Reusse: Cast aside, Minnesota State now a national power under Hastings

The Big Ten announced on March 21, 2011, that Penn State’s decision to add men’s hockey would allow the conference to form a six-team league that would start playing for the 2013-14 season.

This would remove Minnesota and Wisconsin from the 12-team WCHA and Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State from the 11-team CCHA.

Another announcement followed on July 9: North Dakota, Minnesota Duluth, Denver, Colorado College, Nebraska Omaha and Miami (Ohio) were the founding members of a conference to start playing in the fall of 2013.

Two months later, St. Cloud State and Western Michigan were added to form the eight-team National Collegiate Hockey Conference.

Brad Faison, the North Dakota athletic director, stated the NCHC teams were selected based on having displayed “a high level of competitiveness and institutional commitment to play at the highest level…,” etc.

The unspoken message to the Minnesota State Mankato athletic department after 15 seasons in Division I hockey was this:

“This isn’t you, Mavericks. You stay with the WCHA/CCHA orphans, including both Alaskas and Alabama-Huntsville.”

It was tough for MSU Mankato officials to argue against that logic. The Mavericks finished 11th among the WCHA’s 12 teams in 2011, and finished there again the next season.

The Mankato Free Press described attendance at the downtown arena (then Verizon, now Mayo Clinic) as “dwindling.”

Troy Jutting was ousted as coach in late March of 2012 after 12 seasons and Kevin Buisman, the athletic director since 2002, went on a search for a replacement.

Mike Hastings, the lead assistant to Dean Blais at Nebraska Omaha, was high on the list.

“We met part way between Omaha and Mankato, at the Pizza Ranch in Sheldon, Iowa,” Buisman said. “I thought we might talk for an hour. It turned into a 4 ½-hour conversation, and most of that was Mike describing his vision for what could be done — really, had to be done — to make us a true factor in college hockey.

“I go back to that meeting and what Mike saw as possible that day, if we made the commitment, is what has happened. He has been transformational for Maverick Hockey.”

That term was used often enough in a phone conversation with Buisman this week that it gets a cap H: Maverick Hockey.

The Mavericks were playing in the downtown arena in 2012, but they were headquartered and practicing at All-Seasons Arena, the old arena with minimal amenities.

New locker rooms were built downtown in 2015 and the Mavericks moved there full time. Three years ago, there was a remodeling of $4 million-plus, with hockey offices, workout areas and excellent locker rooms for both the men’s and women’s programs.

And now a decade after MSU Mankato was left at the curb by the NCHC, this blows my mind:

An outstanding Gophers team — including Olympians and mega-talents Ben Meyers, Matthew Knies and Brock Faber — will be facing the Mavericks in the national semifinals on Thursday night in Boston… and the game is basically a pick-’em up.

  • TV: Gophers vs. Gophers. Minnesota State, 7:30 pm ESPNU

Gophers, storied program and its best talent in years, and Mavericks, plucky program on the prairie and not as loaded as its 2020 club that didn’t get a title chance because of the pandemic, and it’s pick-’em up.

Hastings, the Blais-er’s assistant, was more than transformational. He’s been a miracle worker.

Hey, my roots are in southwest Minnesota. Mankato was always the big city located slightly more than halfway in the 150-mile drive through pure basketball country to the Twin Cities.

Which also makes this mind-blowing: Mankato’s now a hockey town.

In January, three weeks after the Wild tried to steal all the thunder for outdoor hockey with the Winter Classic at Target Field, Mankato was the site for BSN’s Hockey Day in Minnesota.

The cap of the celebration was a Mavericks-St. Thomas mismatch that filled Blakeslee Stadium, the college’s football facility.

The snow kept getting heavier, it was extra-cold, and the stands stayed full and loud. And also thirsty.

You have the word of Jon Mueller, the owner of nearby saloon Jonny B’s, on that. Jon has been in the bar and nightclub business in Mankato in one form or another since 1989.

Boomtown, the bar he used to have a couple doors away, is now closed. He took that over for the hockey celebration and built a corral next to it that looked like a hockey rink.

“The hockey events lasted for three days,” Mueller said. “Wow! I never thought I’d see [sales] numbers like that in my life.”

And how’s the fever for the 37-5 Mavs, right now, Jonny B.?

“For Thursday night, against the Gophers … I wish I had a bar that held 500, not 70 or 80,” he said.

Leave a Comment