Mankato St. excited about playoff invite

Michael Rand

Mankato State athletics director Don Amiot said he knew the school’s hockey program was moving closer to its goal of gaining membership in the WCHA when he received a letter from league commissioner Bruce McLeod lauding the school’s continued progress at the Division I level.
It was already a safe bet that Mankato State and Nebraska-Omaha would join the WCHA for the 1999-2000 season, but that letter helped Amiot and his staff relax a little more.
Then, earlier this month, McLeod sent another letter to Amiot. In it, the commissioner invited Mankato State, a Division I independent, to play in the 1997-98 WCHA playoffs as a replacement for Northern Michigan, which is leaving for the CCHA next season.
Now Amiot is positively giddy.
“The first letter was nice because it said our progress was outstanding,” he said. “The second letter was like a large sack of candy. We were pretty excited about it.”
Amiot said he knew from discussions with athletics directors from WCHA schools at the league’s spring meetings that participating in next year’s playoffs as an affiliated team was a possibility. McLeod’s letter confirmed the invitation, and last Tuesday the school accepted.
The Mavericks will be the No. 10 seed in the playoffs unless the WCHA tournament committee determines that the team is worthy of a higher seed. As the No. 10 seed, Mankato State would play a best two-of-three series at the site of the regular-season WCHA champion.
If Mankato State wins the WCHA playoff title, it will earn an automatic berth into the NCAA tournament.
“We are very excited about Mankato State’s decision to accept our invitation,” McLeod said, “and we know Mankato State University is equally excited to showcase its emerging Division I hockey program.”
McLeod cited the desire to keep the WCHA Final Five format in place as another reason to add Mankato State to the playoffs. Ironically, the Final Five began in the 1992-93 season, the same year Alaska-Anchorage joined the league playoffs as an affiliated team.
The Seawolves joined the WCHA a year later, and the Mavericks are hoping to take a similar path in a couple of years.
Mankato State, which played a relatively easy schedule in its first year as a Division I program last season, will play a two-game series against every WCHA team except Wisconsin during the upcoming season.
Because of the increased number of games against WCHA teams, the Mavericks likely won’t enjoy the same level of success in the win/loss column they did last year when they went 17-14-3. But Amiot and coach Don Brose are focusing more on the team’s adjustment to a grueling schedule than its record. They want to prepare the program for WCHA membership in 1999.
“Last year we judged the program on how well we played against Division I teams,” Amiot said. “This year we’ll judge on how hard our kids work every night.”
Amiot, who has attended two of the past three WCHA Final Fives, added that experiencing the atmosphere of the WCHA playoffs will help the team make the transition into big-time college hockey.
“It’s just like the NBA, where you play the regular season and it’s like, ‘da da da,’ and then you get to the post-season and it’s a whole new level,” he said. “It’s an atmosphere of pure hockey.”
Additionally, the move solidifies the chances that Mankato State and Nebraska-Omaha, which begins playing Division I hockey in October, will join the WCHA in 1999.
“The coaching staff is excited about the opportunity,” Amiot said. “It should jump start our ticket sales and give us tremendous exposure.”