MELLENBRUCH: Beavers are clearly the team to beat

Last October, Minot State’s men’s hockey team traveled south with a 6-2 record, winner of four consecutive contests ahead of a four-game stretch against Oklahoma and Central Oklahoma. The Bronchos – the eventual national champion – and Sooners were both nationally ranked at the time, as were the Beavers.

But MSU crumbled, losing four times in as many nights.

This year has already been much different.

The top-ranked Beavers have already traveled for a pair of similar road trips this season, including last weekend’s three-game stint in Colorado. They also played three times in Arizona in mid-November.

And both times, MSU has risen to the occasion.

“I’m a pretty happy coach right now,” MSU coach Wade Regier said.

The Beavers were forced to edge out each of their wins in Arizona by one goal, including a 7-6 victory over Arizona State’s ACHA Division II team.

Last weekend, MSU topped each of its opponents by at least four.

It began against No. 5-ranked Colorado, which had already been swept by the Beavers at Maysa Arena a month prior. Minot State scored three times in both the first and third periods, and cruised to a comfortable 7-1 victory.

Then, on both Friday and Saturday, MSU dispatched No. 17 Colorado State by identical 5-1 scorelines.

Regier will gladly accept those results, because they haven’t come as cleanly in recent weeks.

“Honestly, over the last five weeks or so, we haven’t played our best hockey,” he said. “I think that part of it had to do with the complacency of being the No. 1 team, and it’s tough, because a lot of these guys haven’t been on a team that’s ranked No. 1 or the best team in the league. … That was part of the message going into this weekend. We wanted to get back on track and get back to our style of hockey.”

They did so in a big way.

“We had everybody rolling, and the message was definitely received,” Regier said.

Sophomore forward Lyndon Lipinski was the hero on Thursday night against the Buffaloes, scoring both of MSU’s first two goals before completing his hat trick at 6:37 of the second period. Lipinski was one of three MSU players to register three points that night, as he was also joined by Brett Nespor and Reece Forman – who also scored twice against Colorado.

The Beavers enjoyed five different goal scorers both on Friday and Saturday against the Rams.

Now with 17 wins from 18 games – their only defeat coming in a shootout against Midland – the Beavers are the nation’s best team right now, and it’s not even close.

The computer rankings should reflect that, too.

“We really came to play, and not only is that a big win because we beat the No. 5 team, but for the computer rankings, plus-6 against the No. 5 is pretty huge,” Regier said. “That’s a big number that goes in our favor.”

It certainly is, coach.

A national championship continues to be the ultimate goal for Minot State, and this weekend’s results will only bolster those aspirations.

For right now, the Beavers are the team to beat.

And they know it.

“We certainly showed that this weekend, and our guys certainly realize that,” Regier said. “When you talk about overall team depth, we are as good as it gets.”

This is the opinion of Joe Mellenbruch, sports editor of The Minot Daily News. Joe covers Minot State athletics, the Minot Minotauros and Minot High hockey. Follow him on Twitter @Mellenbruch_MDN.