BOSTON — Thanks to a workmanlike effort, the Minnesota State Mavericks will get the chance to play for the program’s first Division I men’s national championship.
Five different players scored goals for the Mavericks and goaltender Dryden McKay (16 saves) earned his 38th win of the season to propel Minnesota State to the national title game with a 5-1 victory over Minnesota in Thursday’s second national semifinal at the TD Garden.
The Mavericks enjoyed a territorial advantage for much of the game and outshot the Gophers 32-17. That said, things were hardly as easy for the Mavericks as the final score indicated. Minnesota State fell behind early before rallying in the second to take a lead it didn’t relinquish.
The Golden Gophers scored on their first shot of the game at 11:00 of the first period. After a neutral-zone turnover by the Mavericks, Minnesota’s Matthew Knies finished off some tic-tac-toe passing with Bryce Brodzinski for the only goal of the opening period.
“Not exactly the start we wanted, giving up a 2-on-0,” said Minnesota State coach Mike Hastings. “I thought we played a good first period, even though we were down.
“I told the guys we have to stick with it. We did a good job possessing the puck. I’m lucky to have a lot of leaders in the locker room that do a lot of coaching.”
The Mavericks, however, kept coming hard and controlled play, something that finally paid off at 7:22 of the second. Benton Maass came down from the blue line below the goal line. He wrapped the puck around the left post, far side on Minnesota netminder Justen Close.
At 13:31, the Mavericks took their first lead, again on a wraparound. This time it was Reggie Lutz swinging around the right post as Close was scrambling in the crease.
“When I was younger, my dad would take me to McDonald’s for a Happy Meal if I scored a wraparound goal,” laughed Lutz. “I guess when I was 5 I started practicing that and tonight it paid off.”
Early in the third, Minnesota State built the first two-goal cushion of the game when Ondrej Pavel put the perfect tip on Jack McNeely’s shot from the point. David Silye then delivered the knockout punch for the Mavericks with 6:43 remaining, picking the top corner of the net on a pretty shot from the slot.
Minnesota State limited the Gophers to just six shots in the final period, putting forth a stifling defensive effort that frustrated the Gophers.
Brandon Furry’s empty-net goal with 1:08 remaining accounted for the final score.
That set off a celebration for the ages for the fans who made the trek from Mankato, Minn., to Boston. For a town with a population just over 42,000, there was plenty of purple in the TD Garden on Thursday evening.
“To look across the rink and see the contingent who traveled across the country, seeing the passion from those people who have been there for a long time now, it’s special,” said Hastings. “It was nice to be able to pay them back a little bit tonight.”
On the other side, the loss was a difficult pill to swallow for Minnesota, a team that won the Big Ten regular-season title and reached the Frozen Four for the first time in eight years.
“For big chunks of the game they kicked out butts,” said Minnesota coach Bob Motzko. “We kind of withstood it. But then we made a couple of mistakes in the second period and we were chasing the game.
“We had a terrific season and a terrific team. We just ran into a real good team tonight.”