FARGO — St. Cloud State and Minnesota State Mankato have been sports rivals since at least 1932, when both were charter members of the Northern Teachers Athletic Conference. Some 91 years later, the men's hockey teams for the Huskies and Mavericks have kept that rivalry thriving, even though they now play in different conferences.
Another chapter of that intrastate rivalry takes place at 4 p.m., Thursday at Scheels Arena, where No. 2 seed St. Cloud State will face No. 3 seed Minnesota State in the opener of the NCAA Fargo Regional.
It'll be the second NCAA Division I tournament meeting between the Huskies and Mavericks, and if it comes anywhere near matching the excitement of the first showdown, fans will be in for a treat.
St. Cloud State defeated Minnesota State 5-4 in a thriller in the 2021 NCAA Frozen Four semifinals in Pittsburgh. Nolan Walker's redirected shot with 53.2 seconds left in the third period was the winner for the Huskies, who led 3-1 in the second period only to see the Mavericks score three consecutive goals to go ahead 4-3. Joe Molenaar tied it with 9:46 left in the third.
"These games just come down to every inch matters,'' Huskies captain Spencer Maier, who had a goal and an assist in that game, said Wednesday. "The game we played in Pittsburgh came down to the last shot. You never know what's going to happen, and it's going to be a great game tomorrow.''
The Mavericks have lost three in a row and five of the past six against the Huskies, who swept an October home series this season. Minnesota State is aiming to reverse the trend when it matters most.
"Playing them the previous couple of years, it's been good games,'' Mavericks captain Cade Borchardt said. "We don't like the record we have against them, but it just makes us more motivated to get 'em.''
Minnesota State coach Mike Hastings, a St. Cloud State alum, sees the rivalry between the schools as healthy, even if they're not meeting four times a season as they did as WCHA members.
"They make us better every time we play them,'' Hastings said. "From my standpoint, yeah, there's a rivalry there.''
St. Cloud State coach Brett Larson considers Minnesota State a team that plays a hard, physical style like the Huskies faced against Minnesota Duluth, North Dakota and Colorado College in the NCHC tournament.
"Hopefully, we're used to that and that's what's gonna help us prepare for the same thing,'' Larson said. "Mankato plays a lot like those teams.''
Minnesota flavor in tourney
There are 63 players from Minnesota on the rosters of the 16 NCAA tournament teams, the most of any state or Canadian province. Michigan has 51 players in the tournament, followed by Ontario (44), New York (27), Alberta (26) and Massachusetts and British Columbia (23).
Every team except for Boston University and Merrimack has at least one Minnesotan on its roster. Leading the way are the Gophers with 20, followed by St. Cloud State (12), Minnesota State (8), Denver (5) and Canisius, Michigan Tech and Colgate (3 each). Michigan, Harvard and Cornell each have two Minnesotans, while Ohio State, Penn State and Western Michigan have one each.
Of the 446 players on tournament rosters, 292, or 65.5%, are from the United States. Canada has 119 (26.7%). The Gophers have the most Americans on their roster with 25. Canisius has the most Canadians (15).