Frozen Four: Mavericks ready for in-state rival Minnesota

All four college hockey teams have landed and are ready for battle today at the TD Garden in Boston for the 2022 NCAA Frozen Four. 

Denver, Michigan, Minnesota State, and Minnesota finished off final preparations for their games today with a morning skate and will return to their respective hotels to refuel and focus on what’s ahead. 

Despite one matchup today being a battle of the No. 1 seeds, Minnesota State and Minnesota come into their game as No. 1 and No. 2 in their respective regions. On top of that, the Mavericks and Gophers are well on their way to creating an in-state rivalry like no other.

The teams do not meet often, as differing conferences makes it harder for the two teams to meet in the regular season unless predetermined before the season begins. That has not stopped MSU and UMN from meeting each other, as they have been lucky enough to battle each other in the NCAA tournament in recent years. 

The most recent meeting between the two ‘State of Hockey’ representatives occured in last year’s NCAA Division I ice hockey tournament, where the Mavericks shut out the Gophers 4-0 to advance to the 2021 Frozen Four in Pittsburg. Minnesota State has won the past six of seven meetings, but Minnesota holds the all-time record at 37-17-6. 

For today’s game against Minnesota, head coach Mike Hastings wants the team to get off to a hot start and play their game, but knows the Gophers can turn on an offensive switch at any time. 

“Each game kind of takes on its own identity. We’re going to try to get out and get to our game as quick as possible,” said Hastings. “Try to make sure we keep them off the power-play as much as we can while we’re chasing our game.”

Four Gopher players have surpassed the 30-point mark this season, with senior captain Ben Meyers leading the charge at 41. Meyers is a definite lock to sign with an NHL team at the seasons’ end, and is a Hat Trick Hobey Baker finalist for the best player in college hockey. 

MSU senior goaltender Dryden McKay also appears as a Hobey Baker finalist and will surely make it tough for the Gophers to score tonight. McKay holds a career best 37-4-0 record this season to go along with a 1.28 goals against average and .934 save percentage. 

Junior center Nathan Smith also appeared as a top-10 finalist for the Hobey Baker this year, but fell short of making the top three. Smith was the only Maverick and second player this season to surpass the 50-point mark, joining Hat Trick finalist Bobby Brink of the University of Denver. 

With loaded NHL talent in the Frozen Four, specifically MSU’s first round matchup in Minnesota, the Mavericks look to mirror some of the Gophers’ game while playing their own. 

“I can go right down their lineup, when you talk about Meyers, you talk about [Matthew] Knies, [Aaron] Huglen, a young guy that stepped up to that unit, they beat teams with depth, they’ve beat teams with their defensemen. [Justen] Close has come in and done a phenomenal job at batting close to .930 as far as a save percentage,” said Hastings.

“For us, we don’t want to pour any gas on the fire. Puck management and us trying to utilize some of the same things I just said about Minnesota for ourselves. We’ve utilized our depth, our backend has been good, and our goaltending has been good. I think you add all that up, it’s a pretty good matchup.”

A trip to the Frozen Four means everything to the Mavericks, but they know its meaning travels much farther than inside the locker room. Hastings is excited for the opportunity and is looking forward to a chance at bringing home MSU’s first Division I hockey title. 

“I think it’s an exciting time in the southern part of our state. We’re proud to be from MSU and represent them the best we can.”

The first game of the Frozen Four between Michigan and Denver is slated for 5 p.m. ET while Minnesota State and Minnesota begin at 8:30 p.m. ET at TD Garden. 

Header Photo: The Mavericks are slated to play the Gophers at 8:30 p.m. ET today at the TD Garden in Boston following Michigan and Denver’s matchup. MSU has won six of the last seven meetings between themselves and the Gophers, that includes winning the last matchup between the two teams 4-0 in the 2021 Loveland Regional finals to advance to the Frozen Four. (Mansoor Ahmad/The Reporter)

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

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