“Just win, baby.” It’s sports’ time-honored phrase, immortalized by Oakland Raiders’ rogue coach and owner Al Davis. The unwritten rejoinder to that phrase is often simply understood: “…by any means necessary.”
And that’s what the Minnesota State Mavericks have done all year long. With the exception of a four-game winless streak in late December when the Mavs were without head coach Mike Hastings (World Juniors) and scoring ace Parker Tuomie (lower body injury), this club from Mankato has been a juggernaut, piling up the nation’s best 32 wins as they roar into the NCAA Tournament on a seven-game winning streak.
Their wins aren’t always pretty, but escaping with Ws has become a habit. The most glaring example was Saturday night at the Verizon Center, trailing by a pair of goals with under two minutes to play. But Minnesota State found a way to crush Bowling Green’s championship dream in overtime.
Those who follow the Mavs carefully would recall their MacInnes Cup victory last month up at Michigan Tech. On consecutive nights they overcame deficits, the clinching game salvaged with under a minute to play, forcing overtime and then letting their skill guys drive home the nail. In January, struggling Ferris State had the men in purple hanging by a thread, as the Bulldogs’ captain tore in on a breakaway in overtime. But freshman Dryden Mackay turned aside the threat, Hastings battled every zebra in sight and the Mavs stole another W. By any means necessary.
Along with their NCAA-leading 32 wins, Minnesota State has amassed a collection of hardware this season that threatens to collapse their trophy case. In addition to the MacInnes Cup, the Mavs now possess the oldest hockey trophy in America—the MacNaughton Cup as WCHA regular-season champs, and now the freshly minted Jeff Sauer Trophy as WCHA tourney champs. Mankato has become title town, the holder of three trophies, but they are hardly satisfied. “This one was the sweetest,” said Tuomie above the celebratory cacophony on the Verizon Center ice Saturday, “But there is another one we want.”
NCAA immortality is still four wins away, and for the Mavericks, the first win will be their first. They are an imperfect 0-5 in the NCAA tourney, losing in the cruelest ways imaginable. And despite their current identity as college hockey superpower, the committee has shipped them east to begin the 2019 tournament in hostile territory: in Providence, against Providence. The Maverick fan base is outraged, but Hastings represents the cooler heads in this debate.
“To me it’s hockey,” said Hastings to reporter Shane Frederick. “We’re going to have to be good to move on.”
Heading east with a chip on their shoulder might be the perfect recipe for Minnesota State. Feeling disrespected is often a recipe for success. This band of Mavericks has made the art of capturing a two-game series a rote formula, one that harkens back to the motto from the original man in black, Al Davis. “Just win, baby.”
Author Tim Rappleye just released his latest book: Hobey Baker, Upon Further Review (Mission Point Press, 2018). He can be reached on Twitter @TeeRaps.