BOSTON – There would be no loss to an in-state rival to derail the Mavericks’ season this time.
One year after a heartbreaking loss to St. Cloud State knocked them out of the Frozen Four semifinals, Minnesota State came roaring back into the Frozen Four this year, and their winning streak reached 18 games Thursday night as they defeated Minnesota 5-1 at TD Garden, reaching the championship game for the first time in school history.
“The guys did a really good job of just sticking with it,” said Mankato head coach Mike Hastings. “As they have this entire season, they stuck with it and they were rewarded for it.
“It was a good effort for us. We’re excited to have an opportunity to play for a national championship.”
Five different skaters scored for the Mavericks (38-5), who have won seven of the last eight meetings with the Gophers (26-13) including both NCAA tournament meetings the last two seasons; Mankato beat Minnesota 4-0 in the West Regional championship last season.
“Mankato, you’ve got to give them an enormous amount of credit,” said Gophers head coach Bob Motzko. “For big chunks of the game they kicked our butt.”
A nice run to Boston ended with a thud for the Gophers, who won nine straight games in the second half to put themselves in position to make a run for their sixth title after an uneven first half. They had won 11 of 12 games prior to Thursday.
“This was not indicative of what the season we had was,” Motzko said. “Been a terrific season, a terrific team. We just ran into a really good hockey team tonight.”
Minnesota didn’t score at all against Minnesota State in their tournament meeting last year. Matthew Knies and Bryce Brodzinski made sure that wouldn’t happen again as the two of them converted on a short 2-on-0 break, and Knies finished it on a tic-tac-toe sequence to put the Gophers up 1-0.
“Didn’t really seem to matter for the guys,” Mavericks goaltender Dryden McKay said. “We stuck with it. Eventually we were rewarded.”
“I thought the guys just flushed it and moved on,” Hastings added. “They manage themselves. So they’ve made it easy on myself.”
Otherwise, it was all Mavericks in that period. Mankato outshot Minnesota 11-4 but Justen Close continued his terrific second half of the season with some big saves. He finished with 27.
The Mavericks took control in the second period, going up 2-1 after wraparound goals by Benton Maass and Reggie Lutz in which the physical down-low offensive style Mankato likes to use wore out Minnesota’s defense on long shifts. It didn’t help matters that the Gophers couldn’t spread the Mavericks out when they had their own offensive chances.
“They’re a team that capitalizes on those,” said Minnesota forward Bryce Brodzinski about the second-period momentum shift.
Ondrej Pavel scored on a redirect early in the third period, putting Mankato up 3-1 and seeming to drain Minnesota of any chance at a rally. But Motzko had his team play more aggressively offensively from that point on and they kept McKay busy in the Mavericks net. But they couldn’t solve him, and his defense played outstanding in front of him to prevent any decent scoring chances down low.
David Silye essentially provided the dagger with a goal with 6:43 remaining, and Brendan Furry later capped the scoring with an empty-net goal
Mankato will face old conference rival Denver in Saturday’s title game. The Pioneers upset top overall seed Michigan 3-2 in overtime earlier Thursday. The two teams haven’t met since the 2012-13 season when they both still played in the WCHA. Denver won both those meetings in Mankato in November 2012, but Hastings and this Mavericks program have come a long way since.
[Former Denver coach George Gwozdecky] did a pretty good job of making me think we weren’t going to win a game, let alone get to this stage,” Hastings laughed. “You learn from the hard things.
“We’ll see. We’ll take a kick at the can on Saturday.”
MINN goal at 8:52: Matthew Knies (15). Assisted by Bryce Brodzinski (14).
MSU goal at 7:22: Benton Maass (3). Assisted by Lucas Sowder (14) and Ondrej Pavel (10).
MSU goal at 13:31: Reggie Lutz (15). Assisted by David Silye (9) and Jake Livingstone (22).
MSU goal at 1:57: Ondrej Pavel (12). Assisted by Jack McNeely (15) and Josh Groll (8).
MSU goal at 13:17: Silye (8). Assisted by Sam Morton (16).
MSU empty-net goal at 18:51: Brendan Furry (13). Unassisted.
Power plays: None.
Shots on goal: MINN 17, MSU 32.