MANKATO – The Mavericks from Minnesota State opened the WCHA portion of their 2007-08 men’s schedule by losing a pair of games to Minnesota, 4-3 and 5-3. This put the Mavericks’ winless streak vs. the Gophers at 20 games (0-17-3) and all-time record at 2-25-2.
Two months later, the Gophers were in seventh place in the WCHA at 6-11-5, and the Mavericks were on a hot streak that had moved them to 9-9-4 in conference play.
This seemed worth a drive to Mankato to seek information on this turnaround. Troy Jutting was in the eighth of what would be 12 seasons as the Mavericks’ coach.
Practice was taking place at All Seasons Arena, a two-rink facility that had opened in 1973. Games were played downtown in the Civic Center, but when recruits came to a practice they saw All Seasons, a bare-bones arena with minimal amenities.
This is what I recall most vividly from that conversation in February 2008: Jutting saying that in his eight seasons as the Division I coach in Mankato he had never been able to give a scholarship to a player who also had been offered by the Gophers.
Jutting had found a number of players more than worthy of Gophers’ recruitment, including the tremendous David Backes for three seasons concluding in 2006, but none who had been offered a sizable scholarship by Don Lucia.
Twelve seasons later, Minnesota State Mankato carries the No. 1 ranking in both polls (USA Hockey and USCHO) into this weekend’s home series against Lake Superior State. The Mavericks are 12-1-1 and fresh from sweeping Minnesota Duluth, the two-time defending national champion, in Duluth.
The Mavericks were able to move practices to the Civic Center and secure an improved locker room in the fall of 2015. Two years later, construction started on what’s now a hockey-centric, $6 million remodeling of the Civic Center. It has brought first-class offices and locker rooms, a cafeteria and meeting rooms, for both the men’s and women’s teams.
There is also an impressive weight training/workout room to which Backes donated $100,000. This reinforced my theory that no sport in our market has changed more this decade than college hockey — partly with the conference chaos, more so with expanded recruiting horizons.
Mike Hastings is in his eighth season as the Mavericks’ coach and early in a 10-year contract extension that runs through 2027.
“You’re probably right about the change in our sport,’’ Hastings said. “I was at Minnesota for a year, and there are always going to be advantages, but with us recruits see this facility now, a school with a lot to offer, and the enthusiasm Mankato has for the Mavericks, and outstanding players want to come here.’’
And stay. Three standouts — senior forwards Marc Michaelis and Parker Tuomie, and junior defenseman Connor Mackey — were likely to sign pro contracts after last season.
The Mavericks were the No. 1 seed in the East Regional last March, but were sent to play at Providence. They blew a 3-0 lead, lost 6-3 and the Mavericks fell to 0-6 in NCAA tournaments — 0-5 under Hastings.
Tuomie, Michaelis and Mackey returned. Tuomie was asked if that NCAA emptiness was the reason.
He smiled, started to talk, paused … wanting to make sure it didn’t sound like the Mavericks were getting ahead of themselves, already fixated on the NCAA tournament.
Finally, he said: “We couldn’t leave it like that. We needed to make another try.’’
Tuomie’s father, Tray, was playing pro hockey in Germany when he met his wife, Anke. Parker moved to a boarding school in Berlin to play hockey when he was 13. He played his first junior hockey with the Wenatchee (Wash.) Wild in 2013-14.
Hastings and Tray Tuomie were teammates at St. Cloud State in the 1980s. The Mavericks offered Parker when he was playing for Sioux Falls in the USHL in 2014-15. One night a Mavericks assistant asked, “Anyone else here you want to play with in college?’’
Tuomie’s answer was: ‘‘No, but there’s a player with the Magicians in Richfield that we should sign — Marc Michaelis. I played with Marc as a kid in Germany. He’s very good.’’
The rest is history for Mankato hockey. Almost.
Michaelis goes into this weekend with 58 goals and 135 points in 131 games for Mankato. Linemate Tuomie has 37 goals and 108 points. Charlie Gerard is the third senior on that line and another scoring threat.
The Mavericks are getting outstanding goaltending from sophomore Dryden McKay. Named Dryden because Kenny was his father Ross’ favorite goalie. Ross also tended goal in the NHL — one game for Hartford in 1991, 35 minutes in relief, 15 shots, three goals allowed.
German stars. Goalie named Dryden. Amenities worthy of a powerhouse in the new age of college hockey.
All that’s left for the Mavericks is to eliminate that “almost.’’ It won’t be real history until the NCAA albatross is slain.
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