Pain of regional loss clouds analysis of Minnesota State’s turnaround season

If there was any consolation in simply being one of the 16 teams in the NCAA tournament — which Minnesota State can say it was for just the second time in its 17-year Division I era — coach Mike Hastings wouldn’t admit to it after his Mavericks’ 4-0 loss to Miami on Saturday.

“I’m just being honest with you, it’s like that Band-Aid that just got ripped off,” he said.

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After dwelling in or near the cellar for quite a few years, it’s been a refreshing year in Mankato. Hastings’ first year at the helm of Minnesota State yielded 24 wins (the most in MSU’s short Division I history), home ice in the WCHA playoffs, a Final Five berth and, of course, a spot in the Midwest Regional. And the Mavericks did all they could to outhustle the seasoned Miami RedHawks squad, which has made the NCAA tournament in eight consecutive seasons.

“Everything’s learned,” Hastings said. “I think we were prepared for the challenge. But the thing we need to take away from tonight is the same thing we need to take away from our opportunity at the Final Five — in the end, it wasn’t enough.”

Minnesota State’s Josh Nelson and Zach Lehrke each hit the post in the opening period, and the Mavericks outshot Miami 8-6 in those first 20 minutes. But the wheels came off somewhere in the second period — though not unrelated to the Mavericks losing Evan Mosey for the game after a kneeing major and misconduct in the first.

The RedHawks potted a goal midway through the second and turned the tides for good.

“At this time of the year, it’s tough to come from behind against a team like that,” Hastings said. “I think they took some momentum — one, from not having us cash in on a couple of those posts, and two, I think we lost a lot of our energy on the blue line killing that five-on-four for five minutes. And then I think they just squeezed a little bit of the life out of us.”

The loss — Minnesota State’s only shutout loss of the season — put a bitter punctuation mark on the campaign, but by all accounts it’s a successful season for Hastings’ squad, one that could lead to more success in the years to come.

“It’s been a fun ride,” Tyler Elbrecht said. “Our team came together and in early August, we knew right away we had something special. It’s led us to where we are today. Obviously, it’s not the ending we wanted, but Miami’s a good team and you have to give them credit for the way they played.”

“I appreciate what the group has accomplished this year and their effort,” Hastings said. “It was to just get better and get better and get better every game. And they’ve been challenged a lot. I don’t want the end result of not moving on to taint what happened this year.”

Nonetheless, it’s pretty clear that the patting of backs and celebration of a mere tournament berth won’t be around for very long on Hastings’ watch.

“I think it’s fair to go and look in the mirror and say we’ve made some progress — some significant progress,” Hastings said, “but I don’t think we can be satisfied with that progress because we’re going home and somebody else is moving on.”