Minnesota State dominates in-state rival Gophers in Frozen Four semifinal
It will be Minnesota State Mankato versus Denver for the national title on Saturday after the Mavericks overcame an early deficit and sent the Gophers home early from Boston.
BOSTON — As a kid in Elk River, Minnesota, Reggie Lutz would earn a trip to McDonald's from his father anytime he scored a wraparound goal on the hockey rink. On Thursday, Lutz's wraparound goal proved to be the game-winner in the biggest victory, so far, in Minnesota State hockey history.
After a heartbreaking semifinal loss last year in their program’s first NCAA Frozen Four trip, the Minnesota State hockey team came to the East Coast determined to do things differently. Step one was completed Thursday, as the Mavericks rallied to beat in-state rival Minnesota 5-1, earning a date with Denver in Saturday night’s national title game.
Trailing by a goal, the Mavericks scored on a pair of second period wraparound goals to take the lead, and got 16 saves from star goalie Dryden McKay on a history-making night for their program.
The Mavericks — winners of 18 straight — improved to 38-5-0 with the win, and will face a Denver Pioneers team that upset top-seeded Michigan in overtime in the first semifinal. In addition to McKay’s heroics, MSU got goals from Benton Maass, Lutz, Ondrej Pavel, David Silye and Brendan Furry.
"It was a good effort for us and we're excited to get to play for a national championship," said Mavericks coach Mike Hastings.
Minnesota (26-13-0) got an early goal from Matthew Knies and 27 saves by goalie Justen Close in their final game of a season that included a Big Ten regular season title.
"Mankato, you've got to give a tremendous amount of credit. For big chunks of the game they kicked our butt," said Gophers coach Bob Motzko. "We got close a couple times. Benny (Meyers) had a great chance 30 seconds into the third period point-blank and they stopped it. Then they score a minute and a half into the third and that was it. It's over."
Coaches like to talk about getting a good start and settling into their own game as quickly as possible as a key to victory. For MSU, they got the start they wanted, out-shooting the Gophers 11-4 in the opening 20 minutes, with one small caveat: the Mavericks found themselves trailing despite all that offense.
Coach Hastings shares how special this win is to @MinnStMHockey!! #MFrozenFour pic.twitter.com/4K72Zvlnqd— NCAA Ice Hockey (@NCAAIceHockey) April 8, 2022
When a MSU defender fumbled a puck in the neutral zone early in the game, Gophers forward Bryce Brodzinski pounced on the available puck and keyed a rare 2-on-0 rush to the Mavericks net. Brodzinski and Knies played hot potato with the puck until McKay was drawn to Brodzinski’s side of the net, leaving a gaping void for Knies to shoot. It was the fifth goal in the Gophers past four games for Knies, a freshman from Phoenix.
"We were pretty calm in the locker room, especially after the first period," Maass said. "We've got a lot of vocal guys...they were talking us up. We've been in that position before and we were pretty confident we could generate offense."
The Mavericks got the equalizer in a more evenly-played second period when Maass – who is also from Elk River, but transferred to MSU after starting his college career an hour outside of Boston at New Hampshire – wrapped the puck around the post and just beyond Close’s left leg pad. It was just the third goal of the season for Maass. A few minutes later, on another wraparound, Lutz gave MSU the lead. His initial attempt during a scramble in front of the Minnesota net hit the post, but he circled around the back and slipped a shot behind the goalie for a 2-1 advantage.
"When I was younger, anytime I'd score a wraparound goal, my dad would take me to McDonald's and I'd get a Happy Meal," Lutz said "I've been working on that for a while, and it's pretty cool to see it work on the big stage."
When Pavel tipped a Jack McNeely shot past Close in the opening minutes of the third for a two-goal lead, it played perfectly into the Mavs’ game plan to stifle Minnesota’s offense and let McKay do the rest. Silye made it 4-1 on a rocket in the latter half of the period, as the good-sized crowd of fans in purple and gold went crazy in one corner of the rink. Furry added an empty net goal late.
The win came in contrast to the Mavericks first Division I Frozen Four game a year ago, when they led another in-state rival, St. Cloud State, in the third period before falling 5-4 on a late Huskies goal. MSU will be trying for its first NCAA title at the D-I level. Denver will be seeking its ninth, which would tie the NCAA record held by Michigan.
Minnesota State 5, Minnesota 1
Minn. State 0-2-3—5
First period — 1. MN, Matthew Knies 15 (Bryce Brodzinski), 8:52. Penalties — None.
Second period — 2. MS, Benton Maas 3 (Lucas Sowder, Ondrej Pavel), 7:22. 3. MS, Reggie Lutz 15 (David Silye, Jake Livingstone), 13:31. Penalties — None.
Third period — 4. MS, Pavel 12 (Jack McNeely, Josh Groll), 1:57. 5. MS, David Silye 8 (Sam Morton), 13:17. MS, Brendan Furry 13 (unassisted), 18:51. (en). Penalties — None.
Shots on goal — MN 4-7-6—17; MS 11-10-11—32. Goalies — Justen Close, MN (32 shots-27 saves); Dryden McKay, MS (17-16). Power plays — MN 0-of-0, MS 0-of-0. Referees — Ryan Sweeney, Michael Schubert. Linesmen — Anthony Valle, Sane Kanaly. Att. — 17,850.