BOSTON — Denver scored five straight third-period goals to capture the NCAA Division I men’s hockey championship with a 5-1 victory over Minnesota State at TD Garden on Saturday night.
It’s the ninth title in program history for the Pioneers, tying Michigan’s NCAA record for the most ever. Denver had eliminated the Wolverines in the semifinals of the Frozen Four to advance to the title game against the Mavericks.
“It certainly was a goal to get to nine,” said Denver coach David Carle. “The ultimate goal is to be the first one to 10, I will tell you. Winning Thursday against Michigan was a huge step in that direction, and obviously tonight is an even bigger step.”
Senior forward Ryan Barrow and sophomore defenseman Mike Benning scored 2 minutes, 47 seconds apart in the third period to erase Minnesota State’s 1-0 lead, finally breaking through against a stingy Mavericks defense in front of Hobey Baker Award-winning goalie Dryden McKay.
“I kinda blacked out. I just saw my teammates coming towards me and I had to [celebrate],” Benning said of his game-winning goal. “I thought I owed it to my teammates after taking that penalty.”
Denver goalie Magnus Chrona, a San Jose Sharks prospect, made 24 saves in the victory.
More of Greg Wyshynski’s recap Denver’s national championship victory over Minnesota State.
In Thursday night’s semifinals, Denver, the regular-season champ in the NCHC, defeated Big Ten tournament champion Michigan, 3-2, in overtime, and Minnesota State, the CCHA tournament and regular-season champ, handled Minnesota, the Big Ten’s regular-season champion, 5-1.
Here are three major storylines and keys to the national title game:
Chasing two kinds of history: Will the rich get richer or will a Frozen Four newbie join the ranks of national champions? These are the stakes between Denver and Minnesota State. The Pioneers are in the Frozen Four for the 17th time. They last appeared in the Frozen Four final in 2018, the last time they captured the championship. Denver is seeking its ninth men’s hockey championship in program history, which would tie Michigan for the most ever in Division I.
Minnesota State, which won its 18th straight game Thursday night, made its first Frozen Four last year, losing in the semifinals to St. Cloud State. The Mavericks are seeking their first Division I title, which would strap a rocket to the back of a program already on the rise.
“The last Frozen Four didn’t end the way we wanted it to. We’ve been on a journey ever since to try and get back here,” Minnesota State coach Mike Hastings said. “So now we want to try and take advantage of the opportunity that these guys have earned.”
Dryden McKay: The Minnesota State senior goalie might be the most divisive player in the tournament. The two-time Hobey Baker Award finalist holds the NCAA record for career shutouts (34) and ranks second all time in career wins. He said NHL teams haven’t pursued him because he’s only 5-foot-11 at a time when goalies who physically fill the net are preferable.
There’s a perception that McKay could be vulnerable to scoring chances around his crease, but opponents getting them is a different story: Minnesota State does a marvelous job keeping shots to the far reaches of the defensive zone and cleaning up rebounds in front of McKay. The Mavericks goalie said he sees the Frozen Four as a defining moment for his professional career. The Pioneers have to make sure it isn’t. Meanwhile, Denver has its own solid goaltender in San Jose Sharks prospect Magnus Chrona, who has had a strong tournament.
Discipline and preparation: The championship final features a matchup between two outstanding coaches. Hastings was named the CCM/AHCA National Coach of the Year for the second straight season and for the third time since 2015. Denver’s David Carle was the youngest head coach in Division I when he was hired in 2018, and he would be the fourth-youngest to win a national championship. Hastings said Denver is “as thorough a coaching staff as there is in college hockey right now.”
Both coaches had tremendous game plans in their semifinal wins, and their players effectively executed them. But the Mavericks and Pioneers were also incredibly disciplined, without a single penalty whistled against either of them.
“I did think discipline has been an issue of ours throughout the season at times. And it was the best it’s been all year in the biggest moment,” Carle said. “We didn’t give the refs any opportunities to make a call on us. It’s hard to be that difficult to play against without the puck and not take a penalty. So, for that, I’m really proud of our players.” — Greg Wyshynski
at TD Garden, Boston
All times Eastern; all games also available on ESPN app
Denver 3, Michigan 2 (OT)
Minnesota State 5, Minnesota 1
Denver 5, Minnesota State 1
Prior to the semifinals, we asked ESPN college hockey analysts Dave Starman, Paul Caponigri and Sean Ritchlin for their takes on what the Pioneers, Wolverines, Gophers and Mavericks would need to do to skate out of Boston with a national title.
Denver will win if …
Dave Starman: If the Pioneers’ second line of Carter Mazur, Massimo Rizzo and Cameron Wright impacts the game and their third line with Brett Stapley creates matchup issues against Michigan’s third defensive pairing, they’ll be in great shape. Also, Denver’s possession game, especially in the offensive zone, could get Michigan’s younger team running around and impatient. The Pioneers score a lot of goals off offensive possession play, so puck management is important.
Paul Caponigri: The power play will be huge. It didn’t click in the regionals (0-for-7 combined against UMass Lowell and Minnesota Duluth) but the Pioneers still found a way to win, so you’ve got to give them a lot of credit for that. But particularly against Michigan, when Denver probably will need to score a few goals to win, the power play has to be at its best.
Sean Ritchlin: Bobby Brink, the nation’s leading scorer, and linemates Cole Guttman and Carter Savoie will need to lead the way offensively. Denver has averaged 4.3 goals per game (most in the country), they are deep and they can come at you in waves, with eight players scoring at least 10 goals. But they also can win a grind-it-out game and taking down Minnesota Duluth in a tight one in the regionals should give them the confidence to win a title.
Minnesota State will win if …
Starman: The Mavericks need goalie Dryden McKay to play as advertised. He doesn’t have to be great, but rebound control and managing the crease will be critical. They also need to win the possession game, with no bad giveaways and by using their size and experience to force their opponent to go 200 feet to earn chances. Finally, they need to keep the opposition from driving the middle lanes and deflect attacks outside, and stay out of the penalty box.
Caponigri: Minnesota State will want to stay true to its identity and keep bullying teams. The Mavericks’ M.O. is to be physical, fast and hard on teams, and there’s no reason to think they’ll change that. Against Minnesota, they have to attack Faber and Johnson. Faber is an elite defenseman, but they need to be physical with him and try to wear him down. Mike Hastings teams try to pound you and beat you that way mentally, then score the big goal at the right time.
Ritchlin: The Mavericks will follow their leaders. McKay has been their rock in net all season and has won numerous big games for Minnesota State. Olympian Nathan Smith continues to impress, scoring massive goals for the Mavericks and will be leaned on heavily by Hastings. Being the most balanced team in the Frozen Four in terms of the combination of offense and defense seems like a great recipe for winning a national title.
Michigan will win if …
Starman: My late friend Dennis “Red” Gendron, who passed away during last year’s Frozen Four, used to say, “The team that gets off the bus with the best players usually wins,” and that holds true. Michigan’s skill players can turn a game around. But the Wolverines will need to clean up their defensive play and win more defensive zone faceoffs. Denver is as good a faceoff team as there is; Michigan has to be just as good.
Caponigri: Quite simply Michigan needs to manage the puck. I’m not going to sugarcoat it: If the Wolverines play their best game, I think they’re going to win the whole thing, but they need to make good decisions with the puck. If they make the skill plays — and they have plenty of skill — and manage the puck at the key times, they’ll be in good shape. Michigan has had a tendency all year of taking its foot off the gas when it gets a big lead, but I don’t think that will happen here.
Ritchlin: The speed and skill on the Wolverines has been well documented with seven first-round NHL draft picks on the team. They are lethal on the man advantage and can push the pace all game long. They are loaded with depth as well and can create from anywhere on the ice to turn defense into offense. But in order to hoist the trophy, they will need to compete for 60 minutes in the Frozen Four — that hasn’t always been the case for them this year.
Minnesota will win if …
Starman: The above phrase about the best players applies here too: If Matt Knies is the game’s best player, Minnesota wins. A key for the Gophers will be to create off the rush and get their key scorers good looks quickly; they are good first-strike team. They’ll also look to use their speed on the back end to create good outs so they can beat Minnesota State to its defensive setups. And they’ll need their rookie goalie, Justen Close, to avoid making rookie mistakes.
Caponigri: The Gophers need to keep doing what they’re doing. Brock Faber and Ryan Johnson are leading the way as a dominant pairing on defense — both of them playing more than 30 minutes against UMass in the regionals was incredible. Then Close needs to play his typically solid game. He doesn’t necessarily have to be spectacular, just make the saves in front of him.
Ritchlin: Minnesota will look to its defensemen to set the tone. Bob Motzko’s six blueliners may be the most complete group in college hockey and they do a masterful job of getting pucks out of their zone with impressive exit passes. There’s also great leadership up front with Ben Meyers bringing along a talented group of freshmen. The regular-season Big Ten champs are battle-tested and with their strong D core have the intangibles to bring Minnesota another title.
Denver finds a way. The biggest thing for Denver is that the Pioneers found different ways to win than being all offense. They came in as this high-octane offense with the big power play, but that wasn’t really clicking for them and they were playing really good defensive teams. But they found other ways to win, which was really impressive. Coach David Carle has to be happy having his team show it can grind out games and find different ways of winning.
High-speed chase ahead in Boston. The matchup with Denver and Michigan is going to be fantastic. The Pioneers offense is going to see a team like them that likes to run and gun. Their power play and the top line are going to be important again and they should be able to get back to what they’re used to: Let’s go and get the pace going. It’s going to be a fun matchup.
Maximizing crowds maximizes excitement. The crowd was electric Saturday afternoon for the Denver-Minnesota Duluth final, a full house of over 7,000. I’m all for maximizing the best crowds however the NCAA can figure it out. Logistics can get complicated when you’re doing it five days in advance, but in women’s college basketball they play the first two rounds on campus sites, so that could be a way to go. There have to be discussions, and they have to look as hard as they can to figure out what can be done. — Paul Caponigri
Mavericks tough to break. Over the last few minutes of the Mavericks’ 1-0 win in the regional final, Notre Dame had about five seconds of possession time between the dots underneath the offensive blue line. That is a great way to keep a team off the scoreboard by keeping them on the perimeter. On defense, they gap very well to slow down attacks and they back-check very well, which means anyone coming at them is generally facing front pressure and back pressure, and that takes away the middle of the ice. The question is: Can Minnesota State do to Minnesota what it’s done to everyone else? The way Minnesota is playing now, it will be the best team the Mavericks have faced.
Watch out for Smith’s wrister. Nathan Smith, who scored the lone goal in the regional final, has as good a wrist shot as anyone in the nation, he’s got an NHL release and he’s accurate. It’s amazing how the majority of his goals come with the puck on his stick for less than a second. Minnesota State can score — it’s not the ’86 Edmonton Oilers, but the team can score. The team scores a lot of goals on first shots even though it’s built to win in the paint, so that gives it a multifaceted edge.
Harvard, North Dakota on the rise. If Harvard brings most of its guys back, watch out next year. They have so much skill, now they have to figure out part two, which is how hard this game can be and that there’s more to it than just going up and down the ice. The Crimson could be scary. Despite the fact that Notre Dame didn’t give him an inch, North Dakota’s Riese Gaber still stood out. He is special, he knows how to get open, knows how to score and he has a lot of grit. The Hawks are back to being one of the top handful of teams in the country. And don’t be fooled, Notre Dame has the speed and skill to create and isn’t going anywhere. — Dave Starman
Teamwork pays off for Gophers. Minnesota played about five periods of dominant hockey in Worcester. I was incredibly impressed with how thorough the Gophers were defensively. They have plenty of future NHL stars among their 14 draft picks, but their commitment to playing as a team was impressive.
NHL talent on display. Michigan’s star power gets most of the attention, but Minnesota has a number of guys who could be playing in the NHL this season, including Brock Faber, Ben Meyers and Matthew Knies. And Western Michigan’s Ronnie Attard, a third-round pick of the Flyers in 2019, will look good in orange and black next week if he chooses to head to the NHL.
UMass makes statement despite loss. UMass has planted a flag as a college hockey powerhouse in Massachusetts. Minuteman fans were loud and proud at the DCU Center for the defending national champ’s overtime loss to Minnesota, creating a great atmosphere for a great game. — Colby Cohen
Michigan shows off its elite talent. Michigan won the Allentown Regional with its fourth line scoring three huge goals. The top line, for the most part, was kept off the scoresheet other than Brendan Brisson scoring on the power play. The Wolverines’ power play is lethal, and the puck movement and skill are elite across both units. Luke Hughes continues to wow and is turning into an unstoppable force. Owen Power had four assists in the regional final against Quinnipiac and had some big defensive plays toward the end.
But Wolverines have vulnerabilities. Although they did enough to get to Boston, Michigan did not play a complete three periods in either game over the weekend. The Achilles’ heel of this team is down low in the defensive zone. For whatever reason, when the Wolverines get ahead by a few goals the attention to detail wanes in their own end. They have been able to score their way around it to this point but are going to have to shore that up heading to the Frozen Four.
Quinnipiac’s resolve, leadership impressive. Quinnipiac, which was the top defensive team in the country this season, gave up an uncharacteristic number of goals over its two games, but showed its resolve with a huge push in the third period against Michigan. The Bobcats’ three-goal flurry made it a one-goal game and had the Wolverines rattled. There is great leadership with that group. — Sean Ritchlin
Albany (N.Y.) regional
No. 1 Minnesota State 4, No. 4 Harvard 3
No. 3 Notre Dame 2, No. 2 North Dakota 1 (OT)
Minnesota State 1, Notre Dame 0
Loveland (Colo.) regional
No. 2 Minnesota Duluth 3, No. 3 Michigan Tech 0
No. 1 Denver 3, No. 4 UMass Lowell 2
Denver 2, Minnesota Duluth 1
Allentown (Penn.) regional
No. 1 Michigan 5, No. 4 American International 3
No. 2 Quinnipiac 5, No. 3 St. Cloud State 4
Michigan 7, Quinnipiac 4
Worcester (Mass.) regional
No. 1 Western Michigan 2, No. 4 Northeastern 1 (OT)
No. 2 Minnesota 4, No. 3 UMass 3 (OT)
Minnesota 3, Western Michigan 0
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