Minnesota State moves on to play for its first NCAA hockey title Saturday night against Denver, which beat Michigan 3-2 in OT in the the early semifinal.
BOSTON — Reggie Lutz scored to break a second-period tie and Minnesota State scored three times in the third in the Frozen Four semifinal on Thursday night to smother big-city rival Minnesota 5-1 and advance to the national championship game.
Minnesota State will play for its first-ever NCAA hockey title Saturday night against Denver, which beat Michigan 3-2 in overtime in the the early semifinal.
“We’ll see,” said Mavericks coach Mike Hastings, downplaying his club’s top-ranked status. “We’ll take a kick at the can on Saturday.”
Benton Maass, Ondrej Pavel, David Silye and Brendan Furry also scored for Minnesota State, and Hobey Baker Award finalist Dryden McKay stopped 16 shots. Justen Close made 27 saves before he was pulled for an extra skater with 3:51 left, but the Gophers could not convert and Furry delivered an empty-netter.
In a Frozen Four made up of bluebloods that have combined to win 22 NCAA titles, Minnesota State is the only school that has never taken home the trophy. But the Mankato-based Mavericks were the winningest team in the country this year – claiming victory No. 38 on Thursday – and the only one of the four to have reached the national semifinals last year as well.
Minnesota took the lead with 11 minutes left in the first period when MSU turned the puck over in the neutral zone to set up a two-on-none against goalie McKay. Matthew Knies and Bryce Brodzinski passed it between themselves three times before Knies slammed it past McKay on the Gophers’ first shot of the game.
Maass tied it on wraparound about seven minutes into the second period, and about six minutes later Lutz found himself with the puck on the side of the net. He swiped at it twice, unable to get it past Close, then went behind the net and wrapped it around to make it 2-1.
“When I was young, every time I would score a wraparound goal my dad would take me to McDonald’s for a Happy Meal,” Lutz said.
It was then that the spigots opened up. The Mavericks made it 3-1 with two minutes gone in the third when Jack McNeely’s shot from the point was deflected in front by Pavel. Silye added another insurance goal with under seven minutes left.
“They’re the first team people think of, and they always will be,” McKay said. “I think it’s just kind of a cherry on top to beat them.”
The Mavericks allowed the neighboring Gophers, who average nearly 32 shots per game, just half of that by taking away their space to skate and time to make decisions.
“For big parts of the game, they kicked our butt,” Minnesota coach Bob Motzko said. “They scored exactly how we knew we had to defend. And then we were chasing the entire game.”
The Pioneers, winners of the national title just four years ago, will get another shot thanks to their 3-2 overtime win over star-studded Michigan. It was an up-and-down contest that ended with winger Carter Savoie’s goal with 5:07 remaining in the first overtime. The Wolverines tried to transition to offense before securing the puck, Denver collected the turnover, and leading scorer Brink’s pass from the right corner was converted by Savoie waiting at the front of the net.
Michigan was considered by many to be the favorite, with seven first-round NHL draft choices in the lineup.
McKay, a senior, earned chants of “Hobey Baker!” from the Mavericks fans in the crowd, as he’s a finalist for the award honoring college hockey’s top player, which will be handed out on Friday night in Boston. The other two finalists are forwards Bobby Brink from Denver and Ben Meyers from Minnesota.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism