its Bavarian flavor.

Or you could simply head downtown to the Verizon Wireless Center, where a German connection has helped Minnesota State become one of the best college hockey teams in the country.

Behind leading scorer Marc Michaelis, second-leading scorer Parker Tuomie and contributions from freshman Julian Napravnik, the Mavericks have fashioned a 29-7-2 record and are ranked No. 2 in the U.S. College Hockey Online poll. The three Germans have played key roles in Minnesota State winning the WCHA regular-season title for the fourth time in the past five years. Beginning Friday, the Mavericks are host to Lake Superior State for a best-of-three WCHA semifinal series.

"They keep pushing at us [coaches] hard about getting a German flag in the rink,'' Mavericks coach Mike Hastings said.

Maybe he should consider that. Michaelis, a junior center from Mannheim, has 19 goals and 20 assists and was named to the All-WCHA first team on Thursday. Tuomie, a junior left winger from Bremerhaven, has 14 goals and 23 assists and earned second-team All-WCHA honors. Napravnik, a winger from Bad Nauheim, has seven goals and 13 assists and earned WCHA all-rookie honors.

"If there's one thing that connects all three is their skill level and ability to see the game and think the game,'' Hastings said. "All three of them have hockey sense.''

The route to Minnesota

So, how did three German hockey players end up in southern Minnesota?

"I'd like tell you it was a crack job of recruiting,'' Hastings joked.

It's all about connections. Hastings played at St. Cloud State with Tuomie's father, Tray, in 1986-87 before Tray transferred to Wisconsin. The elder Tuomie continued his playing career in Germany, where he met his wife, Anke, who is from Hassfurt, Germany. "My dad kind of got stuck over there,'' Parker Tuomie said of Tray, who's coached in Germany since 2010 and now coaches the Augsburg Panthers of the Deutsch Elite League.

Parker played in Germany before coming to the United States to play in the North American Hockey League, then the USHL. After committing to Minnesota State, Tuomie recommended Michaelis, a teammate on German national teams and an opponent in the NAHL, to Mavericks associate head coach Todd Knott. A few days later, Hastings watched Michaelis play and offered him a scholarship.

Tuomie and Michaelis began their Minnesota State careers in 2016-17, and they've been part of two WCHA championship teams. Hastings sees two players who take different approaches but reach similar success.

"Those two guys, they're the odd couple,'' Hastings said. "They're different as far as their demeanors, but I don't know if there's two guys who are closer to each other than those two on the team. ... They've been a big piece on and off the ice about how this team is doing.''

And how it will do in the future, too, because both were instrumental in Napravnik choosing Minnesota State.

The Mankato community, Tuomie said, has eased the players' transition to the United States.

"It helps. There's a lot of people from the area who has German ancestors,'' he said. "The community shows a lot of interest in our heritage. It's good connection points.''

Unfinished business

The Mavericks are No. 3 in the PairWise Ratings, which means they're in line to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, if they keep winning in the WCHA tourney. They've used last year's bitter finish – a 3-2 overtime loss to eventual national champion Minnesota Duluth in the NCAA West Regional's first round – as motivation.

"That loss last year in the NCAA tournament, I think a lot of players took it personally,'' Michaelis said. "That's why we're having such a good year, because everyone just bought in from the first day.''

And should the Mavericks have ultimate success in the NCAA tournament, their German trio might see more than one banner hanging at the Verizon Center.

"Todd Knott is giving them a hard time,'' Hastings said. "He said, 'You know what? If you win a national championship, we'll get your flag up there.' ''