A season to remember.
The Minnesota State hockey team played in the Frozen Four for the first time in the program’s history on Thursday, and dropped their final game in an air-tight battle that came down to the last minute against the St. Cloud State Huskies.
St. Cloud had a game plan to get ahead early and put pressure on the Mavericks to catch up, and that’s exactly what they did.
Brendan Furry took a hooking penalty just two minutes into the game. This led to several chances for the Huskies offense, and an eventual goal to take the lead 1-0 only three minutes into the game.
For much of the first period, the Huskies made it hard for the Mavs to even leave their own zone, putting on the forecheck and minimizing their chances. It wasn’t until Nathan Smith managed to bury a powerplay goal after a feed from Julian Napravnik, with Akito Hirose grabbing the second assist, making it a 1-1 game.
Not for long, though.
St. Cloud stuck to their game plan of getting ahead on the Mavs early and scored just 10 seconds later, taking the lead 2-1.
Two minutes into the third period, the defense turned the puck over in one of the worst spots possible, giving Will Hammer an unassisted goal off a shot from the circle. But that didn’t stop the Mavs.
The Mavericks always find a way back into their games, this time with an odd-man rush with Andy Carroll, Dallas Gerads, and Walker Duehr. Carroll entered the zone along the left boards and made a beautiful behind the back pass to Gerads, as he took the shot and left a rebound at the bottom of the right circle for Duehr to make it a one goal game.
Then, just over two minutes later, Nathan Smith walks in the zone and makes room in the slot and takes a shot top shelf, tying the game at three each. Smith, one of the best all around players to come through Mankato, scored his second goal of the game when it mattered.
The Mavs played far better hockey in the second 20 minutes than they did in the first, and they just kept on going.
Duehr entered the zone along the right boards with a man on him taking away the passing lane, with Dallas Gerads heading directly for the net. Duehr dished the puck to Gerads on the back door and scored a beautiful one-timer goal for the Mavericks first lead of the game.
The Mavericks started to lose a bit of their momentum towards the end of the third period, when the Huskies managed to get another goal on the backdoor, tying the game at 4.
It wasn’t until just 53 seconds remaining, the Huskies grabbed an open puck in the corner and fed it to their defenseman, where he fired a shot at the net. The puck was deflected over McKay’s left shoulder, scoring the game-winning goal for St. Cloud, and advancing to the National Championship game.
“I’m proud of every single one of those guys in there,” Riese Zmolek said after the game, as he was fighting back tears. “This organization is unreal.”
Head coach Mike Hastings did all he could from the bench to help his team to come out on top, but couldn’t quite get there.
“One thing you don’t want to do as a coach is disappoint your players. And there’s a group of upperclassmen and seniors in there that have helped pave the way for our program to get to where it’s at today and they’re very prideful individuals. They’ve done all the heavy lifting. And to walk in there and see them feeling the way that they do and you as a coach know you can’t take that away, it’s not a great feeling,” Hastings said. “We’re going to continue to move on from this. I want this group to be proud, just like the alumni out there in the group that was here last year and the groups that have been before us.”
The Mavericks played a phenomenal season, accomplishing something no other team in the Minnesota State program has ever done, and most of all, played this game with pride.