MANKATO, Minn. — The Minnesota State men's hockey team's best shot at trying to get to a Frozen Four and, perhaps, win a national championship ended abruptly on Thursday afternoon with the announcement by the NCAA that it is canceling its winter and spring championships due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.
“We had a lot more on our plate,” senior forward Parker Tuomie said after an emotional team meeting. “It’s tough. As seniors, we’re not going to get that chance again. Most of us stayed for that exact reason, to try to make the most of it.”
The NCAA’s announcement came about 3 1/2 hours after the Western Collegiate Hockey Association canceled the remainder of its league playoffs.
The Mavericks were set to host Michigan Tech in a semifinal series starting Friday at the Mayo Clinic Health System Event Center. Bemidji State was to host Bowling Green in the other semifinal. The championship game was scheduled for March 21.
Minnesota State athletic director Kevin Buisman said after the 4 p.m. meeting it had been a whirlwind 24 hours.
“We went from 5 p.m. (Wednesday), wondering how to keep the WCHA tournament alive, to 11:30 (Thursday morning), meeting with the team and telling them, ‘Don’t give up hope. Keep the NCAA dream alive, and focus on that,’ to being back here five hours later telling them the dream is over,” Buisman said.
The Mavericks, who had a record of 31-5-2, were ranked second in the country and would have been a top seed for one of the NCAA regionals scheduled for March 27-29 at four locations around the country. The Frozen Four was scheduled for April 9-11 at Detroit.
“It was raw and emotional in there,” Buisman said of the team meeting. “It was hard to get it underway. What I shared with them is that this team is going to go down as the greatest in program history. It’s unfortunate they didn’t get to take the final step.”
The Mavericks won their third straight MacNaughton Cup as WCHA regular-season champions and were going for their second straight Jeff Sauer Trophy as conference tournament champions. But they also had their sights set on winning their first national tournament game and even winning it all.
“Every year you try to do something special,” said senior defenseman Ian Scheid. “But this year felt different the way the season was going.”
The Mavericks were led this season by seven seniors, including Hobey Baker Award candidate Marc Michaelis, the leading goal scorer in MSU’s Division I history, as well as fellow forwards Tuomie, Nick Rivera, Josh French and Charlie Gerard and defensemen Scheid and Edwin Hookenson. The senior group has been part of 114 victories with the Mavericks.
Mavericks coach Mike Hastings, who is in his eighth season at Minnesota State, said Thursday was one of the most difficult days of his coaching career.
"We try to talk about our hockey team being our second family," Hastings said. "And I can tell you, that's lived out."
Tuomie said he and his teammates had been following the coronavirus situation as reports came in this week. The NCAA originally announced Wednesday that it was imposing spectator restrictions on its championship events, and then the NBA announced it was suspending its season after a player was diagnosed with the virus.
Even as other professional sports leagues announced that they would be suspending their seasons, the NCAA announcement, which also meant the cancellation of March Madness men’s and women’s basketball tournaments and the Final Four was a stunner.
“It was a huge shock,” Tuomie said. “Not just for our team, but for our university and everyone involved with this team and all other teams as well. It’s tough to swallow.”
As difficult and disappointing as the day was for the Mavericks, Hastings said keeping people healthy and trying to curb the spread of the virus is what's important right now.
"The right thing is being done," Hastings said. "As hard as it is, the right thing is being done."