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Mavericks rally past Gophers to reach NCAA Frozen Four title game

It will be Minnesota State Mankato versus Denver for the national title on Saturday after the Mavericks overcame an early deficit and send the Minnesota Gophers home early from Boston.

2022 Frozen Four - Minnesota vs Minnesota State
Reggie Lutz (16) of the Minnesota State University Mavericks fires a shot as Brent Brinkman (4) helps goalie Justen Close defend the Minnesota Golden Gophers goal in a 2022 Division I Men’s Frozen Four semifinal game Thursday, April 7, 2022, at TD Garden in Boston, MA.
Jim Rosvold / The Rink Live
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BOSTON – After a heartbreaking semifinal loss last year in their program’s first NCAA Frozen Four trip, the Minnesota State hockey team came to the East Coast determined to do things differently. Step one was completed Thursday, as the Mavericks rallied to beat in-state rival Minnesota 5-1, earning a date with Denver in Saturday night’s national title game.

Trailing by a goal, the Mavericks scored on a pair of second period wraparound goals to take the lead, and got 16 saves from star goalie Dryden McKay on a history-making night for their program.

The Mavericks improved to 38-5-0 with the win, and will face a Denver Pioneers team that upset top-seeded Michigan in overtime in the first semifinal. In addition to McKay’s heroics, MSU got goals from Benton Maass, Reggie Lutz, Ondrej Pavel, David Silye and Brendan Furry.

Minnesota (26-13-0) got an early goal from Matthew Knies and 27 saves by goalie Justen Close in their final game of a season that included a Big Ten regular season title.

Coaches like to talk about getting a good start and settling into their own game as quickly as possible as a key to victory. For MSU, they got the start they wanted, out-shooting the Gophers 11-4 in the opening 20 minutes, with one small caveat: the Mavericks found themselves trailing despite all that offense.

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When a MSU defender fumbled a puck in the neutral zone early in the game, Gophers forward Bryce Brodzinski pounced on the available puck and keyed a rare 2-on-0 rush to the Mavericks net. Brodzinski and Knies played hot potato with the puck until McKay was drawn to Brodzinski’s side of the net, leaving a gaping blank space for Knies to shoot. It was the fifth goal in the Gophers past four games for Knies, a freshman from Phoenix.

The Mavericks got the equalizer in a more evenly-played second period when Maass – who is from Elk River, Minn., but transferred to MSU after starting his college career an hour outside of Boston at New Hampshire – wrapped the puck around the post and just beyond Close’s left leg pad. It was just the third goal of the season for Maass. A few minutes later, on another wraparound, Lutz gave MSU the lead. His initial attempt during a scramble in front of the Minnesota net hit the post, but he circled around the back and slipped a shot behind the goalie for a 2-1 advantage.

When Pavel tipped a Jack McNeely shot past Close in the opening minutes of the third for a two-goal lead, it played perfectly into the Mavs’ game plan to stifle Minnesota’s offense and let McKay do the rest. Silye made it 4-1 on a rocket in the latter half of the period, as the good-sized crowd of fans in purple and gold went crazy in one corner of the rink. Furry added an empty net goal late.

The win came in contrast to the Mavericks first Division I Frozen Four game a year ago, when they led another in-state rival, St. Cloud State, in the third period before falling 5-4 on a late Huskies goal. MSU will be trying for its first NCAA title at the D-I level. Denver will be seeking its ninth, which would tie the NCAA record held by Michigan.

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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