MAGIC IN MANKATO: Mavs storm back to keep Mason Cup
With three minutes left in their season and a looming two-goal deficit, Minnesota State’s men’s hockey team looked destined to miss its first NCAA tournament since the 2016-17 season.
But as the horn sounded for the final time at the Mayo Clinic Health System Event Center this season, the Mavericks looked up at the scoreboard to see a 3-2 overtime victory in one of the most thrilling victories in Maverick hockey history.
“I don’t really know what to say,” said Minnesota State head coach Mike Hastings. “Crazy things happen in this building.”
As history tells us, playoff championship games in front of a sold-out Mankato crowd can be a recipe for fireworks. And with two of the hottest teams in college hockey meeting for the CCHA’s coveted prize, Saturday’s matchup between Minnesota State and Northern Michigan was exactly that.
Slow starts have plagued the Mavericks this season, but they had the game’s first grade-A scoring chance just under four minutes into the game. Junior defenseman Jake Livingstone drove the puck to the net and forced a net-front scramble, leaving a couple of Mavericks believing the puck was in the net. Officials reviewed the play but found no evidence to award a goal.
The Wildcats got the game’s next major scoring chance. On a breakaway, the Wildcats’ Andre Ghantous was slashed by Maverick defenseman Andy Carroll, which resulted in a penalty shot.
As Ghantous took off for his penalty shot attempt, the Wildcat forward was denied by the right pad of Maverick goaltender Keenan Rancier. Both goaltenders remained perfect through the remainder of the first period, keeping the score deadlocked at zero.
The Mavericks took a crushing blow to their lineup early in the second period as leading scorer David Silye was on the receiving end of a nasty collision that kept him sidelined for the remainder of the game.
“If we’re going to err on one thing, we’re going to err on the health and care of the student athletes,” said Hastings.
After a first period that saw the Mavericks get the majority of the game’s scoring opportunities, the Wildcats were the first to take advantage of one late in the second period.
Senior forward Alex Frye worked his way inside the left circle and fired a shot past Rancier to give the Wildcats the lead heading into the third period.
The Mavericks had known the feeling of getting scored on first this season, but a breakaway goal just over seven minutes into the third period by Frye had them in an unfamiliar position being down two with the clock ticking down.
But the Mavericks weren’t denied their scoring opportunities as they were gifted a long 5-on-3 powerplay with under five minutes to play in the period. The Wildcats’ penalty killing unit remained perfect as it had been all night.
But the Mavericks found their first spark of life as junior forward Ondrej Pavel deflected a net-front pass from freshman forward Simon Tassy to cut the lead to 2-1 with 2:17 remaining. Moments later, in unthinkable fashion, freshman forward Christian Fitzgerald found the loose puck along the right post and shelved it past the Wildcat netminder to send the crowd of 5,000 into eruption and the game into overtime.
With the Mavericks garnering all sorts of momentum heading into overtime, it was only fitting the game would end quickly and easily in overtime. The unlikely hero came in the form of sophomore forward Zach Krajnik, who spun around the defender and flipped a backhander past the Wildcat netminder for the game-winning goal just 1:08 into the overtime period.
“I think we’ve grown together a lot in these last couple of months,” said Krajnik. “It’s been brewing for a while, but I think we’re ready for this third season.”
Header Photo: The MSU Men’s Hockey team defeats Northern Michigan after the 3-2 comeback win last Saturday, Mar. 18. Sophomore, Zach Krajnik (above), scored the overtime goal awarding the Mavericks with their second-straight Mason Cup victory. (Dylan Engel/The Reporter)
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