With their 5-1 win over the Minnesota Golden Gophers, the Mavericks have now clinched their spot in the Division I title game for the first time in team history.
Depth was the key to a dominating performance tonight for the Mavs, who found goals entirely outside of their first line. The game went South early for the Mavericks, as they let in the game’s first goal.
Minnesota State owned the first period of play, finishing the first 20 minutes of action leading in shots on goal 11-4 over Minnesota, but that was not enough to score. Maple Leafs draft pick Mattew Knies capitalized on a defensive mistake as the Mavericks began their transition offense. The puck got caught in senior defenseman Benton Maass’ skate and was eventually turned over, helping UMN enter the offensive zone.
Minnesota began a two-on-zero break and tic-tac-toe’d the puck past senior netminder Dryden McKay at the 11:06 mark to take a 1-0 lead.
Although the team was down at the intermission, the Mavericks remained calm under the pressure of a one-goal deficit.
“We’ve got a lot of vocal guys like [Brendan] Furry, Wyatt [Aamodt], Jack [McNeely],” explained Maass. “They were talking us up and the locker room presence was a pretty calm one after the first. We’ve been in that position before, and we were pretty confident going into the second.”
MSU leveraged that confidence to strike, finding their first goal from Maass at the 12:38 mark. The senior defenseman collected the puck seconds after coming off the bench during a change and skated the puck around the back of the net, taking his chance on a wrap-around. The puck squeaked past the left leg of Gopher goaltender Justen Close, equalizing the game.
It did not take long for the Mavericks to find another, scoring six minutes later with 6:29 remaining in the second. Several MSU players fired the puck at the net, keeping offensive zone pressure, but none made it past Close.
Eventually, senior forward Reggie Lutz collected a loose puck near the right goal post and nearly mirrored Maass’ goal for another wrap-around chance. Close was unable to make it to the opposite post in time, giving Lutz his 15th goal of the season.
Lutz’s goal wasn’t your ordinary goal, however, as a wrap-around goal in Lutz’s hometown of Elk River, Minn. means much more than just a point on the scoreboard.
“When I was younger, every time I would score a wrap-around goal my dad would take me to McDonalds and get me a happy meal,” said Lutz with a laugh. “I’ve been working on that one for a while, and it was pretty cool to see it work on the big stage.”
Sophomore forward Ondrej Pavel got the scoring going in the third, tipping home a point shot from senior defenseman Jack McNeely. The goal marks Pavel’s 12th goal of the season as a member of Minnesota State’s fourth line.
MSU kept the scoring chances rolling, with sophomore forward David Silye earning a breakaway chance but it was saved by Close. Silye did not take the missed opportunity lightly, burying a goal moments later off a Gopher turnover.
Silye collected the puck and made a nifty toe-drag move to bring the puck into the slot and ripped a shot to the top left corner of the net to bring the Mavericks’ lead to three with 6:43 remaining. The Gophers would pull their goaltender with three and a half minutes to go but were unable to score on the Mavs’ disciplined defense.
Junior forward Brendan Furry buried an empty net goal to seal the deal, helping Minnesota State advance to their first NCAA Division I title game.
Minnesota State’s defense and depth proved to be the x-factor in the teams success, where they were able to shut down the Gophers’ 13 NHL draft picks despite one hiccup.
“Our defense, it’s not just the six guys labeled as one on the score sheet,” said Maass. “As a team defense, I thought our forwards did a really, really good job coming back on the backcheck tonight picking up late guys.”
“That allowed us to stay up on our gaps and force a lot of dump-ins rather than rush it. Which is something we pride ourselves in, in stopping the rush at the blue line. I think we did a good job with that tonight.”
Despite having to travel over 1,400 miles to make it to Boston, Maverick fans showed out for their home team. The players thanked their fans for their dedication this season and cannot wait to see them again in the title game on Saturday.
“Coming in on the red carpet you could see a ton of energy there. A lot of it was from Mankato fans and it was really cool,” said Maass. “It was nice to have them there in the corner [of TD Garden]. They were loud. And having the band there made it a really exciting atmosphere for us for sure.”
Minnesota State head coach Mike Hastings also enjoyed the red carpet walk into TD Garden, and was pleased to see the support of hockey fans, especially his wife.
“You know I found my wife, I did,” said Hastings in response to if he high-fived anyone on the red carpet. “This has really been impressive from the start to where we are at right now.”
“When I heard the crowd being announced at 17,000-plus, all of these men having the opportunity to play in this type of environment is pretty special.”
With the win, the Mavericks will face the University of Denver Pioneers in the NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Division I National Championship on Saturday. Denver defeated the University of Michigan prior to Minnesota State’s contest, defeating the Wolverines 3-2 in overtime.
Header Photo: Senior forward Reggie Lutz (16) argues with a Gopher player after the whistle. Lutz buried the Mavericks eventual game-winning goal in the second period on a wrap-around attempt. (Mansoor Ahmad/The Reporter)
Write to Kole Buelow at firstname.lastname@example.org.