The Minnesota State men’s hockey team took on Ferris State in the WCHA Quarterfinals last weekend, sweeping the Bulldogs to advance to the semifinals and face the Northern Michigan Wildcats next weekend.
The postseason began on Friday with the Mavericks and Bulldogs playing in the first series for the WCHA. Going into the weekend series, Minnesota State won the last 13 meetings between the two teams and outscored their opponent 59-18 in that span.
Friday’s game, the Mavs had a much slower start than they were used to, as Ferris State, who is winless in the WCHA, played with much more intensity than what was expected. Ferris State managed to get the first four shots on goal in the first five minutes of play, but that’s all their offense was able to generate for the rest of the period. After that, MSU led shots on goal throughout the entire game, with a 7-4 lead in shots at the end of the first period.
The score remained tied at 0 through the second period and halfway through the third. MSU’s leading point scorer, Julian Napravnik, got the Mavericks on the board for the first time of the night with a powerplay goal in the third period. Napravnik received a pass from Nathan Smith at the bottom of the faceoff circle and took a shot over FSU’s Logan Stein’s right shoulder to score his 10th goal of the year. Cade Borchardt also picked up an assist on the play.
Less than a minute later, Riese Zmolek took a pass from Jake Livingstone at the point and fired a shot at the goal. On its way to the net, Jared Spooner deflected the puck and snuck its way past Stein’s left leg pad. The Mavericks went up 2-0 with just over 10 minutes left to play in regulation.
With 4:32 left in the third, Shane McMahan, who was slotted into the fourth line in both games this weekend due to Reggie Lutz being unavailable, forced a turnover in the Bulldogs zone and made a pass to Walker Duehr, who attempted to make a pass to Nathan Smith on the backdoor, but bounced off a skate and into the net to give the mavericks the 3-0 win.
Dryden McKay picked up his ninth shutout of the season in the win, stopping all 15 shots that came his way.
“Thank goodness we had Dryden McKay, because he needed to make some saves early,” head coach Mike Hastings said after the game, regarding Ferris State’s play early in the game. “ We have to play at a pace that is equal or better than what Ferris [State] does [tomorrow],” Hastings said, knowing that their 8th seed opponent won’t go down without a fight in game two of the series.
And a fight it was.
The Mavs generated more offense in the first period than they did on Friday, closing the first period with 14 shots on goal, but did not get a puck in the net until the second period.
Duehr connected with Spooner nine minutes into the period where Duehr scored his 5th goal in seven games and 9th goal on the season, giving MSU the 1-0 lead.
The Mavericks wasted no time in the third period, scoring just two minutes in when Sam Morton grabbed a turnover in the neutral zone and took a shot from the high slot that hit the post and ricocheted off FSU goaltender Roni Salmenkangis’s skate and into the net.
FSU got on the board for the first time on the weekend on a powerplay opportunity from Marshall Moise, who led the Bulldogs with four shots.
The Mavs sealed the win with an insurance goal from Livingstone, scoring on the empty net from his own zone.
As the highest seed remaining in the tournament, Minnesota State University, Mankato will be hosting the four-team championship weekend, with both semifinals and the championship games played Friday and Saturday, respectively, at the Mayo Clinic Health System Event Center in Downtown Mankato.
“We’re fortunate to have home ice, but I think we earned it,” Sam Morton said, scoring the game-winning goal for the Mavericks.
Earlier in the Week, several Mavericks received awards for their outstanding play in the WCHA throughout the season. McKay earned three honors, taking home the WCHA Player of the Year, WCHA Goaltender of the Year, and All-WCHA First Team. “I think he earned it,” coach Hastings said. “It’s voted on by the other coaches in the league…And to see him receive that award, I think it speaks on the respect that other programs and other coaches have for him and we’re going to need him to continue to play that way if we want to make any noise in the playoffs.”
Other award recipients include Napravnik, receiving the award for Offensive Player of the year, Akito Hirose receiving Rookie of the Year, and coach Hastings for Coach of the Year.
Alongside McKay, MSU had five Mavericks make the All-WCHA teams. Napravnik was named to the All-WCHA First Team, Smith was named to the All-WCHA Second team, and Hirose and Zmolek were named to the All-WCHA Third Team. Hirose and Livingstone also earned the honor of the WCHA All-Rookie Team.