icehockey-men-d1 flag

Shane Frederick | The Free Press | October 19, 2018

Minnesota State's tough nonconference slate might be one of the toughest in the country

In the post-modern landscape of college hockey, a team like Minnesota State can accomplish three things with its nonconference schedule:

— It can maintain or renew old regional rivalries.

— It can boost its strength of schedule for national-tournament consideration at the end of the year.

— It can provide unique experiences for players and fans alike.

This weekend's series at North Dakota checks all three boxes, just as last week's season-opening games at the Verizon Center against Boston University did.

"For sure, it's definitely exciting playing Boston University and North Dakota, two teams that are pretty storied franchises," Mavericks senior Max Coatta said.

The Mavericks swept the Terriers a week ago and hope to keep things rolling this weekend at Ralph Engelstad Arena at Grand Forks, North Dakota, against the Fighting Hawks.

It will mark the first time MSU and UND are playing each other since they were both members of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association in 2012-13.

College hockey's big realignment took place after that season, and several WCHA teams went their separate ways.

Minnesota State has tried to keep many of those teams close, however, scheduling Minnesota, St. Cloud State, Minnesota Duluth and Nebraska-Omaha in nonconference play, while mixing in teams from the east such as Boston University, Providence, Princeton and Connecticut. The Mavericks have gone 19-17 against those teams since the 2013-14 season.

MORE: Minnesota State's Tuomie earns national recognition for two-goal, two-assist performance

Mavericks coach Mike Hastings said playing the old rivals is important, but so is giving his team the experience of going out east, as MSU did last year at Boston University, and having those teams, in turn, come to Mankato.

"No. 1, there's interest and excitement," Hastings said. "BU has a national reputation. Year in and year out, they expect to be in the national tournament and compete for a Hockey East championship. If you're a fan and you turn on the tournament, the Boston Terriers are in there."

Boston University was ranked eighth when it played MSU last week. North Dakota is currently No. 16.

"It's another challenge for us," Hastings said. "Consistently, UND is one of the best teams in the country. We're going into a facility that's going to have 11,000-plus on their side."

North Dakota will return the favor and come to Mankato next season.

"People remember what it was like to have North Dakota in this building and to go up there," Hastings said.

The Mavericks will play No. 6 Minnesota home and home on Nov. 2-3 and take on No. 3 Minnesota Duluth, the defending national champion, to start Arizona State's tournament on Dec. 28-29. Clarkson, a team currently receiving votes in the polls, is the other team there.

"Who doesn't love competition?" Hastings said. "You want to play the best and you want to compare yourself to teams that are going to make you better every day."

The opponents, perhaps, are starting to feel the same way. Minnesota State, currently ranked No. 7, is coming off its third WCHA regular-season championship in four years and its fourth national-tournament appearance in six seasons. No team has won more games in the last six-plus seasons than the Mavericks with 153 victories.

"It's important for us to keep getting better," Hastings said. "In order to do that, we have to keep challenging ourselves so the program can continue to grow.

"There's an expectation from the administration and the community and internally from the players and coaches of excellence and success. It doesn't always get measured on the scoreboard, but it's about building something sustainable."

MORE: 5 sleeper teams who could make a surprise tourney run | Most likely championship contenders 

This article is written by Shane Frederick from The Free Press, Mankato, Minn. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.