Denver Pioneers and Minnesota State Mavericks advance to Frozen Four Finals

BOSTON — Denver and Minnesota State will play for the men’s national ice hockey title on Saturday night with a chance to make history for their respective programs.

The Pioneers knocked out top-seeded Michigan Thursday in their Frozen Four semifinal game, 3-2 in overtime, to advance to the school’s first championship game since 2018.

The Pioneers, who won the title four years ago, are seeking the ninth men’s hockey championship in program history, which would tie Michigan for the most ever in NCAA Division I.

“It was a very good hockey game. We’re obviously excited to be on the safe side,” Denver coach David Carle said. “Our guys stuck with it, got the job done and we’re still in Boston until Saturday.”

Minnesota State beat rival Minnesota, 5-1, in their semifinal game. This will be the Mavericks’ first appearance in the national title game. Minnesota State made its first Frozen Four last year, losing in the semifinals to St. Cloud State.

“The last Frozen Four didn’t end the way we wanted it to. Since then, we’ve been on a journey to try and get back here,” Minnesota State coach Mike Hastings said. “So now we want to try and take advantage of the opportunity these guys have won.”

Minnesota State advanced thanks to a pair of second-period looping goals from senior defenseman Benton Maass and senior left wing Reggie Lutz, which beat Gophers goaltender Justen Close. They scored three goals in the third period. Sophomore forward Ondrej Pavel deflected a point shot from senior defenseman Jack McNeely early in the final period. Sophomore forward David Silye made it 4-1 with just over six minutes left in the game. Junior center Brendan Furry scored an empty net to cap the win.

The Mavericks played solid defense in front of star goaltender Dryden McKay, who made 16 saves. The Gophers’ only goal came on one of Minnesota State’s few blunders in the game: with 11 minutes left in the first period, on a 2-0 breakaway on a Mavericks turnover, as the forward Matthew Knies scored to put Minnesota ahead.

McKay, a senior, earned vocals from “Hobey Baker!” Mavericks fans in the crowd, as he is a finalist for the award honoring the best college hockey player, which will be presented Friday night in Boston. The other two finalists are forwards Bobby Brink from Denver and Ben Meyers from Minnesota.

Denver and Michigan opened the Frozen Four semifinals earlier in the evening with a close battle between two deep teams.

Left wing Carter Savoie’s goal with 5:07 remaining in the first overtime won the game for the Pioneers. The Wolverines tried to go on the attack before securing the puck. Denver picked up the turnover and leading scorer Brink’s pass from the right corner was converted by Savoie in front of the net, sending the Pioneers into a celebration and the top-seeded Wolverines home.

“They returned the puck to the blue line there. I tried to pass it to Bob, it hit a peg and then obviously he ended up getting it back. That pass was amazing. I got the first shot, then I got the rebound,” Savoie said. “No words to describe it. Best feeling ever.”

Senior center Brett Stapley and senior right wing Cameron Wright had the other goals for Denver, whose solid play in the neutral zone left Michigan’s dynamic offensive players off the scoresheet.

It was a 1-1 game early in the third period. The Pioneers took the lead with 14:24 left in the third period. The puck was returned to defenseman Mike Benning at the right time, who fired a wrist shot that Wright deflected past goaltender Erik Portillo.

But Michigan tied the game with 10:51 left in the third. The game started with a sprawling block from Mark Estapa on a shot by Denver defender Antti Tuomisto. Michigan’s Michael Pastujov sped up the wing. His pass to the middle of the ice was deflected, but second-year forward Thomas Bordeleau smartly slowed his progress in order to tap home the bouncing puck for the even count that would eventually force overtime, where Denver would end the game. Wolverine race.

The loss sent Michigan into an offseason of uncertainty. The Wolverines have seven players who were selected in the first round of the NHL Draft, including four of the top five picks in the 2021 draft. Defenseman Owen Power, the first overall pick last year, is expected to sign with the Sabers from Buffalo after the NCAA Tournament.

Michigan coach Mel Pearson’s contract expires April 30. When asked if he would be Wolverines head coach next season, Pearson replied: “I’m just going to talk about the game and our team tonight.”