Top-ranked Minnesota State not bothered by being No. 2 overall seed in NCAA hockey tournament

Minnesota State men’s hockey head coach Mike Hastings address his player during practice Wednesday for the NCAA hockey tournament at MVP Arena.
PHOTOGRAPHER:

Minnesota State men’s hockey head coach Mike Hastings address his player during practice Wednesday for the NCAA hockey tournament at MVP Arena.

ALBANY — Minnesota State enters the NCAA men’s hockey tournament with a 35-5-0 record and the No. 1 ranking in the USCHO.com and USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine college hockey polls.

But the Mavericks aren’t ranked first in the Pairwise Rankings, which helps determine the field for the 16-team tournament. They are second, and are the No. 2 overall seed in the tournament. Second-ranked Michigan (29-9-1), thanks to its place at the top of the Pairwise, is top overall seed for the tournament.

The CCHA tournament-champion Mavericks, who face 15th-seeded Harvard in the first game of the Albany Regional semifinal at noon Thursday at MVP Arena, aren’t bothered by not being the top overall seed in the tournament.

“At the end of the day, they put together criteria that we’ll be judged by,” Minnesota State head coach Mike Hastings said Wednesday. “We knew what it was at the beginning of the year. It is what it is. And, as this tournament has shown multiple times, even in the time that this young group has been with us . . . this tournament is about getting in because once you get in, everybody’s record goes away. You win, you stay. You lose, you go home.

“At the end of the day, the rankings are what they are. I guess the word that everybody uses now is you’ve got to go prove it. So we’ve got to go out and earn the opportunity to be here on Saturday, so I don’t think it’s being slighted. I just think it’s we knew what the criteria was coming in, and you win the games that you could win and put yourself in the best position to have the opportunity to be in this tournament, and that’s what we’ve done.”

Being a No. 1 seed can be a curse. Just ask St. Cloud State. The Huskies were the top overall seed in the 2018 and 2019 tournaments, only to lose in the regional semifinals to No. 16 seeds Air Force and AIC, respectively.

“I think the biggest thing is just getting in,” Mavericks senior defenseman Wyatt Aamdot said. “A lot of crazy things can happen. We’ve seen a 16 seed upset a No. 1. At the end of the day, I don’t think those seeds really matter too much. Everyone you play now is going to be a good hockey team. So we have to be prepared [and] be ready to play our game. Anything can happen at this time.”

The Crimson (21-10-3), who won the ECAC Hockey tournament title with a 3-2 overtime victory over Quinnipiac last Saturday, will have their work cut out for them.

The Mavericks have an outstanding offense. They have four players with over 40 points. Julian Napravnik and Nathan Smith each have 49 points, Brendan Furry has 41 Cade Borchardt has 40. Ryan Sandelin leads the Mavericks with 21 goals.

And scoring against Minnesota State goalie Dryden McKay could be difficult. McKay, a Hobey Baker Award top-10 finalist, is 35-4-0 with a 1.27 goals-against average, a .934 save percentage and nine shutouts.

“I think they have a great mix,” Harvard head coach Ted Donato said. “When you only lose five games on the season, they’ve got great special teams, excellent goaltending and play great team defense. This is an experienced team that’s had a lot of success over the last few years with a great coach in Mike Hastings. [It’s a] good challenge for us, but I think we have some things that we do well, and we have a lot of confidence in our ability and this is a great test for us, but one that we’re super excited about.”

If Harvard can draw confidence from beating a top-notch goalie, it only needs to look back at the win over Quinnipiac. The Crimson got three pucks past Bobcats goalie Yaniv Perets, who has a GAA under 1.00.

“At this time of year, we’ve got to find different ways to produce,” Harvard forward Casey Dorbach said. “I have faith in this group and up and down the lineup. You can get it from a lot of guys, and hopefully, the right guys step up. And I think we got that.”

SECOND SEMIFINAL

Seventh-ranked North Dakota (24-13-1) of the NCHC takes on ninth-ranked Notre Dame (27-11-0) of the Big Ten in Thursday’s second semifinal at 6 p.m.

The Fighting Hawks, who are making their first visit to Albany since playing in the 2001 Frozen Four, will be without one of their top players in defenseman Jake Sanderson. Sanderson, a first-round selection of the Ottawa Senators in the 2020 NHL Draft, has played in 23 of the team’s 38 games this year. He has had several injuries this season, plus played for the U.S. teams in the World Juniors and the Winter Olympics. He suffered an upper-body injury in the only game he played in the Olympics, a 4-2 win over Canada on Feb. 12.

Sanderson is North Dakota’s third-leading scorer with eight goals and 18 assists.

“First of all, with Jake out of our lineup, obviously is an elite player,” North Dakota head coach Brad Berry said. “He made an impact when he was in our lineup. He’s been out of our lineup for an extended period of time this year due to injury and due to World Juniors in the Olympics, and our guys didn’t miss a beat. Our guys worked extremely hard. Our guys won games without him in our lineup. . . . We’ve got that businesslike mentality, and we’ve got really good players in our lineup here. We play as a team, and we feel that we’re going to have a excellent chance to keep moving forward here [Thursday] with the group that we got.”

“Sandy’s an elite player, and we love him and it’s nice to have in the lineup,” North Dakota goalie Zach Driscoll said. “But like coach said, it’s about the guys we do have in the room at the time. Obviously, we would take him back, but it’s about the guys that we do have in the lineup and we are confident in that.”

Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson is just happy to be here. The Fighting Irish were set to play in last year’s regional in Albany against Boston College. But, they had several positive COVID-19 tests before they could even get on the ice and were forced to withdraw from the tournament.

“After what we went through here last year, obviously this is a much better situation,” said Jackson, who won the 1992 NCAA title in Albany as the head coach of Lake Superior State. “Getting here, earning the opportunity to play here last year, we’re in the same locker room [but a] different hotel, but we didn’t even get a chance to practice before we were told that we were done. I just have been emphasizing the importance for our guys just to recognize be grateful for the opportunity to play. Last year, if anything, for me it’s all about gratitude and being how fortunate we are to be able to be in this game.” 

HOMECOMING

Several players with ties to Union and RPI will be playing Thursday.

Jack Adams, who was with Union from 2017-20, is with Notre Dame. Adams missed all of the 2019-20 season after suffering a knee injury in the Detroit Red Wings prospect camp in the summer of 2019. When Union decided not to play the 2020-21 season because of the coronavirus pandemic, Adams transferred to Providence. Adams then transferred to Notre Dame in the summer.

Adams, who has six goals and 10 assists in 36 games with Notre Dame, is familiar with the MVP Arena ice. He played in two Mayor’s Cup games against RPI. Union won both times.

“It’s kind of weird [being back]. I’m not going to lie,” said Adams, who had 14 goals and 21 assists in 66 games with Union. “It was emotional seeing ‘Bags’ [Union equipment manager Dave Baglio] and [Union athletic director] Jim [McLaughlin] and [Union athletic trainer] Cheryl [Rockwood]. I’m probably seeing [former Union] coach [Rick] Bennett tomorrow. It’s been pretty hard, but it’s pretty cool to be here with Notre Dame.”

When Adams saw Notre Dame was being placed in Albany during Sunday’s selection show, he was excited.

“It was pretty cool, honestly,” Adams said. “I was definitely hoping we were going to come here. It’s good for my family. [They’re] not too far away [in Boxford, Massachusetts]. I wish we could have done it with Union at some point, but obviously being with Notre Dame, it’s pretty special to have all schools here, so it’s pretty cool.”

Other former Dutchmen playing in the regional are Minnesota State forward Sam Morton, who played 1 1/2 seasons before leaving Union midway through the 2019-20 season, and Notre Dame goalie Josh Graziano, who played in four games after joining Union midway through the 2019-20 campaign.

RPI is represented by North Dakota defenseman Brady Ferner, who played for the Engineers from 2018-20. When RPI decided not to play in 2020-21 because of the pandemic, Ferner left RPI and served as volunteer assistant coach with the U.S. Hockey League’s Sioux City Musketeers.

Like Adams, Ferner played in two Mayor’s Cup games. RPI lost in 2019, but won in 2020.

“It’s pretty special,” said Ferner, who has four assists in 28 games this season. “Obviously, I started my career here, so it’s pretty neat that it’s kind of come full circle and [it’s] exciting back to playing in this building again.”

FROZEN FOUR MEMORIES

Lake Superior State’s 1992 win over Wisconsin at then-Knickerbocker Arena was Jackson’s first title. The game is remembered for the behavior of the Wisconsin team during and after the game. The Badgers were very unhappy with the officiating and tried to get to referee Tim McConaghy. Because of that, the NCAA stripped the Badgers of their second-place finish.

“For me, it was a big, big step for our program,” Jackson said. “The year prior may have been the most talented team I’ve ever had at Lake Superior State. . . . There were 13 seniors on that team, and we lost our discipline in the NCAA regional. In the year after that, we were very disciplined. The opposing team that day lost their discipline, and it was a big difference in why we won.”

North Dakota assistant coach Karl Goehring was the goalie on the 2001 team that lost to Boston College 3-2 in overtime in the championship game at then-Pepsi Arena. It was a rematch of the 2000 title game in Providence, Rhode Island. North Dakota won 4-2.

“It was a fun time to always be playing as a college player and great memories to get here,” Goehring said. “Obviously, disappointed in the result there. But when you look back, being a little bit older now, just thankful for the time and thankful for the opportunity to be in those great games and certainly [I] thought that was one of them.”

Categories: College Sports, Sports

Leave a Reply