Mankato Madness: Mavericks claim first Mason Cup

What we thought was an overtime and Mason Cup-clinching goal — which sent the fans home and players to the locker room — slowly turned into a complete catastrophe, and an additional two minutes of hockey more than an hour after most people thought the game had ended.

Minnesota State eventually won, but not before one of the weirdest moments in MSU hockey history played out.

As the Mavericks celebrated their win of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association’s Mason Cup, Bemidji State coach Tom Serratore returned to the ice to talk with CCHA officials about that game-winning goal. 

While the goal was initially allowed, replay footage showed the goal, scored by sophomore forward Josh Groll, actually scooted in under the bottom of the net. After nearly 60 minutes — and with referees and both teams cleared off the ice and several thousand fans out of the building — league officials decided to bring the players back onto the ice to resume the overtime session.

19 minutes later, Jack McNeely scored the actual game winner in front of a few hundred fans that hurried back once word of the zany finish spread.

The day after the Mavericks found out who they would be playing in the NCAA Division I ice hockey tournament at their watch party in Mankato. The Mavericks were seeded into the Albany region’s first seed, while being named the second overall seed in the entire tournament. 

MSU drew Harvard in the first round of the region, who were the winners of the Eastern College Athletic Conference tournament. The two teams will play Thursday, March 24 at 12:00 p.m. and will face the winner of North Dakota versus Notre Dame the following Saturday.

It was no ordinary game to begin with. The Mavericks and Beavers battled through a first period littered with scoring chances, but no pucks found the back of the net. 

Bemidji got off to a hotter start, outshooting Minnesota State 5-1 in the first 10 minutes of action.

With less than five minutes left in the opening period, the Mavericks finally found their stride, holding offensive zone time for most of the remaining minutes.

The Mavs best chances came on back and forth rebounds of shots but Bemidji goaltender Mattias Sholl stood tall to keep the scoreboard blank heading into the first intermission. 

The second period started off with two chances by both teams but both goaltenders denied opportunities to gain a lead. As the game neared the half-way mark, Bemidji got its most pristine scoring chance of the night. 

The Beavers were able to generate a two-on-one opportunity but MSU goaltender Dryden McKay was able to save the eventual shot while sliding across the crease. Possession remained with BSU, as Tyler Kirkup cycled the puck to the point to Alex Adams.

A perfect screen was set up in front of McKay for Adams to bury the first goal of the game at the 9:17 mark. 

Being down one was all the Mavericks needed to start playing in what seemed to be their fullest form. MSU was able to generate a three-on-two opportunity but junior forward Nathan Smith just barely tipped a pass from Julian Napravnik over the crossbar. 

A few minutes later Bemidji’s senior defenseman Will Zmolek found himself in the penalty box for cross checking at the 15:33 mark and that was all the Mavericks needed to get their first goal of the game. 

Junior center Brendan Furry buried the equalizer, as he collected the puck in the left faceoff circle and sniped the top right corner of the net. The remainder of the period ended scoreless but did not finish without action of note.

As the period started to come to an end, a controversial hit near the Bemidji bench was made but no call was made to send MSU to the penalty box. The Beavers did not seem to take the hit lightly, as Tyler Kirkup took frustration out on a high hit on MSU’s Lucas Sowder after the horn. 

The play was reviewed for a potential major for a blow to the neck or head, but the contact was deemed low enough to call for unsportsmanlike conduct, keeping Kirkup in the game.

The Mavericks generated several great chances on the pursuing power play, but Sholl made every save to keep the game tied, expiring the MSU power play. Each team continued to generate scoring chances throughout the period but the goaltenders would not let the puck go by. 

MSU brought a 25-17 lead in shots on goal to the halfway mark of the third period, and eventually made the best scoring chance of the period. Smith carried the puck into the offensive zone for the Mavericks, dangling the puck past one BSU defender before sending the puck wide of a nearly wide open net. 

Junior winger Cade Borchardt was there for a potential tip-in on the missed shot, but even that got past the blade of his stick. And with that, the teams headed to overtime. 

With the playoffs having different overtime rules, the teams returned to a fresh sheet of ice to play another 20 minutes of five on five. 

Originally the game was thought to have been decided Groll’s coast-to-coast play, but the puck was determined to have crossed the goal line from under the net. 

“We had an indication that added replays were available,” CCHA commissioner Don Lucia said postgame. “There was a lot at stake. For Bemidji State, a chance to go to the NCAA tournament. 

“And the bottom line as we looked at different replay opportunities, we felt the puck went underneath the net. At that point we went and got the officials, brought them in, let them know what was going on… We had to make a difficult call and ultimately it did not impact who won the game, but it impacted who won the game with a good goal,” said Lucia. “I do believe we made the correct decision under the circumstances.”

Bemidji State wanted to make the most of their new-found opportunity, and senior captain Ethan Somoza explained that feeling saying, “We were excited for a second life when they told us we were going back… we were hopeful when we got back out there again.”

The two teams returned to the ice over an hour later to resettle the score of the contest.

Senior defenseman Jack McNeely played hero for the Mavericks, as he caught a pass from Smith on the second line of attack. McNeely ripped a shot over Sholl’s glove to bury the actual game winner. 

MSU originally made their way off the ice but later returned to salute all the fans that made their way back into the building after the call to replay the rest of overtime. That moment was the loudest the arena had sounded all year, despite only half the seats being filled. 

Both teams faced a ton of adversity in the contest, and MSU handled it well according to McNeely and McKay. 

“We are an experienced team. It just makes us stronger as a group, the adversity we went through tonight,” said McNeely. 

McKay also added, “Something like this will bring us closer together… it will bond the group.”

“We now know that even if the other team scores first we have the maturity to come back and continue to play our game.”

Header Photo: The Mavericks won the first Mason Cup since 2013 in the CCHA’s inaugural season behind senior defenseman Jack McNeely’s overtime goal to beat Bemidji State 2-1 on Saturday. (Mansoor Ahmad/The Reporter)

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

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: