National Spotlight: Beavers head to Chicago seeking program’s first title

Hanging from the rafters of Maysa Arena are several maroon banners highlighting the past successes of both the Minot High School boys hockey team and the Minot Wolves booster programs.

The Minot State University men’s club hockey team hopes to add a different shade of red to the rafters.

The third-ranked Beavers travel to Chicago for the ACHA Division I national tournament looking to capture their first championship in program history.

The Beavers (26-4) earned their highest national seeding – No. 3 – in program history and are making their fourth consecutive appearance in the 20-team championship tournament. MSU has the fewest losses among tournament participants and is riding a 15-game winning streak dating back to Nov. 30.

“I’ve been here four years and I’ve seen this team go to nationals for the fourth year,” senior defenseman Nigel Dube said. “It’s going to come down to 27 guys, that’s what we’ve been preaching. Twenty-seven guys in the room are going to determine if we play one game or four games this weekend.”

Dube captains a defensive unit that allowed 1.65 goals per game. The 6-foot-3 senior has chipped in offensively as well with 20 points (1 goal, 19 assists).

The Beavers earned a first-round bye and will face the winner of No. 14 Central Oklahoma and No. 19 Niagara on Saturday at 11:30 a.m. on the campus of Robert Morris University (Ill.) MSU has not played either team this season. Coach Wade Regier said not knowing the Beavers’ second-round opponent does not affect their preparation.

“We’ve always been a team and as a coaching staff we don’t analyze much of who we want to play,” he said. “We try to identify what we need to work on and where our strengths are. We like to dictate how we play, how we’re going to forecheck and how we’re going to play defensively.”

MSU boasts one of the deepest rosters among the tournament field. The Beavers roll four lines consisting of 16 forwards and nine defenseman. They also have plenty of experience in the national tournament.

“We have eight seniors and they’ve all been there before,” senior forward Mike Jordan said. “I think it’s going to play a big factor because we know what it takes to win.”

Jordan is second on the team in scoring with 44 points (20 g, 24 a), registering four power-play goals, two game-winning goals and a short-handed tally. Sophomore forward Logan Herauf is the leading scorer with 47 points (22 g, 25 a), including a team-high six power-play goals.

In net, junior Wyatt Waselenchuk and sophomore Riley Hengen have split time for the Beavers. Hengen suffered a high-ankle sprain in warmups prior to a game against the University of Arizona earlier this month. Regier said Hengen should be available in relief of Waselenchuk if needed.

“Wyatt’s going to be our guy and we have full confidence in him,” Regier said. “He’s arguably the best goaltender in the country. Every time he plays, he gives us a chance to win.”

Waselenchuk is 15-2 with a 1.82 goals against average and a .940 save percentage.

The Beavers focus on three main principles that are key in making a deep tournament run.

“One is playing well defensively because we have so much talent, we know our offensive guys are going to get their opportunities,” Regier said. “Second is being the most physical team on the ice. The last is to be disciplined. It’s staying disciplined and staying composed if we get down a couple goals.”

Despite all the success this season, the Beavers still feel they’re lacking some respect. MSU won all three games against Arizona State this season, but the Sun Devils earned the No. 2 seed in front of the Beavers. MSU garnered just one first-place vote in each of the final two polls despite having the nation’s longest winning streak. The Beavers are 10-3 against the tournament field.

“You have to play with a chip on your shoulder every game,” Jordan said. “If you don’t you just play lackadaisical. There has to be a chip on your shoulder when you play Lindenwood – who’s beaten us before. You have to want to beat those teams. You can’t let losing come into your mind.”

This year’s national tournament serves as an opportunity for MSU’s eight seniors to go out on top after experiencing heartbreak the last three seasons. In 2009, the Beavers – the No. 8 seed – defeated Oakland in the first round before losing to top-seeded Lindenwood in the quarterfinals. The following year, MSU was upset in the first round as the sixth seed against Oakland. Last season, the Beavers earned the No. 7 seed and were eliminated in the quarterfinals by Lindenwood. The Beavers have never advanced to the title game in program history.

“It’s win or it’s outright disappointment,” Dube said. “We don’t let losing be an option.”