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Denver snatches NCAA Frozen Four title from Minnesota State with five-goal final period

Trailing by a goal, the Denver Pioneers exploded for five goals in the final 20 minutes for the program's record-tying ninth NCAA hockey crown.

2022 Frozen Four Championship Minnesota State vs Denver
Justin Lee (23) of the Denver Pioneers fires a shot against the Minnesota State University Mavericks in the 2022 Division I Men’s Frozen Four championship game Saturday, April 9, 2022, at TD Garden in Boston, MA.
Jim Rosvold / The Rink Live
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BOSTON – Sometimes, when glory seems so close to your grasp, you end up with heartbreak instead. That may be the theme of Minnesota State’s first trip to the national championship game, after the Mavericks controlled everything for 40 minutes, then saw their dreams of a NCAA title snatched away.

Third period goals by Ryan Barrow, Mike Benning and Massimo Rizzo and a pair of empty-netters turned a Mavericks lead into a 5-1 Denver win, and a record-tying ninth national hockey title for the Pioneers.

"Words don't describe the feelings," said Pioneers coach David Carle, who became the third man to lead Denver to a NCAA title since 2004. "So proud of our team and what they've been able to accomplish this year."

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Sam Morton had the lone goal for MSU, which stifled Denver’s offense for the first 40 minutes, but could not build on their lead. That proved to be costly. Mavericks goalie Dryden McKay, who a day earlier had been honored as college hockey’s top player, had 15 saves but saw the team’s 18-game winning streak snapped on the game’s biggest stage.

"I thought we got off to a good start, even a good 40 minutes," said MSU coach Mike Hastings. "Once we gave up the first one I thought we started leaking oil a little bit and couldn't stop the bleeding."

The Pioneers, who won a share of the NCHC title in the regular season, got 27 saves from Magnus Chrona and turned the tables on the Mavericks in the final 20 minutes. Denver finishes with a 31-9-1 record, while MSU fell to 38-6-0 with the loss – the first by the Mavericks since late November.

Neither Denver nor MSU had taken a penalty in their opening round wins versus Michigan and Minnesota, respectively. That changed early on Saturday, as Benning went to the box for tripping, and the Mavs capitalized when Lucas Sowder’s cross-ice pass found Morton with lots of net to shoot at, and Morton – one of two Colorado natives on the MSU roster – scored for the early lead.

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MSU also took a first-period penalty, but the Mavericks killed it off and held Denver to just three first-period shots on goal. The second period was more of the same. The Mavericks took a penalty. The Pioneers could do little offensively, and when they had rare chances to score, McKay was there. Denver averaged more than 37 shots on goal per game this season, but had just eight in the first 40 minutes.

For the Pioneers, the message at the second intermission was that they were down, but far from out.

"They were out-playing us, but at the end of the day they were only up 1-0, so one shot changes the entire outlook on the game," said Barrow, who set the Denver program record playing in his 168th career game on Saturday.

Denver finally got the equalizer early in the third, when Barrow popped the rebound of a Benning shot between McKay’s knees from close range. Benning blasted a rising shot past McKay soon after a Mavericks penalty had expired to give Denver its first lead. Rizzo capped off a 2-on-1 rush to the net in the latter half of the third period to give the Pioneers some breathing room.

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"I just thought I gave up a bad rebound on the first one and they capitalized," said McKay. "Then we took a penalty shortly after and it was a bad bounce. A guy makes a nice shot and all of a sudden it's 2-1. We were never able to recover."

Hastings pulled McKay with more than three minutes left, but could not get anything else on the board. Instead it was Denver adding two empty-net goals for the final margin. It was the fifth NCAA title won by a team from the NCHC in the last six Frozen Fours.

The Mavericks, despite playing 1,400 miles from their home rink, entered TD Garden on the red carpet by parting a sea of fans in purple that had made the trip in hopes of seeing the program's first D-I title. Hastings acknowledged the strides his program made this season, despite the unhappy ending.

"We had a tremendous season and lost to a good hockey team tonight," Hastings said. "There will be time to look at this down the road. Right now it's a pretty open wound."

Denver 5, Minnesota State 1

Denver 0-0-5—1

MN State 1-0-0—1

First period — 1. MS, Sam Morton 9 (Lucas Sowder, Brendan Furry), 13:59, (pp). Penalties — Mike Benning, DU (tripping), 12:23; Nathan Smith, MS (roughing), 15:28.

Second period — No scoring. Penalties — Bench (served by Smith), MS (too many men), 7:07.

Third period — 2. DU, Ryan Barrow 8 (Benning, Jack Devine), 4:46. 3. DU, Benning 15 (Shai Buium, Cameron Wright), 7:33. 4. DU, Massimo Rizzo 12 (Carter Mazur, Justin Lee), 13:34. 5. DU, Brett Stapley (unassisted), 17:28, (en). 6. DU, Wright 23 (unassisted), 18:00, (en). Penalties — Morton, MS (tripping), 5:26.

Shots on goal — DU 3-5-12—20; MS 8-10-10—28. Goalies — Magnus Chrona, DU (28 shots-27 saves); Dryden McKay, MS (20-15). Power plays — DU 0-of-3, MS 1-of-1. Referees — Gino Binda Jr., Jeremy Tufts. Linesmen — Bill Kingdon, Kevin Briganti. Att. — 17,850.

PHOTO GALLERY

Jess Myers covers college hockey, as well as outdoors, general sports and travel, for The Rink Live and the Forum Communications family of publications. He came to FCC in 2018 after three decades of covering sports as a freelancer for a variety of publications, while working full time in politics and media relations. A native of Warroad, Minn. (the real Hockeytown USA), Myers has a degree in journalism/communications from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He lives in the Twin Cities. Contact Jess via email at jrmyers@forumcomm.com, or find him on Twitter via @JessRMyers. English speaker.
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