Despite an abundance of controversy regarding what Maverick fans thought was the original game-winning goal by sophomore winger Josh Groll, the Minnesota State University, Mankato Mavericks persevered and have been awarded a first seed in the upcoming NCAA Ice Hockey tournament.
Senior Jack McNeely’s overtime goal in the Mavericks’ 2-1 win over Bemidji State this past weekend sealed the deal for the team to claim a bid in the tournament, and Mavericks’ head coach Mike Hastings explained the game as, “[an] adversity that we had to go through.”
Minnesota State has been awarded the first seed in the Albany Regional of the NCAA tournament and will face Harvard in the first round. Notre Dame and North Dakota round out the remainder of the region and will be the opponent of the winner of the Mavericks’ contest.
The Albany Regional is littered with talented squads, and Hastings is fully aware of that.
“I think the region is difficult. When you get to the final sixteen… every game is a challenge,” Hastings stated.
But the Mavericks head coach wants to “focus on the first one” before evaluating the rest of the field.
Despite being a four seed in the region, Harvard brings an impressive resume to the tournament, which includes their Eastern College Athletic Conference championship.
The Harvard Crimson ride a three game win streak heading into the Albany semifinals, which includes wins over Clarkson University and Quinnipiac University, who both appear inside the top 15 of the national PairWise rankings.
The Crimson are led by first-year forward Matthew Coronato, a Greenlawn, N.Y. product who will be returning to his home state for his first NCAA tournament game. Coronato got his season off to a great start, scoring two goals and tallying two assists against Dartmouth and has not slowed down. The freshman forward maintained his dominance into the ECAC playoffs, tallying five goals and five assists in five games, staying hot going into the NCAA tournament.
Harvard also brings junior goaltender Mitchell Gibson to the tournament, a 6’1” 187 pound product from Pheonixville, Pa. Gibson has a solid 18-9-1 record this season, and was outstanding in the ECAC championship game, saving 47 of 49 shots to propel Harvard to their title.
The Mavericks will have a lot to handle when looking at Harvard’s squad, but Hastings is confident in his team’s ability to learn from last season’s tournament to be more successful this year.
“Last year there was some ebbs and flows, positive and negative, when we played Quinnipiac. The first half Quinnipiac did a really good job by putting us on our heels and getting off to a lead. Then in the second half I thought we got to our game a little bit more and we wore them down,” said the Mavericks’ head coach. “I thought getting that first one done let us play a lot freer the next night against the University of Minnesota. We’re going to try and use that experience from that tournament to prepare us for what we are doing right now… which is Harvard.”
The Mavericks’ upperclassmen and leadership have been driving factors in their success this season, and will undoubtedly push Harvard to their limit today.
Senior Julian Napravnik and junior Nathan Smith have been two of the best at their respective positions this season and will pose to be one of the most difficult tasks for the Albany Region to handle. Napravnik and Smith are tied for the team lead in points this season, both totalling 18 goals and 31 assists, for a season total of 49 points.
Their 49 points is tied for second in the nation in scoring, and the two also bring along 40-point scorer Cade Borchardt on their line as well. In addition, senior goaltender Dryden McKay has been great in net for the team.
McKay is a Hobey Baker award top-10 finalist as well as a runner for the Mike Richter goaltender of the year award for his NCAA-leading 35-4-0 record and .934 save percentage. McKay has also totalled nine shutouts this season and averages a miniscule 1.27 goals allowed per game average.
MSU made their way to Albany on Tuesday and will begin their quick turnaround to play their first game on Thursday. Hastings will have the team ready and has preached that, “at this point in the season it is win or go home.”
Header Photo: The Mavs won their first Mason Cup this past Saturday, claiming their bid into the NCAA tournament. MSU will first face Harvard in the Albany semifinals in their pursuit of a national title. (Mansoor Ahmad/The Reporter)
Write to Kole Buelow at email@example.com.