Daniel McElroy ® Sports Editor |
Photos by Mansoor Ahmad ® Photo Editor |
Four in a row.
For the fourth straight year, head coach Mike Hastings and the Minnesota State men’s hockey team secured the MacNaughton Cup as WCHA regular season champions in their overtime win Thursday over the Bemidji State Beavers.
The Mavericks won the first half of the home and home series 4-3 at the Mayo Clinic System Events Center. Four consecutive WCHA titles is a conference record.
Todd Burgess got the Mavericks on the board first, answering Beavers’ Tyler Kirkup’s first period goal in the first period.
Something must’ve kicked in for the Mavericks in the locker room going into the second period because they scored two goals in the first 1:41. Brendan Furry made a forehand to backhand move to go top shelf against BSU goaltender Zach Driscoll. Forty-five seconds later, Andy Carroll found a lane from the slot and ripped it over Driscoll’s shoulder, extending the team’s lead to 3-1.
BSU captain Ethan Somoza answered with a goal from his knees with less than four minutes remaining in the second period, bringing the Beavers to within one.
With 22 seconds remaining in the third period, the Beavers managed to bury one more goal and send the game to overtime.
The Mavericks played as defensively as possible in the first three minutes of the overtime, minimizing their losses. That was until they found their opening..
Nathan Smith, on the ice with Julian Napravnik and Akito Hirose for the final minute, took control of the puck and forced a faceoff in the BSU zone. As the clock ticked down, Napravnik circled behind the net, creating enough room to get a shot in front. His shot was deflected by a Bemidji defender, sending the puck between Driscoll’s legs and securing the Mavs fourth MacNaughton Cup victory in four years, the first of its kind in the league’s 69-year history.
Earlier in the season, Napravnik was scratched for a game against Michigan Tech. Little did he know at the time, it was the right decision. “It fueled me. Getting scratched is not a great feeling, but it pushed me,” Napravnik said after the victory.
Hastings is the first coach to accomplish four championships in a row in the WCHA, but isn’t satisfied yet. “We’ve got a lot of work to do between now and the end of the regular season,” Hastings said. “Give them an opportunity to enjoy it tonight and get back on the horse tomorrow.”
MSU won the cup with a perfect conference record of 11-0-0, and were not done yet.
The Mavericks traveled north to Bemidji to take on the Beavers in their home rink on Saturday, in what ended up being their first conference loss of the season.
In a game that looked very similar to their previous game in the series, MSU would not be as fortunate, this time dropping the overtime contest.
Bemidji State was the first to get on the board with a power play goal just four minutes into the first period.
Just three minutes later, Walker Duehr managed to steal a pass in front of the Beavers net and dish a one-timer to Reggie Lutz to tie the game at one.
Going into the second period, the Mavericks allowed another power play goal, following a holding penalty against Riese Zmolek.
With penalties and special teams being the whole story of the first half of this game, it only made sense for Furry to find the back of the net while shorthanded, with just under 10 minutes remaining in the second period.
The Mavericks and Beavers each found a goal in the third period, MSU in under the first minute of the period, and BSU three minutes later.
In the overtime period, Lukas Sillinger made a fast move past Napravnik into the Mavericks zone, where Sillinger made a pass to Ross Armour and took a one-timer past Mckay, in what would be the Mavericks first conference loss of the season.
McKay made 19 saves in the loss, including 10 in the second period alone.
Following the split series with the Beavers, the Mavericks stayed in first in the WCHA with a record of 11-1-0, and an overall record of 16-3-1. The Beavers improved to 5-4-1 in conference play and 10-7-3 overall.
The Mavericks will look ahead to their final regular season series of the shortened year this weekend in a rescheduled conference battle against Michigan Tech.