Minnesota Hockey Magazine

Mavericks’ past gives nod to present

(From L to R) Minnesota State’s Max Gaede, Brett Stern, and Zach Palmquist pose with the Mavericks’ second Broadmoor Trophy in two years. (MHM Photo / Jonathan Watkins)

Minnesota State alums take pride in program’s rise to prominence

St. Paul — The 2014-15 season has proven to be a remarkable one for the Minnesota State Mavericks and it becomes more so with each passing milestone.

The school earned its first-ever No. 1 ranking, spending four out of five weeks at the top of the polls from Jan. 12 to Feb. 15, won its first MacNaughton Cup as WCHA regular-season champs, set a program record for single-season wins in Division I and entered the WCHA Final Five as the No. 2 team in the country.

With its 5-2 win over Michigan Tech in the Final Five championship game, Minnesota State captured its second consecutive Broadmoor Trophy and will certainly ascend back to the top of the polls as the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament.

The program’s historic success this season has not gone unnoticed by a pair of prominent Maverick alumni and former teammates, David Backes and Ryan Carter, both of whom were in St. Paul over the weekend.

Backes and the St. Louis Blues team he captains faced off with Carter’s Minnesota Wild in a Saturday matinee contest leading up to MSU and MTU squaring off at Xcel Energy Center.

“It’s pretty exciting to see where that program’s come,” said Backes, who played 115 games with MSU from 2003-06. “I never sniffed a Final Five and they’re a No. 1 seed, they’re staying in the St. Paul Hotel. I was kind of mad, I was talking to [Mavericks assistant coach Darren Blue] saying, ‘We never stayed in the St. Paul Hotel.’ And he said, ‘Well, we were never the No. 1 seed for the Final Five.’”

Carter, who signed with the Wild as a free agent on Oct. 6, remains sidelined with an upper body injury and did not play against the Blues. But he took the opportunity to reconnect with the team he skated two seasons with from 2004-06 after Minnesota State’s 4-0 semifinal win over Ferris State on Friday.

“I went in and saw some of the guys after the game last night and talked to them a little bit,” Carter said. “I thanked them for playing well and giving me the ribbing rights in the locker room and padding my wallet a little bit.”

Backes admitted his hectic NHL schedule has made it challenging for him to closely follow the team.

“But we’ve got a few characters in here that played college hockey that keep asking how everyone’s doing, trying to rub it in,” Backes said. “Having bragging rights all year has been pretty fantastic and I owe a lot to those guys.”

Backes took the opportunity to watch the Mavericks practice on Friday and said it brought back a lot of great memories for him.

“To think it was 10 years ago that I was there, time flies,” Backes said. “I’ve relished every minute in the pros and that I had in Mankato and it’s flying by. I wish them the best.”

Carter has kept a closer eye on the Mavericks, even having a chance to watch them play when Minnesota State last visited St. Paul in January for the North Star College Cup.

“They work hard and it seems like the play an honest game,” Carter said. “At the same time, it’s not like they’re under-skilled and they have to play that way. They make good plays too … over the course of the game, it seems like they wear teams down.”

Each player heaped praise upon Minnesota State coach Mike Hastings and the job he has done in leading the Mavericks to 24, 26 and now 28 wins and counting to go with a trio of NCAA tournament appearances in his three seasons at the helm.

“Great Hockey mind, great family man and you see how far he’s taken the program since he’s taken over,” Backes said. “They’ve got a great group of guys down there, they work their butts off, they’re well-coached and they’ve done a heck of a job.”

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Minnesota Wild F and former Minnesota State player Ryan Carter knows full well the difficulty in playing against a Mike Hastings coached team. (MHM Photo / Jeff Wegge)

Carter faced Hastings-led teams in the USHL from 2002-04 when he played for the Green Bay Gamblers and Hastings coached the River City (now Omaha) Lancers. His memories of those encounters are not fond ones, however, saying the hard-nosed, in-your-face hockey Hastings instilled in his players was not what he would call fun.

He said sees many of the same qualities in his alma mater but he recognizes subtle differences in the stamp Hastings has placed on the Mavericks.

“I think it’s a little different than the junior kids,” Carter said. “I think he’s adjusted well. They’re older kids and a little bit better players. They’ve got their freedoms but they have their structure and they play hard. It’s a good recipe.”

Hastings is appreciative of the support he’s received since his hiring from players like Backes, Carter and Anaheim Ducks right wing Tim Jackman. He also said “it’s been pretty cool” to see legendary Maverick coach Don Brose around the team as much as he has been.

“They’re prideful about what’s going on,” Hastings said. “It means everything because history is what you need to make sure you look back on because they’re the ones that have put the building blocks into what we’re doing now.

“The alumni and the people that are supporting us, and have since day one, for me, has been fantastic.”