MANKATO — Marc Michaelis listened to the question — "What kept you at Minnesota State rather than pursuing pro hockey opportunities?" — and quickly turned it around.

"I don't think you should ask what kept me here. It should be, 'Why didn't you go pro?' I would have answered, 'Because I would have had to give up this for it,' " Michaelis said during Puck Drop's Tour of Minnesota stop at Minnesota State.

"This" for Michaelis, a standout forward from Mannheim, Germany, is the chance for a special senior season with the Mavericks. He led the team in scoring last season — 19 goals and 23 assists for 42 points — and is one of 20 returnees on a squad that has lofty aspirations and expectations. Minnesota State was ranked No. 3 in the U.S. College Hockey Online preseason poll, and the 5-10, 180-pound Michaelis was named to College Hockey News' preseason all-star team.

"We have a chance here, especially with my class, to leave a legacy with the way with we've played the last three years," said Michaelis, part of back-to-back WCHA regular-season championship teams. "I want to be a part of it."

So does Michaelis' linemate Parker Tuomie, a fellow German from Bremerhaven who was the Mavericks' second-leading scorer with 40 points on 14 goals and 26 assists. "It's a lot of unfinished business here that I want to get done," Tuomie said.

Mavericks coach Mike Hastings appreciates the loyalty Michaelis and Tuomie are showing to the program, along with the leadership they're providing.

"That says a lot about their teammates and about them wanting to, one, finish a degree, and two, try to take our program to places where it hasn't been as well as trying to continue to develop themselves so they're prepared when they step into the waters of pro hockey," Hastings said. "It's enjoyable as a coach to see maturation both inside the boards and outside.

"They're men," Hastings added of Michaelis, 24, and Tuomie, who'll turn 24 later this month. "They're a little bit older, and they act that way."

Michaelis and Tuomie are the brightest stars of a team that wants to flip the script after back-to-back first-round NCAA tournament losses, but they have a lot of help, too. One of those players is sophomore goalie Dryden McKay, who grabbed the job last season and posted a 24-7-2 record with a stellar 1.76 goals-against average.

"The calmness he gave out every single game was pretty impressive for a freshman goaltender," Tuomie said. "He makes us feel pretty safe back there."

Added Hastings, "He's comfortable with who he is, how he approaches things — confident but not arrogant. You want that in a goaltender."

Though the Mavericks' goal is a deep NCAA championship, they know not to look past the series directly ahead of them, the season-opening set against Arizona State on Friday and Saturday at Mankato Civic Center. To Michaelis, that means steady improvement for individuals and the team.

"You want to be a better version of yourself — in the locker room, on the ice, on the stat sheet," he said, then listing mileposts during the season. "There's no reason we should lose a game at home. And looking further ahead, [the NCAA tournament] is the main goal. But you can't think of April in mid-September. We'll get there when the time comes.''