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Friday, March 22, 2013


Minnesota State has had varsity men's hockey since the 1969-70 season and has had NCAA Division I hockey since 1996-97.
And during the course of its Division I-era, we can point to one MSU team that has made it to the NCAA postseason tournament.  This team, as we talk about quite often, was the team from 2002-03.  That year was memorable for many reasons. 
The Mavericks of a decade ago finished with a 20-11-10 mark and ranked second in the final Western Collegiate Hockey Association standings with a 15-6-7 record.  At one point MSU went unbeaten in a school-record 17 straight games. A pair of dynamic forwards from Alberta combined for 128 points and earned All-America honors in Shane Joseph (29 goals, 36 assists for 65 points) and Grant Stevenson (27 goals, 36 assists for 63 points). Captain B.J. Abel, who was named the team's Most Valuable Player at the end of the year, totalled 12-24--36 and four other forwards hit double digits for goals in Cole Bassett (14), Brock Becker (14), Adam Gerlach (13) and Dana Sorenson (12). The MSU blueline corps was solid with veterans Joe Bourne and Pete Runkle anchoring a heady and steady group. And early on the coaching staff, which consisted of head coach Troy Jutting along with assistants Darren Blue and Eric Means, found a goaltending formula that saw Jon Volp play one game one night and Jason Jensen the next. 
A nonconference home win and road tie with Nebraska Omaha set up a home WCHA first-round best-of-three play-off series in Mankato with the University of Wisconsin.  The Mavericks won the first game 2-1 before Stevenson's goal at 1:21 of the second overtime period sent the Badgers packing in game two.
MSU fell in overtime to the University of Minnesota in the first game of the WCHA Final Five, then dropped a 6-4 decision to Minnesota Duluth in the third-place game the following day.  The Mavericks made the 2002-03 tournament as the 16th seed and headed for the East regional in Providence, R.I., for a first-round game against top-seeded Cornell where, led by future National Hockey League stand-outs Matt Moulson and Doug Murray, the Big Red overcame the Mavericks 5-2.
A lot of this sounds familiar, in a Back to the Future-kind of way.
For example, the long unbeaten streak.  This year's squad, led by first-year head coach Mike Hastings, got off to a pedestrian 3-5-2 start before reeling off a seven-game winning streak. Skill? A trio of forwards in sophomores Matt Leitner (17-30--47) and Jean-Paul Lafontaine (9-26--35) and senior Eriah Hayes (20-16--35) stand atop a scoring chart that boasts an offense that includes a nation-leading 44 power play goals. Secondary scoring abounds with another 11 players in double-digit scoring after the top three. The defensive group has a pair of point producers in Zach Palmquist and Josh Nelson and rangy shut-down types such as Tyler Elbrecht and Brett Stern. And goaltending-wise, the parallel between this year and back then has been that freshman Stephon Williams, the 2012-13 WCHA Goaltending Champion and WCHA Rookie of the Year, has been, not unlike the Volp-Jensen combo of yesteryear, consistently good. All this has led to an unprecented season with a record 24 wins and new heights in the national rankings. 
It took three games for the Mavericks to dispatch Nebraska Omaha in a league play-off series played in Mankato in the middle of March. And not unlike 2002-03, the 2012-13 version bowed out in its first game of the WCHA tournament, this time with a loss to the University of Wisconsin. 
This weekend the Mavericks will find out where they go for NCAA Regional action. And while there's a sense that there are similarities between this year's team and the one which made the program's first appearance in the NCAA postseason party, this will also signify an opportunity for the guys from the school in southern Minnesota to create a new identity for their hockey program.
Can't wait to see how this turns out.
It's great to be a Maverick!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

From Thundar to Stomper: Examining Division II Athletic Excellence

As a native of West Fargo, N.D., I grew up a fan of North Dakota State University, who along with MSU was a long-time member of the North Central Conference.

Although my parents are alumni of the University of North Dakota and still bleed green and white to this day, my contradicting allegiance to the Bison began when I was only a toddler.  My aunt ran sprints as a member of the NDSU track team and also served as my babysitter during her four years as a student-athlete in Fargo.  Her and her friends took me to countless Bison athletic events over the years and had me hooked, but it wasn't until I grew older that I began to truly appreciate the success NDSU athletics has had and continues to experience.

As my fifth year as a student at Minnesota State draws to an end, I am finding more and more similarities between the former NCAA Division II powerhouse I grew up cheering for and the emerging NCAA Division II powerhouse I call my alma mater.  In my opinion, to be considered a powerhouse an institution must have a majority of its programs finish consistently at or near the top of its respective conference standings in addition to achieving some degree of success at the regional and national level.

North Dakota State's football, volleyball, basketball (M&W), wrestling, softball and track and field programs (M&W) were often considered the class of the North Central Conference and have the conference and national championship banners to prove it. When I look at Minnesota State, I believe MSU has quickly established itself as the class of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference and is on the brink of being recognized nationally as an NCAA Division II powerhouse as the championship banners begin to pile up in Taylor Center and Myers Field House.

MSU's Division II team sports have collected four NSIC regular-season titles (soccer, football, men's basketball, men's indoor track and field) and two second-place finishes (wrestling and women's basketball) plus an NSIC tournament championship (men's basketball) in the 11 conference sports that have been decided thus far and have a combined 109-25-5 record (.802) in 2012-13.  The Maverick baseball and softball teams were both selected No. 1 in their NSIC preseason coaches polls and the men's outdoor track and field squad is also the pre-season conference favorite. Individually, 17 different Maverick student-athletes have garnered a total of 21 All-American awards this year for both academic and athletic success.

Did I forget to mention that the DI men's hockey team is No. 10 in the country and after securing home ice for the WCHA playoffs is well on its way to a berth in the WCHA Final Five and NCAA national tournament?

While Minnesota State is three years removed from its last national championship (women's basketball 2008-09), five programs have finished in the top eight nationally the past three seasons with the Maverick baseball team earning two of them (7th in 2010, 3rd in 2012).

Although some people around Mankato and the Upper Midwest may believe MSU is far from a national powerhouse given its history in the NCC, its performance at the national level is beginning to show otherwise. Of the all the sports at MSU that are ranked at the national level, only the women's swimming and diving and women's tennis teams have yet to crack the top-25 this year.

Since the collapse of the NCC, the Bison have won back-to-back NCAA Division I FCS national championships and along with former NCC-member and bitter rival South Dakota State, have combined for three appearances in the NCAA Division I "Big Dance" in just five seasons.

Minnesota State has filled the void left by schools like NDSU, SDSU and UND and if it can continue the athletic excellence it has achieved the past five years into the next five years... who wouldn't call it a powerhouse?

by Lucas Steckler, Minnesota State Athletic Communications graduate assistant

Thursday, March 7, 2013


Loy "Rock" Young (right) with Kevin Buisman
(Director of Athletics) and men's basketball coach
Matt Margenthaler
We received an email back in January from a gentleman named Jerry Young.

Jerry was born in Mankato and attended MSU’s Wilson Campus School where he played basketball and football for Wendell Jahnke in high school in the mid-1960's

An admitted gym rat in the 50’s & 60’s, he spent a lot of time hanging out wherever his dad happened to be. Jerry's father happened to be school legend Loy "Rock" Young.

Born in 1923 in Summer, Iowa, in the early 1940’s, Rock was a four-year basketball letterman at what was then known as Mankato State Teachers College. His playing career and time in Mankato was interrupted by World War II as he spent four years as a pilot in the Army Transport Command, including 13 months flying a C-47 from India to China over the Himalayan mountain range. More than 1,000 men and 600 planes were lost in that battle. A member of "The Greatest Generation," Rock earned the Distinguished Flying Cross and an Air Medal with an Oak Leaf Cluster.

He returned from overseas to once again play in Mankato, helping the Indians to the NAIA finals in Kansas City, Mo., in 1947.  After graduating, he coached at two Minnesota high schools and was the head football coach at Dickinson State College before heading to Chadron State so he could coach basketball. One of the most successful coaches ever at Chadron, he was inducted into its Hall of Fame in 1992. Rock left Chadron to join the physical education department and serve as an assistant football and basketball coach at his alma mater, where he worked with MSU icons Bill Morris and Bob Otto until his retirement in 1984.  He was inducted into the MSU Athletics Hall of Fame in 1983.

“Rock”  recently turned 90 and for the first time since retirement is back in Mankato - moving into Keystone Communities with his wife of 68 years, Janette.  

We had a chance to meet and visit with Rock prior to the men's basketball game vs. Southwest Minnesota State Feb. 23rd. And from that meeting, it became obvious that the passion for MSU flows strongly through him and his family.

A big thanks to Jerry for helping us all come together.

It's great to be a Maverick!