BOSTON — The final two teams standing in college hockey have something in common: They sure can score goals.
Denver is the nation’s top offense averaging 4.25 goals per game. Its opponent in Saturday night’s national championship game (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2) is Minnesota State, which sits right behind the Pioneers with 4.12 goals per game.
On Friday, however, the main conversation for these two potent offense was defense.
If you watched Thursday’s national semifinals, you’ll understand why. Denver stifled a high-flying Michigan team stacked with seven NHL first-round draft picks, allowing it just 14 shots on goal through regulation before earning a 3-2 overtime win. Minnesota State slowed down a speedy Minnesota club in its 5-1 victory.
The reality is that on Thursday, defense won the night.
So on Friday’s off day, both coaches were more than happy to talk about what they can do well defensively to prevail on Saturday.
“What you do with the puck is one thing but it’s just as important what you’re doing without the puck so you can get it back,” said Minnesota State coach Mike Hastings. In addition to its potent offense, the Mavericks also possess the second-best defense in the nation.
“You watch Denver, they’re about as detailed a team that I’ve seen with their sticks, getting back on top. What they did last night … to an incredibly talented Michigan team … ”
To finish the thought, what Denver did to Michigan was make life miserable, and certainly that’s part of the game plan if the Pioneers are to slow down Minnesota State.
Both Hastings and Denver coach David Carle agree that transition game makes the team dangerous. They’re fast to move the puck to the forwards and go on the attack.
“They do a really good job defending,” said Hastings. “Then their ability from their back end to get the puck from their stick up to their forwards, then getting up and supporting it.”
Carle called the Pioneers’ transition game “predictable and fast.”
“Our D don’t hang on to the puck too long,” said Carle, who’s hoping to lead Denver to its record-tying ninth national title. “I think our forwards like to get the puck quicker so they can have the puck, have the ability to do what they do, attacking off the rush or getting pucks in behind defensive opponents.
“It allows our team to play fast and make our opponents uncomfortable.”
Certainly, this isn’t only about slowing down Denver. Minnesota State enters Saturday’s national title game sporting an 18-game winning streak where it has trailed 104:45 of the 1186:29 over that span. They return a core nucleus of players that last year reached the school’s first-ever Frozen Four and certainly have the maturity to walk away with a national title on Saturday.
“There’s not a lot of weaknesses,” Carle said of Minnesota State. “I think there’s some similarities with the level that they defend at with [UMass] Lowell and [Minnesota] Duluth (teams Denver beat to advance from the Loveland regional). We’ve had success against those teams doing things a certain way. I think that’s a great experience that we have coming into the game tomorrow night.
“Coach Hastings and their staff and players, they’ve obviously built something really special that we respect and are excited for the challenge to play them for a banner and a big trophy come tomorrow night.”