Beavers riding hot streak into home stretch
Considering the way they have played recently, the Minot State Beavers have earned a bit of a break.
The men’s hockey squad has performed admirably since its return to the ice from the holiday break Jan. 14. Faced with the tough task of six of seven weekends with at least one game on the docket in addition to eight weekday contests over the last six weeks, any other program would be satisfied with a winning record.
Not Wade Regier’s team. The Beavers looked at their daunting path to the national tournament and embraced the challenge. A second-half-opening blowout victory over the Williston State Tetons was followed by a pair of tight losses to the Jamestown Jimmies by a combined three goals. All Jamestown accomplished was making Minot State even hungrier.
What followed the two defeats was a 12-game win streak, bookended by a 7-4 win against the Midland Warriors Jan. 22 and a 7-1 rout of the Tetons Feb. 27 to catapult the Beavers to a 21-2-1 overall record. Minot State outscored its opposition 66-21 during that stretch, and earned shutout wins on three separate occasions.
The secret, according to the Beavers’ head coach, is not fancy skating or well-designed plays in the offensive zone.
“If we take care of our own end and play well defensively, we’re going to give ourselves a good shot to win games,” he said. “This stretch, there haven’t been any really easy games. We had those tough games against Jamestown, Iowa State and even Midland. The guys really stuck together and the continuity of buying into the team culture has really propelled us down this stretch of wins.”
The younger players on the roster have selflessly stepped up in the wake of injuries to key players, including junior Davis Sheldon’s time on the shelf when he missed five games between Jan. 17 and Feb. 12. Regier even went as far as asking players to change positions altogether in shuffling the lineup to give his program the best chance they could possibly have at a win on any given night.
Take Nicholas Doyle for instance, a defenseman out of Winnipeg, Manitoba in the midst of his first season at Minot State exhibited promising skills in the offensive zone and now plays at the forward position for the Beavers. Regier does not see that changing anytime soon.
“With the way that Brayden Pawluk and Dylan Cassie have played back there, that’s added to this as well,” he explained. “Their emergence back there playing well and our defensive unit playing well has afforded us the opportunity to keep Nick up front.”
The hidden gem on Minot State’s offense has provided a huge boost to the squad’s success. Doyle has exploded to the top of Minot State’s points leaderboard as his collective 15 goals and 14 assists tied freshman sensation Carter Barley’s point total of 29 for the best mark on the team. The six-foot, two-way player boasts at least one point in 16 of his 21 games this season and seven points in his last five games.
Now Doyle and the rest of the team have the benefit of 10 days off the ice to rest and recharge for a crucial final 18 days of the regular season that await them. All six of the Beavers’ remaining games are against either the University of Mary Marauders or the Jamestown Jimmies, two of Minot State’s biggest rivals.
The Beavers have yet to play the Marauders this season, but they know the Jimmies all too well. Jamestown is the only program to best the Minot State this season, but the Beavers still hold a 7-2-1 record against their southeastern rivals.
Regier stressed that Minot State’s early struggles against Jamestown bode well for the team moving forward, and he would not have it any other way than facing a gauntlet in the final weeks of the season.
“The challenges that we’re going to face are exactly what the doctor ordered,” Regier said. “They’re probably one of the hardest-working programs in the country. That’s exactly what we need, we need to be playing tough games as we prepare for the national tournament. There’s nothing worse than if you’re in a conference that has some weak opponents and you have to play a few of your weaker opponents and you’re blowing teams out leading up to the national tournament, that can sometimes develop bad habits.”
Staying at the top of their game against a tough opponent over the coming weeks will be the most effective and complete preparation for the varying talent levels the Beavers will meet in the tournament. The mindset entering the home stretch of the regular season, then, is a simple one.
“Every time Jamestown or Mary or anybody plays us, we get their absolute best,” Regier added. “They can go play a weaker opponent the weekend before and split or not play very good, but God knows that when they play us, we’re going to get their absolute best, so that’s a good thing for us to match that energy and use it to our advantage.”