MSU men’s hockey prepares to defend national title

Alex Eisen/MDN Minot State men’s hockey head coach Wade Regier (right) draws up a practice drill Monday evening at Maysa Arena in Minot.

Wade Regier isn’t afraid to admit that he basked in the glory of winning the program’s second national championship for a little bit longer than he should have.

It’s hard to blame him. The improbable and impressive Minot State run to the 2019 ACHA Division I men’s national hockey championship rightfully needed some extra time to sink in fully.

“We knew we were young and talented, but boy was it magical with how it all came together,” head coach Regier said. “So, I had to relish it a little bit longer than I normally would, just because it was such a shock. But, in the offseason, you can’t get too complacent because then you forget about recruiting and those type of things.”

The Beavers turned a so-called “rebuilding year” into a national title last season. MSU performed when the pressure was finally off of them — entering the National Tournament with the No. 6 seed instead of the top-seed like they did in the previous three seasons.

Now, all eyes are back on the Beavers as the team to beat.

“It’s extremely high expectations that some of these guys are probably a little bit unprepared for,” Regier said. “I talked with (assistant coach) Wyatt Waselenchuk about when we won it in 2013 — he was our goalie at the time — the next year we were playing against teams that were unranked, absolutely selling out and giving everything they had. You aren’t getting any off nights from anybody. So, our guys have to be ready.”

Everyone wants to beat the defending champions, especially when the bulk of the championship DNA is still present.

MSU only lost two starting forwards from last year’s team: Shain Scheschuk and Dylan Gejdos. The rest of the offensive gang is back together and eager to prove last season wasn’t a fluke.

“We just have to build off last year,” forward Johl Swedlo said. “We can’t take anything for granted. We know what it takes to win now. Hopefully, we don’t have to end up being (ranked) No. 18 right before Christmas and have to battle all the way back. We hope it’s smooth sailing for us, but we will see how that goes.”

Team depth is apparent, but the defensive core is on the younger side. MSU will have veteran Paul O’Connor to utilize. The former Minot Minotauro played a prominent role on the Beavers’ blue line last season.

“We got four new freshmen on defense, so we just have to take care of our own end,” newcomer defenseman Austin Wieler said. “We have a lot of older guys upfront, so they will definitely help us out. We got to do everything as a team.”

In total, MSU only brings in seven new players to add to the championship nucleus. A majority of them were highly touted prospects from around the country.

“We started to get home runs with some of these recruits,” Regier said. “I was getting texts from other coaches like, ‘Oh wow, look at the kids you are bringing in.’ So, it’s going to be exciting for sure.”

The visual reminder of last season’s triumph, a coveted championship banner, will be raised to the rafters at Maysa Arena before the Oct. 4 home game against the University of Jamestown.

Other than that, Regier wants to stay focused on the present and the pursuit of title No. 3.

“We have a strict rule that we can’t wear any championship gear in the facility going forward,” he said. “The program won a national title, but this team did not. We have seven new individuals who didn’t win a national title. So, we don’t want (last year’s players) wearing that stuff around them when they weren’t a part of that opportunity.”

The national title defense begins this weekend at home. The Beavers will host Briercrest College at 7 p.m. on Friday and 2 p.m. on Saturday at Maysa Arena.

Last year, the Beavers posted a 16-2 record at home.

“Everyone is antsy to get back into game shape,” Swedlo said. “Playing here Friday and Saturday is exciting for us, and for the new guys, who get to play in front of a home crowd… We are ready to rumble.”

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