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EISEN: Pressure off, MSU men’s hockey captures elusive national title

FRISCO, Texas — Cinderella story? Not quite. The cardiac kids? Kind of. Undisputed national champions? Most definitely.

Six years after a memorable 9-5 victory in the 2013 ACHA Division I National Tournament title game, the Minot State men’s club hockey team is bringing another championship banner back to Maysa Arena.

After all the agony and heartbreak these Beavers have gone through, this feels right. Like destiny has finally been fulfilled.

Five seasons of chasing around a second national championship produced two exits in the quarterfinals and three season-ending defeats in the semifinals. To make matters worse, Minot State entered the 2016, 2017 and 2018 national tournaments as the No. 1 overall seed – the favorite to win it all.

The Beavers failed to live up to those lofty expectations, as the pressure to do so started to pile on.

Then, a large, decorated senior class graduated last summer. They bolstered a remarkable record of 133-21-6 over four seasons, but no national title.

New faces were brought in, paired alongside experienced veterans with numerous battle scars. It took some time to fit all the pieces together.

The Beavers opened the season with a pair of road losses against the University of Colorado, 3-2, and Colorado State, 3-2, in a shootout. In October, MSU lost four more times: once to the University of Jamestown, once to the University of Utah and twice against Iowa State.

The Beavers plummeted from being the No. 2 team in the first rankings poll released to being ranked No. 18. That bruised MSU’s ego. And, from that point on, the Beavers only lost two more games and tied another.

One of those losses was another unpleasant defeat to rival Jamestown on March 7 – two weeks before the national tournament. It was a wake-up call that confirmed the Beavers weren’t invincible. But, at the end of the day, it only gave Minot State more motivation.

These Beavers were out to prove something and, for the first time in a long time, they didn’t have this massive target on their back.

Heading into the national tournament, Minot State only saw a shape in front of its name. A circle with a stem: the No. 6.

It meant nothing to them.

Underestimate them and call them underdogs, they didn’t care. The No. 6-seeded Beavers believed they were the best team in the tournament, and that’s all that truly mattered.

It didn’t even matter who stood in the way.

First round: No. 11 University of Illinois, the team that knocked them out last year in the national semifinals, falls 5-3.

Quarterfinals: No. 3 Adrian College, the defending national champions, falls 3-2.

Semifinals: No. 1 Lindenwood, the favorites and a rematch of the 2013 national title game, falls 1-0.

Championship: No. 5 Iowa State, the team that humbled Minot State back in October, never stood a chance.

Redemption tour complete. Hoist that second national championship banner up to the rafters of Maysa Arena. It’s been long overdue.

This is the opinion of Alex Eisen. He covers Minot State athletics, the Minot Minotauros and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @AEisen13.

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