ALBANY, N.Y. — It’s an adage that hockey is a game of momentum. When a team feels that it has it on its side, everything can seem to go its way.
But momentum can shift quickly.
Minnesota State had to withstand two momentum shifts to hold on for a 4-3 win over Harvard in Thursday’s early Albany Regional semifinal.
“It was a little bit of bend, not break,” said Minnesota State coach Mike Hastings.
His Mavericks had dominated play in the first period, opening up a 2-0 lead on a goal by Akito Hirose at 14:12 and a power-play tally at 17:46 by Reggie Lutz. Minnesota State outshot the Crimson 19-6 in the period.
The Mavericks made it 3-0 on Brendan Furry’s wrister in the high slot at 2:06 of the second – less than a minute after killing off a Harvard power play – and it began to seem as if the game was beginning to become out of reach.
“I thought we came out a bit tentative certainly in the first half of the game,” said Harvard coach Ted Donato. “Some of it maybe inexperience, some of it maybe the execution level Minnesota State had.”
When Harvard’s Marshall Rifai covered the puck in the crease midway through the second period, Minnesota State had a chance to put the game away. But goalie Mitchell Gibson emphatically blockered aside Julian Napravnik’s ensuing penalty shot, and that gave the Crimson its first smidgen of momentum in the contest.
“I thought that took momentum and moved it from our side to their side,” said Hastings.
“Even though we were giving up some quality chances, it gave us a chance to stay around and get a couple of goals and turn it into more of a game in the second half,” said Donato.
Harvard took that newfound momentum and built on it to score two goals within 48 seconds late in the period. Sean Farrell got the Crimson on the board when his shot deflected off of Minnesota State goalie Dryden McKay’s skate and into the net.
“I thought that was a turning point in the game,” said Hastings. “Momentum moves both ways in a game and it went from us to them. They capitalized on it.”
Alex Gaffney’s goal at 17:30 put Minnesota State on its heels heading into the second intermission.
“I thought, ‘Hey, there’s a lot of game left.’ You knew they were going to make a push,” said Hastings. “I’d be lying to you if I didn’t tell you I was glad that period ended and that we were able to get to that locker room and collectively get it back together and reset ourselves, and the guys did a really good job with that.”
Having come back in games against Rensselaer and Quinnipiac in the ECAC Hockey playoffs, Harvard knew it had the ability to rebound from a deficit.
“We’ve been in that situation a few times this year and been able to come back completely,” said Harvard’s Casey Dornbach. “So we definitely had confidence there.”
Minnesota State used the intermission to collectively catch its breath.
“The older guys definitely stepped up and calmed everybody down, and talked about what went wrong and what we needed to change. And then put it behind us,” said McKay. “[They] reminded us we were up by one and playing well and just get back to what was making us successful before those two goals in the second period.”
Players with a memory of Minnesota State’s 6-3 loss to Providence in the 2019 regional semifinal – a game the Mavericks had led 3-0 – were able to help get the Mavericks focused.
“We leaned on some guys who saw that or who have been part of it over time and the history of what we’ve had before,” said Hastings. “I think those things that hurt a lot, you can learn quite a bit from. They seem to stick with you for a while.”
The Mavericks regained some momentum with Ondrej Pavel’s third-period goal at 5:59 to make it 4-2, but a power-play goal with an empty net and 6-on-4 advantage for Harvard by Casey Dornbach made it a 4-3 game with 3:31 left.
Momentum swung again.
“Once they got momentum, they kept it,” said Hastings. “The last five minutes was a tough bout for us.”
Donato pulled Gibson with 2:21 left. Harvard attacked the Minnesota State zone with a flurry of attempts, but Minnesota State was able to block Harvard’s last five tries.
“They were doing a good job of getting in lanes,” said Harvard’s Nick Abruzzese. “They didn’t make anything easy on us all night. The last 20 seconds was kind of a microcosm of that.”
“For me, again, it was ‘bend, not break,’” said Hastings.
Minnesota State will face the winner of Thursday’s North Dakota-Notre Dame semifinal at 6:30 p.m. ET Saturday.