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To the Max: Woodbury native helps lift Minnesota State into hockey’s Big Dance

Woodbury graduate Max Gaede helped the Minnesota State University-Mankato men’s hockey team earn a WCHA championship and a trip to the NCAA tournament. (Submitted photo)1 / 2
No. 15-ranked Minnesota State University-Mankato beat Ferris State 4-1 in the final on Saturday in Grand Rapids, Mich., to earn the WCHA championship. (Submitted photo)2 / 2

Max Gaede has embraced his role with the Minnesota State University-Mankato and it has paid off with a conference title and second NCAA trip.

Gaede, a junior forward for the Mavericks and Woodbury High School graduate, makes plays on the fourth line that set up his teammate for success. He goes after freeing the puck to set up scoring opportunities. Minnesota State, which is ranked No. 15 nationally, averages 3.2 goals per game.

“My role is being the best at doing the little things consistently,” Gaede said. “I struggled with this role early on in the year, but now I feel I have become what this team needs me to be.”

In the WCHA tournament, the Mavericks outscored their opponents 16-7 on their way to their first-ever WCHA tourney crown. They beat Ferris State 4-1 in the final on Saturday in Grand Rapids, Mich. Minnesota ran its unbeaten streak to 13 games with the win and now stands 26-13-1 on the year. Ferris State, which the Mavericks defeated all three times it faced, fell to 28-10-3. During the regular season, the Mavericks came a point shy of the McNaughton Cup, the regular season WCHA trophy.

“We were upset, but winning the Final Five tournament for the first time in school history made up for it,” Gaede said. “We are playing our best hockey of the year going into the national tournament, and we are excited to be playing in Worchester, Massachusetts.”

Gaede has nine points this season for the Mavericks as they enter this weekend’s NCAA tournament. His role in supporting the offense this year came as a shift from how has played the game in past year.

“Originally my goal for the season was to get 20 points,” Gaede said. “I thought it was achievable, but then early on in the season, my goal changed. Instead, I wanted to become the hardest player to play against in college hockey, which means I need to be more consistent. I also needed to worry more about winning puck battles in the corners than worrying about putting pucks in the net.”

Gaede once eagerly put the puck in the net and wanted to rack up points. At Woodbury, he scored 43 goals and had 99 points in his three-year varsity career with the Royals from 2007 to 2010. Gaede helped the Royals reach the Class AA state tournament in 2008.

In junior hockey with the Sioux City Musketeers of the USHL, Gaede posted 28 points in 54 games for the 2010-2011 season. After arriving in Mankato during 2011, he had 18 points in his first two seasons with the Mavericks.

Gaede also had a game-winning goal against Nebraska-Omaha in the WCHA playoffs to clinch the series last year. Now, he likes to set someone else up for the game-winner.

“The transition took me awhile,” Gaede said. “Almost two-and-a-half years to be exact, but I now am a happier person and player because I do not have to worry about scoring. It’s great when I do, but I just need to worry about being the best fourth-line guy I can be.”

Gaede has also been an iron man for the Mavericks with 111 consecutive games play in about three seasons. He attributes much of that to improving his diet off the ice.

“I feel like a completely different person these days mentally and physically,” Gaede said. “I’d say this is one of the sole reasons why I haven’t missed a game in almost three years.”

His focus on succeeding at Minnesota State carries over in how he looks at an opportunity on the horizon after his senior year in 2015. Gaede received the honor of being selected in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft by the San Jose Sharks in the third round at the 88th pick. For now, he concerns himself with helping the Mavericks win.

“I try not to think about it too much because I need to stay focused here in Mankato,” Gaede said. “But it does get me excited knowing I put myself in a position to possibly have a career in hockey when I am done with college.”

His next destination is Worcester, Mass., where the Mavericks will take on UMass-Lowell in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Saturday. The game will air on ESPN3 at 7:30 p.m. eastern time.

Whichever team wins will take on either No. 1 seed Boston College or old WCHA foe Denver on Sunday at 5 p.m., which will air on ESPN U. Against Lowell, the Mavericks hope to keep their 13-game winning streak going into the tournament.

-Matthew Davis