Mike Hastings and his Minnesota State Mankato men's hockey team will be first-time participants in the NCAA Frozen Four in Pittsburgh next week, so it's only natural that the Mavericks coach would seek advice from colleagues who've been on college hockey's biggest stage.
"I've reached out to a few friends, whether it's Tommy Serratore [Bemidji State], Bobby Daniels at Ferris State, Mike Schafer at Cornell – different guys who have been through this before,'' Hastings said Thursday.
Another coach Hastings has consulted might come as a surprise: Minnesota Duluth's Scott Sandelin, whose Bulldogs would be Minnesota State's opponent in the national championship game if their teams beat Massachusetts and St. Cloud State, respectively, in the semifinals.
"People might think that's a little odd with him being a participant, but they've kind of got it figured out this time of the year,'' Hastings said.
Kind of, sort of, just a little bit, eh?
Sandelin has coached Minnesota Duluth to three NCAA championships, including the past two. The Bulldogs are in their fourth consecutive Frozen Four and would make their fourth title game in a row if they beat the Minutemen. UMD was runner-up to Denver in 2017 and beat Notre Dame in '18 and UMass in '19 for back-to-back titles.
"Some of those guys have been kind enough to let me ask questions and talk to me about preparation,'' Hastings said. "I've even asked the commissioner of the CCHA, Don Lucia, about his experiences. … I've asked what their experiences were, positively and negatively, and what we can expect.''
The fraternity among Minnesota's five Division I coaches is tight, and Sandelin presumably has provided counsel to St. Cloud coach Brett Larson, a Bulldogs assistant on the 2011 and '18 national championship teams.
"It's awesome,'' Sandelin said of Larson getting the Huskies to the Frozen Four. "No. 1, he's a great friend, and No. 2, they're a team in our league. To beat B.U. and B.C. and do it the way they did shows what kind of team they are. … It's great for all three Minnesota schools.''
On Tuesday during a video news conference, Larson certainly sounded prepared through his UMD experience.
"The biggest thing you try to do is let the kids be excited for a couple days,'' Larson said. "They earned it, they deserve it, they should be excited. Then what you try to do is manage their emotions where you try to get all the distractions out of the way – worrying about family tickets, those type of things. Then the next step is to get them refocused on our day-to-day preparation and making it feel no different than the preparation going into the regional. Even though it's the Frozen Four and we're all excited, it's still a hockey game.''
Larson is thrilled that three Minnesota teams are in the Frozen Four, but he added that there is pressing business that trumps the feel-good narratives.
"When you get to this point, those peripheral things don't matter because you're just preparing to play a great team,'' he said. "It's nice to see three Minnesota teams in, but we've already moved past that. Now we're focused on playing a team that just played an amazing game to win the regional.''