By Shane Frederick
Free Press Staff Writer
When Mike Hastings was hired as Minnesota State’s new hockey coach in April, expectations surrounding the program jumped up.
Hastings was a proven winner as a head coach in the junior ranks, and he worked for several successful college coaches, most recently Dean Blais and Don Lucia.
He was also going to a program that had a nucleus of young, exciting players — including an All-WCHA rookie team selection — as well as one of the most intriguing incoming freshman classes in several years.
Given those things, it was easy to forget why Hastings was hired in the first place.
Minnesota State was coming off its second straight 11th-place finish in the WCHA and fourth straight losing season. The Mavericks were also a team that missed qualifying for the WCHA Final Five for the ninth year in a row.
Hastings didn’t come to Mankato with an Easy Button in his bag. Changing a team’s culture isn’t that simple.
On the surface, Hastings’ first regular-season weekend coaching the Mavericks didn’t sound half-bad.
A 4-1 victory on Friday with a couple of four-point games from Chase Grant and Matt Leitner. A 2-2 tie on Saturday in which MSU sprayed Alabama Huntsville’s goaltender with 53 shots. A clutch goal by senior Eriah Hayes that kept the Mavericks out of the loss column. Decent goaltending performances from senior Phil Cook and rookie Stephon Williams.
If not for Chargers goalie John Griggs, it seemed, the Mavericks would have scored an easy sweep against a program that was given its last rites a year ago, only to receive a last-second reprieve.
Hastings said he thought his players probably deserved better than a tie on Saturday but added that the stalemate could be attributed more to them than to Griggs.
“We’ve got to focus on getting a little bit dirty, getting to the dirty areas and getting those second and third (scoring) opportunities,” Hastings said afterward, citing a trend that anyone who has watched Minnesota State over the last few years knows all too well.
At practice Monday, attention turned to that, as well as mental errors the Mavericks made over the weekend.
“Details, absolutely,” said Grant, the redshirt sophomore who had a hat trick Friday. “I mean, working hard. Nobody’s going to get away with missing out on the little stuff now. We got away from our game on Saturday. I think this whole week is going to be about doing everything we want to in our gameplan and getting back to the basics.”
Since preseason workouts began in September, players have talked about the changes in attitude, style and culture with Hastings at the helm, and they’re learning even more about that this week.
After all, Hastings isn’t just hoping to make immediate improvements, but he wants to change the longterm personality of the program as well.
“Nobody’s going to be able to cut corners this year, and I think that’s exactly what we need,” Grant said. “Nobody’s going to take a day off and get away with it.
“It’s going to benefit us in the long run, that’s for sure.”
Shane Frederick is a Free Press staff writer. Read his blog at mankatofreepresshockey.blogspot.com, and follow him on Twitter @puckato.