No. 1 Mavericks keep on rolling with sweep over Michigan Tech in regular season finale

The Minnesota State men’s hockey team traveled to Houghton, Mich. this past weekend to take on Michigan Tech in their final regular season series of the 2021-22 season. The Michigan Tech Huskies posed a real threat to the No. 1 Mavericks, as they came into the series also ranked inside the USCHO Division I hockey rankings.

The Huskies appeared at No. 14 in the USCHO rankings prior to the series, and also cracked the top 16 in the PairWise rankings at No. 12. The PairWise is the ranking system that seeds teams for the NCAA tournament in late March with the regional champions heading to the Frozen Four in Boston in April. 

The Mavericks came into the series ranked No. 1 in the USCHO but fell to No. 2 in the PairWise rankings only behind the Michigan Wolverines. With a win or series sweep both teams could make a splash in the updated rankings come Monday.

After finishing up the closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympics on Feb. 20, Mavericks’ junior forward Nathan Smith made his way back to the United States. The team was unaware until recently if Smith would be ready to compete in the series against Tech, but he made his return to the lineup Friday night.

The teams began the series on Feb. 25 where the Huskies struck first. At the 8:27 mark of the first period MTU senior forward Tommy Parrottino collected a two-on-one breakaway pass from Trenton Bliss to score the first goal of the weekend. 

The first period expired and so did the first 15 minutes of the second before Smith tied the game. Senior forward Julian Napravnik ripped a shot at the Huskies’ net but it was deflected right on to Smith’s stick where he was able to rip a shot immediately to beat the Michigan Tech goaltender. 

Despite several more scoring chances both goaltenders stood tall and brought the game into overtime. MSU and MTU competed in overtime once before in the first series of the season on home ice, where Smith called game just 31 seconds into the extra period. 

The Mavericks would go on to complete yet another 2-1 overtime win as Napravnik ripped a one timer from a Smith pass at the Huskies’ net. In his first game back to the collegiate scene, Smith tallied one goal and one assist as did Napravnik to both remain the teams’ leading scorers. 

The Mavs and Huskies then headed to Saturday where they competed in front of 2736 fans.

Once again Michigan Tech struck first, claiming a one goal lead just 2:47 into the first period of action. Senior Brian Halonen lit the lamp for the Huskies, assisted by fellow senior Parrottino. The Mavericks would respond in similar fashion to the night before, with Smith tying the game up just 3:35 into the second period.

Linemates Napravnik and junior Cade Borchardt assisted on the play, marking their third and first points of the series respectively.

Minnesota State decided to not wait until overtime to bury another one this time around, as they capitalized on an interference minor at the 14:01 mark. At the 15:21 mark of the second, junior forward Lucas Sowder tallied his fifth goal of the season on a dish from fifth-year senior Reggie Lutz. 

The remainder of the game would end scoreless as the goaltenders stood tall. Senior netminder Dryden McKay collected 25 saves on the night, as well as a total of 46 on the weekend. 

McKay’s 46 saves and two goals allowed helped propel him to yet another Central Collegiate Hockey Association Goaltender of the Week nomination, which marked his seventh time this year earning the nomination. 

With the series sweep the Mavericks end the season with a 31-5-0 record as well as a 23-3-0 record in CCHA play. The Mavs also extended their win streak to 11, which began back on Jan. 15 of this year during their 4-1 victory over Northern Michigan.

In the newest edition of the USCHO poll, the Mavericks remained at No. 1 with 48 first place votes. No. 2 Minnesota and No. 6 Quinnipiac earned the two other remaining votes.

The sweep and two Michigan losses also helped propel MSU to their first No. 1 ranking in the PairWise rankings. If Minnesota State can remain atop the PairWise, they will earn the No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament that takes place in the final week of March, extending into April for the Frozen Four in Boston. 

Header Photo: Senior forward Julian Napravnik (15) is tied for the team lead in points at 44 with junior Nathan Smith. Napravnik tallied three points this past weekend against Michigan Tech, scoring one goal and collecting two assists. (Mansoor Ahmad/The Reporter)

Write to Kole Buelow at kole.buelow@mnsu.edu.

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