Minnesota State won the deciding game three against Nebraska-Omaha by a score of 3-1 tonight to advance to their first Final Five since 2003. Here's some notes and thoughts from the game.
-Minnesota State came out with more jump in the first period, with a 12-3 shot advantage, and more importantly, were able to capitalize to the tune of a 2-0 lead. Intangibly, playing from ahead seemed to give the purple Mavericks a little more confidence after the loss last night, while more tangibly, the lead allowed Minnesota to play their fifth and sixth defensemen regularly, allowing a little extra rest for their top four defensemen, who had logged a lot of ice in the first two games of the series.
-If there was one turning point in tonight's game, it was Minnesota State's Max Gaede getting his first goal of the year to put Minnesota State up 2-0 in the first period, on a nice move to his backhand. His head coach Mike Hastings called Gaede a good, honest player, who had struggled to score all season, and he said that Gaede's first goal of the year had a huge effect on their bench. Gaede was more than deferential post-game, with a funny description of the goal: "I came off the bench. Did nothing; my linemates did everything. Then I got the puck and tripped and somehow it went in off my backhand."
-Both goalies were outstanding in this game. John Faulkner took the loss, but this game could have easily been 4-0 after the first period, and he made a couple more outstanding saves throughout. Stephon Williams didn't face as many quality chances, but made a couple key stops, including stopping an Andrej Sustr breakaway in the third period, and breaking up a nice crossing pass in the third to preserve MSU's lead.
-The third period was made a lot more interesting by a late Nebraska-Omaha goal when a deflected shot beat Williams five hole. Minnesota State was able to capitalize on their only full power play of the game to extend the lead to 3-1 early in the third period.
-That Minnesota State power play that led to the goal came on a pretty bad penalty by UNO's Josh Archibald. After a lot of jawing and jostling with MSU's Chase Grant during a neutral zone face-off, Archibald took Grant down behind the play and was called for roughing. Again, it would have been a very different game if MSU had had to play the third period protecting only a one-goal lead.
-Minnesota State got a huge game from their first line of Matt Leitner, Chase Grant, and Eriah Hayes. Leitner had a goal and an assist, but just as important were his defensive contributions, including a couple huge diving blocked shots. Grant was all over the ice all weekend as well, even if his contributions didn't show up on the scoresheet.
-Emotions were understandably high after the game given the connections between these two programs. Every Minnesota State player gave a hug to UNO assistant coach, and former Minnesota State head coach, Troy Jutting. Jutting was largely responsible for the make-up of this Minnesota State team, and despite being on the other bench, it had to feel good to see his former team, and alma mater, advance to the Final Five, especially given all the heartbreak Minnesota State has suffered in the playoffs since their last Final Five trip.
Meanwhile, Mike Hastings was also emotional in his post-game press conference, having coached most of the UNO team. As happy as he was, the fact that his team had to be the one to end UNO's season didn't please him at all.
-The buzz all season long in Mankato was that this year's team was different from the past, and they lived up to that. Minnesota State had won the Friday game of four different player series in overtime over the past ten years and gone on to lose all four series. Heading into tonight, it looked like they might make it an incredible five straight, but they were finally able to get the monkey off their back.