Boston – Denver and Minnesota will play the men’s national ice hockey title Saturday evening with a chance to make history for their respective programs.
The Pioneers eliminated top-seeded Michigan on Thursday in the Frozen Four semifinal game, 3-2 in overtime, advancing to the school’s first championship game since 2018.
The pioneers, who won the title four years ago, are seeking a ninth men’s hockey championship in program history, which would tie Michigan for more than ever in the NCAA Division I.
“It was a really good hockey game,” Denver coach David Karl said. “We’re obviously excited to be on the positive end.” “Our guys stuck with that, got the job done and we’re still in Boston until Saturday.”
Minnesota State defeated rival Minnesota, 5-1, in the semifinal match. This will be the Mavericks’ first appearance in a national title match. Minnesota State made its first Frozen Four last year, losing in the semifinals to St. Cloud State.
“The Frozen Four didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to. We’ve been on a journey since then to try and get back here,” said Minnesota State coach Mike Hastings. “So now we want to try and take advantage of the opportunity these people have.”
Minnesota State took the lead thanks to two second-half goals from top defender Benton Mas and great left winger Reggie Lutz, who beat Gopher goalkeeper Justin Close. They scored three goals in the third half. And first striker Ondrej Pavel converted a shot point by first defender Jack McNeely early in the last period. Nice striker David Seely made it 4-1 with just over six minutes left. Midfielder Brendan Fury scored an empty goal in the winning goal.
The Mavericks played a solid defense in front of star goalie Dryden McKay, who made 16 saves. Gopher’s only goal came in one of Minnesota’s rare gaffes in the game: With 11 minutes remaining in the first half, in a 2-on-0 break from the Mavericks spin, forward Matthew Kniss scored to give Minnesota the lead.
Mackay, a senior, got cheers of “Hobie Baker!” A Mavericks fan in the crowd, he reached the final of the College Hockey Player Honors Prize, which will be handed out Friday night in Boston. The other finalists are forwards Bobby Brink of Denver and Ben Myers of Minnesota.
Denver and Michigan opened their Frozen Four semifinals earlier in the evening with a fierce battle between two deep-sea teams.
Left winger Carter Savoy’s goal with 5:07 left in the first overtime won the Pioneers match. Wolverines tried to go on the attack before the disk was locked. Denver collected ball turnover, and top scorer Brink’s pass was converted from the right corner by Savoy into the front of the net, sending the pioneers to celebrate and sending the top-seeded Wolverines home.
“They turned the disc at the blue line there. I tried to pass it to Bob, hit a pole and then obviously got it back. That pass was great. I got the first shot and then I got the rebound,” Savoy said. “There are no words to describe it. Best feeling ever.”
Brett Stapley and senior right winger Cameron Wright scored the other goals for Denver, whose solid play in the neutral zone left dynamic Michigan offensive players off the scoresheet.
It was a 1-1 match that entered the third inning. The Pioneers took the lead with 14:24 remaining in the third game. The ball was returned to defender Mike Benning at the correct point, whose wrist shot was deflected by Wright past Eric Portillo.
But Michigan tied with 10:51 left in the third game. The play began with a sprawling block by Mark Estapa with a shot from Denver defender Ante Tomisto. Michael Pastogov of Michigan sprinted toward the ward. His pass veered into the middle of the ice, but Thomas Bordello, the clever second-strike, slowed his lead in order to take advantage of the rebounding puck to sort out a tie that would force extra time at the end, as Denver would finish the Wolverines race.
The loss pushed Michigan into off-season uncertainty. The Wolverines have seven players selected in the first round of the NHL draft, including four of the first five selections in the 2021 draft. Defensesman Owen Power, seeded last year, is expected to sign the Buffalo Sabers after the NCAA Championships.
Michigan coach Mel Pearson’s contract expires on April 30. When asked if he will be the coach of the Wolverines next season, Pearson said: “I will only talk about the game and our team tonight.”
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