Albany, NY – The Minnesota St. Mavericks weathered a Harvard Crimson comeback late in the game to advance to Sunday’s Regional Final at MVP Arena against the winner of Notre Dame vs. North Dakota. Harvard spotted the favored Mavericks a two-goal lead in the first period only to fall a goal short, 4-3.
Ondrej Pavel‘s early third-period goal was the difference maker as sophomore defenseman Akito Hirose assisted on three goals and sophomore Josh Groll had two assists, one for each linemate Pavel and Connor Gregga. Ricther Award top three finalist Dryden McKay turned back 19 of 22 Crimson shots to earn his NCAA leading 36th win.
“If there’s a guarantee that you could get at this tournament. It’s that it’s never easy,” said Minnesota St. head coach Mike Hastings. “Tonight wasn’t easy. I thought we had a real good start. Then we got a little loose but I want to give Harvard credit on making it happen. Creating turnovers and then finding a way to to make a play to get it back to a three-two game.”
“I thought we did a good job of resetting coming out in the third period,” added Hastings. “Ondrej Pavel makes a real nice, hard play and ends up getting in and makes no mistake about it and gives us a two-goal lead.”
“It was a little bit of bend don’t break. At this time, it’s nice to be moving on. But as we knew it would be it’d be an incredible battle against Harvard and it was,” said the 10-year bench boss.
The Mavericks broke through on Mitchell Gibson at 14:12 of the first period. A scramble in front of the Crimson goal led to a slapshot from the blue line from defenseman Hirose that winger Connor Gregga tipped by Gibson (36 saves). Hirose and Josh Groll assisted Gregga’s sixth goal.
The Crimson compounded their misfortune with a Too Many Men on the Ice penalty at 16:56. It took less than a minute to double up their lead in the nation’s third-ranked power-play.
Reggie Lutz blasted a one-timer from the right circle past Gibson at 17:46 to make it 2-0. Hirose had the helper on Lutz’s power-play strike.
Junior Brendan Furry‘s wrist shot from the slot put the Mavericks ahead 3-0 just 2:06 into the second period. Furry’s 12th was unassisted.
A scramble in the Harvard crease led to a penalty shot awarded to Minnesota St.’s Julian Napravnik at 10:02. Gibson quickly padded away Napravnik’s snap snot with a blocker save.
“I think it certainly did,” said Harvard head coach Ted Donato on whether Gibson’s save on Napravnik gave the Crimson momentum. “He was really on his game from the from the very beginning and gave us a chance even though we were giving up some real quality chances. He gave us a chance to stay around so that when we did get a couple goals, we were able to turn it into a little bit more of a game in the second half I think that is mainly because of his great effort.”
Harvard came alive late in the second when Sean Farrell beat McKay when he just flung the puck on goal from below the goal line. The puck bounced off McKay, who jumped up in the air, and into the Mavericks’ net at 16:42. Farrell’s 10th put the score at 3-1 Minnesota St.
Just forty-eight seconds later, Alex Gaffney cut the deficit to 3-2 when he beat McKay with a shot through the legs from the low slot. Alex Laferriere assisted on Gaffney’s seventh.
Immediately off the face-off from Gaffney’s goal, the Maverick’s struck iron when Groll beat Gibson with a slap shot.
Pavel put the Mavericks back on top by two goals at 5:59 of the third when he ripped a shot from the left circle top corner past Gibson to make it 4-2.
“I believe they were they were unbelievable tonight,” said Pavel of his linemates Groll and Gregga. “I ended up getting that goal but it was all because we got a good play from our defenseman, Josh Groll then chips it by their by their defenseman. Then we’re just going down hill and I owe a lot to them for for the success that our fourth line is having.”
A Tripping penalty on Mavericks’ Smith gave the Crimson a power-play at 14:38.
With Gibson on the bench for the extra attacker, senior captain Casey Dornbach cut the deficit when firing a cross-ice pass from Farrell past McKay for his eighth goal.
Harvard pulled Gibson again but could not beat McKay to force overtime as time wound down on their season.
“We’ve been in that situation a few times this year, and been able to come back completely,” said Dornbach. “So we definitely had confidence there. It just shows the resilience of this group that we’ve had all year. It’s been the best team I’ve been a part of since being at Harvard. And I think we all wanted to do it for each other and obviously fell short tonight.”