How come Minnesota State is not on the short list of college hockey superpowers, after 151 wins in six seasons? Does coach Mike Hastings simply cast too big a shadow over his Mavericks’ success, a program with the most wins in all of Division I during his six-year tenure in Mankato — more than “brand-name” programs like Denver, Quinnipiac, and even North Dakota?
Everybody knows “Hasty,” however, the affable coach who wins at prodigious levels everywhere he goes, whether it be the USHL or DI hockey. But when asked who is the winningest program in college hockey over the last six years, none of the best-informed pundits in the sport could come up with Minnesota State, even with three cracks at it, a collective oh-for-nine.
“Aha, they’re number one?” said Boston hockey maven Bernie Corbett. “I shouldn’t be surprised, what they’ve done in that league.”
“Now that you say it, it’s pretty obvious,” said Adam Wodon, the editorial chief of College Hockey News. “To the casual observer, it may not pop into their minds. Someone like me, I should know these things. They’ve just been consistently really good.”
The third member of this troika of puck aficionados is Nate Ewell, deputy executive director of College Hockey, Inc. He knows Hastings more than he knows the Mavericks.
“When you look at college hockey through the years, it’s always the coaches that stamp the program,” Ewell said. “Mike’s really established a winning tradition that fits in with the legends of the game.”
NCAA Division I Men's Hockey Wins Over The Last 6 Years
|St. Cloud State||25||22||21||31||16||25||140|
The Mavericks Want The Frozen Four
But there’s one bug-a-boo that has tormented Hastings’ Mavericks: their inability to win games in the NCAA tournament. The one-and-done format of the NCAA hockey bracket has been particularly cruel to Minnesota State, who has been invited to four NCAA dances under Hastings and failed each time to score a second date.
“We’ve got to try and find a way not to just get to the NCAA tournament,” Hastings said, “but to try and progress deep and get to a Frozen Four.”
In last year’s tourney, the Mavericks surrendered a late lead over eventual champion Minnesota Duluth before losing in overtime. That was not nearly as cruel as Minnesota State’s 2015 tournament loss to R.I.T., when the controversial winning goal was reviewed at length before the call on the ice was changed.
“That’s just a tough pill to swallow,” Hastings said before leaving the 2015 NCAA Midwest Regional as the top-ranked team in the country. Three years later, the coach has reconciled the most painful loss of his career.
“They’re learning experiences,” Hastings said. “The same thing we ask our young men to deal with when they’re faced with adversity — you’ve got to learn from them. I can’t tell you that they haven’t been heart-wrenching, because they have. We’ve got to find a way to win at that time of year, we’ve got a lot more road to travel.”
USA Hockey Takes Note Of Hastings' Success
Being victimized by bizarre calls and fickle puck-luck in the NCAA tourney has not tarnished Hastings’ reputation, particularly with USA Hockey. When Hasting’s good friend David Quinn accepted the job with the New York Rangers, American hockey’s national governing body did not hesitate to promote Hastings from assistant to head coach of Team USA’s 2018-19 World Junior squad.
“It was an opportunity I hoped I would have at some time, (but) I didn’t plan on it being this quick,” said Hastings, an intensely loyal USA Hockey man. He’s assisted on two other World Junior squads and coached two USA Junior select teams. He remembers being in historic Warroad, Minnesota, as a teenager in 1980, witnessing the miraculous gold-medal celebration.
“People were dancing in the streets,” said Hastings, who will never forget that moment.
Beginning in December, he gets his own shot at winning an international gold medal for the United States.
“It is so special, when you get to represent your country, you’re dealing with our nation’s best in certain age groups. This is an opportunity that we’re all looking forward to, because you never know if you’re going to have another one.”
The WCHA Is Quietly Loaded With Talent
His birth certificate says 52 years old, but Hastings is a hard-charger, as eager to climb professional rungs as the go-getters half his age. His successful run in this summer’s World Junior Showcase (5-2, beating every nation they played) is now on the back-burner as he returns to Mankato. There he’s seeking to lead the Mavericks to a fourth McNaughton Cup as WCHA regular-season champs, and a third postseason crown. He has too much respect for the league to take anything for granted.
“To be part of the WCHA is something we’re proud of,” said Hastings, who reeled off the names of the league’s elite coaches: Bob Daniels (Ferris), Chris Bergeron (Bowling Green), Tom Serratore (Bemidji), and up-and-comer Grant Potulny (Northern Michigan). “Nobody gives you the chance to carry the trophy at the end; you’ve got to go earn it. That’s something we’ve been fortunate enough to do a few times, and we want to stay on that path.”
His increased stature led Minnesota State to extend his contract, providing Hastings and his assistants with job security. The school and town invested in spectacular additions to their Verizon Center, a massive recruiting tool. But World Junior success and a deep NCAA run might lure Hastings to the NHL, if presented with an offer like the one Quinn received from the New York Rangers. There have been several NHL coaches plucked from the college ranks in recent years, coaches with regular-season records inferior to Hastings’ at Minnesota State.
“Any time you can talk about the elite level in the sport you are coaching, you’re definitely interested,” said Hastings about the NHL. “Like being up in Kamloops with the World Juniors, dealing with the best players. As a coach, that’s something you want to do.”
Hastings’ heart, for now, rests in Mankato.
“The best thing we can do at Minnesota State is just focus on today. Tomorrow takes care of itself if today gets done.”
Tim Rappleye is the author of "Jack Parker's Wiseguys" and the forthcoming book: "Hobey Baker, Upon Further Review," set for release in November. He can be reached @TeeRaps.