MSU sophomore center Ondrej Pavel’s third period shot that flew over and past Harvard goaltender Mitchell Gibson’s shoulder and into the back of the net proved to be the game winner as Minnesota State defeated Harvard 4-3 in their NCAA tournament game today.
The Mavericks were awarded the first seed in the Albany Regional of the NCAA men’s ice hockey tournament and won their semifinal game to head to the Albany finals. With the win, the Mavs will await the winner of the two seed and three seed matchup of North Dakota and Notre Dame in the bottom portion of the region, which will take place tonight at 5 p.m.
Harvard, despite being the four seed in the region, came in with an impressive resume and a hot streak of three straight wins heading into the game with the Mavericks. The Crimson were no stranger to beating ranked teams this season, most impressively taking down Clarkson University and Quinnipiac University on their way to an Eastern College Athletic Conference championship, which allotted them an NCAA tournament bid.
On the other side of the ice, the Mavs brought the best record in all of college hockey at 35-5-0 into the matchup as well as a 15-game win streak. MSU was undoubtedly going to make the NCAA tournament, but their bid was solidified when the team claimed their first Central Collegiate Hockey Association title over Bemidji State on Mar. 19.
A few days before the matchup, Minnesota State head coach Mike Hastings commented on the matchup against Harvard saying, “We’re going to try and use that [Quinnipiac] experience from that  tournament to prepare us for what we are doing right now… which is Harvard.”
The Mavericks seemed to take their coach’s message to heart, as they got off to a hot start in their semifinal game in the Albany Regional.
Nearly 15 minutes went by before someone found the back of the net, but it was MSU sophomore Connor Gregga that got the game rolling. At the 5:48 mark of the first period, a scrum in front of the Harvard net began before the puck squirted out to the point and onto the stick of sophomore defenseman Akito Hirose.
Hirose ripped a shot at the multitude of players blocking the netminder’s vision in front of the blue paint, and Gregga managed to tip the shot past Gibson to put the first point on the board for either team. The goal helped swing momentum into the Mavericks’ favor, and they capitalized on it after Harvard got caught with too many men on the ice.
A passing sequence between Maverick players ended with Hirose dishing the puck to senior winger Reggie Lutz near the face off circle where Lutz would one time the puck past Gibson. MSU would bring the 2-0 lead into the end of the first period.
Minnesota State kicked the scoring off again in the second, with junior center Brendan Furry capitalizing on a solo play. Furry was high-sticked at the waning moments of the first period, and it was unknown if he was going to return after taking the stick to the open area of his neck.
Furry took that personally and buried a shot over Gibson’s shoulder at the 17:54 mark. The second period ticked down to the final five minutes before any more action, but once it started, it didn’t stop until the buzzer.
Harvard was the fortunate one to find the net, as sophomore Sean Farrell helped get the Crimson on the board for the first time. Farrell collected the puck behind the MSU net and shot the puck blindly at the back side of senior Dryden McKay.
McKay attempted to jump over the puck but it appeared to hit off his skate before banking into the net. Harvard used their newfound momentum to their advantage, finding another goal just 48 seconds later.
Freshman Alex Gaffney beat McKay on the goal, as he made a move from the red line into the front of the crease and fired a shot five-hole to come within one. The Mavs were able to hold on for the final two minutes of the period and reset themselves for the final period of play.
At the 14:01 mark of the third, Pavel extended the MSU lead to two, giving the Mavericks some breathing room. Pavel’s shot sniped into the top right corner of the net and popped the netminder’s water bottle on the play.
Nearly the remainder of the third period went by scoreless, but the Crimson did not give up. MSU junior center Nathan Smith got sent to the penalty box for tripping at the 5:21 mark, and the Crimson used it to their advantage.
Harvard used the power play to bring their goaltender to the bench for a sixth man, and it paid off. Senior Casey Dornbach collected a pass across the crease from Farrell on the man-advantage, and Dornbach tipped it in the backdoor at the 3:31 mark.
The remainder of the game ended with Harvard’s goaltender at the bench for an extra attacker, but the MSU defense stood tall to hold on and beat the Crimson 4-3.
Minnesota State awaits the winner of the Notre Dame and North Dakota matchup in the bottom sector of the Albany Regional, and will face the winner on Saturday.
Header Photo: Sophomore center Ondrej Pavel’s (18) third period goal proved to be the game winner as the Mavericks beat Harvard 4-3 and move on to the Albany Regional finals. (Matt Dewkett via Maverick Athletics)
Write to Kole Buelow at email@example.com.