By Ryan Lund
Last weekend the recently energized Minnesota State University, Mankato men’s hockey team, riding a wave of early season enthusiasm following an upset of the then no. 2 ranked Minnesota Gophers, took on the no. 3 ranked Denver University Pioneers in an intense display of hard-nosed, back-and-forth hockey.
It was a rare matchup, bringing one of the nation’s best to Mankato in what ultimately proved to be an incredibly entertaining series.
Goals were scored, hearts were broken, and although the Mavericks walked away defeated, they held their own, battling to a pair of one-goal differentials with one of college hockey’s perennial powers.
The Mavericks might not be expecting a shutout with the league’s top-ranked defense and second-rated scoring defense in town, but do you know what they should expect?
Sitting in the lower level of the Xcel Energy Center last March, sandwiched between fans of both the Golden Gophers and the North Dakota Fighting [redacted], the discussion inevitably turned towards Mankato and the team’s ability to continually upset their Minneapolis-based brethren.
After listening to both sets of fans begrudge the high entry fee at their respective schools I proceeded to drop what rapidly became the evening’s biggest bombshell, short of the final score.
“We get in for free,” I said matter-of-factly, immediately drawing cartoonish expressions of shock that seemed to ripple outwards through the section like a maroon and green wave.
While it’s true that the Gophers and the [redacted] are two of college hockey’s premiere programs, Wisconsin’s “Mad House” draws the NCAA’s largest attendance figures, while St. Cloud fell short of a full house by, on average, just a few hundred seats last season in the ailing National Hockey Center.
And while students might complain about the sometimes cramped confines of the Verizon Wireless Civic Center, those fans who complain the loudest likely haven’t enjoyed a game in the National Hockey Center, where a knee in the back and cramping calves are sometimes the least of your worries.
The Verizon Wireless Civic Center (not to be confused with the Washington’ Capitols’ currently padlocked Verizon Wireless Center), is just a stones throw from Mankato’s downtown bar scene where, let’s be honest, a healthy number of MSU’s upperclassmen are headed following the game anyway.
So, to be clear, we have free hockey tickets, a healthy bar scene on the same block and a Division I men’s hockey team, yet attendance levels regularly clock in under 3,000?
In the words of Chris Berman’s incomprehensively hip Monday Night Football crew, “c’mon man!”
The Minnesota series was a perfect example of what a motivated Mavericks squad can accomplish in their own building, upsetting one of the original college hockey juggernauts in spectacular fashion.
It’s unfortunate then that the Mavericks likely won’t host another sellout until January.
This years’ team is loaded with overlooked talent, and have played competitive hockey early in the season against some of the league’s best.
They deserve a certain level of support from their fans, through thick, think and everything in between. MSU students are being treated to free Division I athletics, along with the chance to watch some of the league’s best face-off on a weekly business.
It’s just too bad that few decide to take advantage and give the team a hometown one.