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Minnesota State entered the 2019-20 campaign with its eyes on a national championship, but as the pandemic hit, the sudden end of the season was just another bout of disappointment in Mankato.
Seniors including Marc Michaelis and Parker Tuomie bet on themselves and returned for their fourth year with Mavericks, holding a championship-or-bust mentality, despite the potential of landing professional contracts in the spring of 2019.
The program has been among the NCAA’s best in recent history, but the Mavericks have witnessed firsthand how elusive a title can be. Head coach Mike Hastings holds a 214-85-23 overall record during his eight years with the team, during which the Mavericks were on the verge of a sixth NCAA Tournament berth prior to the season’s cancellation.
Now, Hastings is facing a roster without leading scorers Michaelis and Tuomie — in addition to five other seniors — but he is no novice to roster turnover. Hastings has now seen two full recruiting classes through during his eight years with the program.
The Mavericks hold the No. 4 spot in the first 2020-21 rankings, but this year has a different feeling. Replacing leaders is one task, but replacing three of your top four leading scorers and seven seniors on a team with title aspirations is another.
The significant turnover won’t bring the powerhouse’s downfall, but the team should get comfortable with having to grind out closer games versus the high-scoring blowouts of the past several seasons.
There may be an adjustment period, but there are too many positives that fill the locker room in Mankato for this team to be a bust — including skilled, hungry, and wise. Add in Hastings’ proven systems and strong coaching and he still holds all of the tools to expand the winning culture at Minnesota State.
Sophomores Lucas Sowder and Nathan Smith return as the Mavericks’ leading scorers after 31- and 27-point freshman campaigns, respectively. The two were an absolute force as linemates at Florida’s Mitchell High School from 2014-16 and will be reunited full-time as they take the reins of the offense on the top line.
.@MavHockey's @Lucas_sowder looks to build on his #WCHA Rookie of the Year campaign in 2020-21 after leading league newcomers in assists (2⃣5⃣), apg (0.81), points, (3⃣1⃣), ppg (1.00), GWG (3⃣) & plus/minus (+15) a season ago. #ReturningStars#WeAreWCHA | #TraditionStartsHere pic.twitter.com/VaNihO8vkx— WCHA Men's Hockey (@WCHA_MHockey) July 28, 2020
Hastings has some chemistry to work out beyond the duo. Julian Napravnik has shown some growth during his two seasons and could see increased offense with a bigger role.
Senior Reggie Lutz returns as the leading goals scorer with 13 tallies last season and could continue to see substantial time with Jake Jaremko, who has struggled to live up to his impressive 39-point freshman season of 2017-18.
Incoming freshman Akito Hirose finished third in assists in the BCHL last season and could be a complementary passer for a goal-heavy player like Lutz.
Add in transfer Todd Burgess — who scored 14 goals with RPI last season — Dallas Gerads, and the untapped potential of Chris Van Os-Shaw, and it’s clear Hastings still holds a deep team with movable parts and lofty goals.
On the back end, Hastings returns four defensemen who skated in at least 30 games last season, meaning players adjusted and comfortable with the Mavericks’ strong defensive system. Additionally, transfer Sam Morton from Union College will be readjusting to the NCAA after finishing last season with the BCHL’s Wenatchee Wild, finishing with 31 points (11 G, 20 A) in 26 games.
Finally, in the crease returns Dryden McKay, one of the top college goaltenders since joining the NCAA in 2018-19. McKay led the NCAA with a 1.31 GAA, .942 SV%, and ten shutouts. McKay has the ability to offset any adjustments to the new lineup as Hastings and the Mavericks tweak lines and combos to keep them towards the top in 2020-21.
A start date for the 2020-21 season is still in the air as the NCAA and CDC continue to work toward safe measures, testing protocol, and the finer details.
Have a question or a comment for Jacob Messing? You can find him on Twitter @Jacob_Messing.