Mavericks punch their ticket to the Frozen Four in Boston

Following two heart-clenching one-goal wins, the Minnesota State men’s hockey team has punched their ticket to the 2022 NCAA Frozen Four. The Mavericks clinched their bid to the NCAA ice hockey tournament following their Central Collegiate Hockey Association tournament championship, which spotted the team the second overall seed and No. 1 spot in the Albany Regional.

The Mavs drew Harvard for their semifinal game of the Albany Regional, and following a win, would play the winner of North Dakota and Notre Dame. A third period top-shelf snipe by Minnesota State sophomore center Ondrej Pavel would prove to be the game winner, as the Mavericks went on to defeat the Harvard Crimson 4-3 on Mar. 24. 

MSU then awaited the winner of the bottom portion of their region, which was claimed by Notre Dame after an overtime goal by the Fighting Irish’s captain Graham Slaggert. Slaggert beat the North Dakota netminder blocker side, as Notre Dame downed the Fighting Hawks 2-1. 

All it took was one in the Albany finals on Mar. 26, as a defensive battle between the Mavericks and Fighting Irish decided who would advance to the Frozen Four in Boston. 

In the waning seconds of the first period, MSU’s junior center Nathan Smith buried his 19th goal of the season and 50th point of the year on a rebound off Notre Dame goaltender Matthew Galajda’s left pad. Smith’s lone goal stood for the remainder of the contest, helping the Mavericks advance to their second straight Frozen Four. 

The next day Minnesota State awaited the winner of the Worcester Regional, which was claimed by the University of Minnesota with their 3-0 regulation win over the Western Michigan Broncos. 

After all the Regional games wrapped up on Mar. 27, the Frozen Four became set with Michigan and Denver as the two teams battling for their chance at a national title on the opposite side of the bracket. 

Minnesota State started with a strong showing against Harvard, which included three unanswered goals. Junior center Brendan Furry buried the Mavericks’ third unanswered goal of the game at the 17:54 mark of the second period, giving the team a 3-0 lead. 

Nearly the entire period went by until Harvard responded, and the Crimson made it a game. Sophomore Sean Farrell began the scoring for Harvard, banking a shot off the back of MSU senior goaltender Dryden McKay’s leg. It was an untraditional way to score the puck, but it gave the Crimson all the momentum they needed to close in on the Mavericks’ lead.

Just 48 seconds later, freshman Alex Gaffney beat McKay through his five-hole to cut the lead to one. MSU held on, and later extended their lead to four with Pavel’s goal in the opening minutes of the third. 

Another Harvard goal would bring the lead to one once again, but the Mavericks held on to claim their first win of the tournament and advance to the Regional finals. 

“If there is a guarantee you can get at this tournament, it is that it is never easy, and tonight wasn’t easy. I thought we had a real good start and then we got a little loose, but I want to give Harvard credit on making it happen,” said MSU head coach Mike Hastings postgame. 

The Mavs then took on Notre Dame, where Smith’s first period goal at the 16 second mark stood tall as the only goal in the contest. It was a battle of who could play better defense, which the Mavericks won with the help of McKay’s 23-save shutout.

A third-period scramble in front of the MSU net after a shot rang off the post would be the closest the Fighting Irish would get to getting past McKay, but the senior netminder stood tall to claim his 10th shutout of the season. The shutout extended his NCAA Division I men’s shutout record to 34 and NCAA Division I men’s single-season victories record to 37. 

One sentence explained the Notre Dame game, as Hastings stated postgame, “That’s a regional final game, as far as how hard it was on both sides.” 

The Mavericks’ head coach went on to say, “We’re happy to be going to Boston. It was a goal of this group since day one. We’re excited.”  

Minnesota State’s Frozen Four game against Minnesota is slated for 7:30 p.m. on Apr. 7, and the championship awaits the winner on Apr. 9 at 7 p.m.

Header Photo: The Mavericks advanced to their second straight Frozen Four following their 4-3 and 1-0 wins over Harvard and Notre Dame in the Albany Regional this past weekend. (Matt Dewkett/Maverick Athletics)

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

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