BOSTON – Denver scored five goals in a row in the third period to win the NCAA Division I men’s hockey championship with a 5-1 victory over Minnesota State at TD Garden on Saturday night.
It is the ninth title in program history for the Pioneers, bringing Michigan’s NCAA record to the highest ever. Denver had eliminated the Wolverines in the semifinals of the Frozen Four to advance to the title game against the Mavericks.
“It was definitely a goal to reach nine,” Denver coach David Carle said. “The ultimate goal is to be the first to 10, I will tell you. Winning Thursday against Michigan was a big step in that direction, and tonight is obviously an even bigger step.”
Senior striker Ryan Barrow and second defender Mike Benning scored 2 minutes and 47 seconds apart in the third period to erase Minnesota State’s 1-0 lead, and finally broke through against a stingy Mavericks defense in front of Hobey Baker award-winning goalkeeper Dryden McKay.
“I got a little blackout. I just saw my teammates coming towards me and I had to [celebrate]”I thought I owed my teammates after taking that penalty,” Benning said of his battle-winning goal.
Denver goalkeeper Magnus Chrona, a San Jose Sharks prospect, made 24 saves in the win.
“Did our man have to make any saves? Absolutely. We took advantage of our goalkeeper to the extreme,” Carle said. “Sometimes it all takes 60 minutes and we utilized the last 20 to our full advantage.”
In the first period, Minnesota State first struck at the powerplay, with Benning in the field to trigger Andy Carroll. Junior striker Brendan Furry launched a shot from the left wing which Chrona kicked to the castle. The puck went through the legs of a Pioneers penalty killer for Mavericks winger Lucas Sowder, who made a quick pass to junior forward Sam Morton. When his momentum took him backwards as he shot the puck, Morton’s one-timer found the back of the net with 6:01 left of the first period.
The Mavericks would kill a powerplay from Denver and surpassed them 8-3 in the opening frame. Minnesota State had an 18-8 advantage after two periods.
“We just said, ‘Stick to it.’ We did not get here by giving way to the assignment of challenges,” Carle said. “It took everyone to do what we did in the third period there.”
Denver finally broke through against McKay and the Minnesota State defense with 15:14 left in regulation. Freshman Jack Devine took a shot on the right wing, which McKay stopped with his cushion, but senior winger Ryan Barrow stood on his doorstep to place the puck in the net for 1-1.
Morton took a trigger penalty 40 seconds later, putting Denver on powerplay. Just seven seconds after the powerplay ended, Benning blew up a one-timer on a pass from defender Shai Buium to the 2-1 lead when Minnesota State saw its advantage suddenly disappear.
“When we first gave up the first one, I thought we were starting to leak oil a little bit. Couldn’t stop the bleeding. We started chasing the game,” Minnesota State coach Mike Hastings said.
Denver made it almost 3-1, but the referees declined a goal for random contact with McKay. But the Pioneers would put the game away with 6:26 left in the third period as freshman center Massimo Rizzo converted a 2-on-1 pass from freshman winger Carter Mazur. Striker Brett Stapley and Wright added empty net goals to the final score 5-1.
Minnesota State reached the Frozen Four for the first time last year and lost to St. Louis. Cloud State in the semifinals. This year, they toppled rival Minnesota with a 5-1 victory in the semifinals on Thursday before falling to Denver in the national title fight.
The loss is likely to mark the end of a remarkable college career for McKay. The 24-year-old set NCAA records with 37 wins and 34 shutouts this season for the Mavericks, becoming just the third goalkeeper to beat Hobey Baker and the first since former NHL goalkeeper Ryan Miller in 2001.
Interestingly, McKay did not win the Mike Richter Award as the nation’s best goalkeeper, which went to Buffalo Sabers prospect Devon Levi of Northeastern. McKay walked out of NHL teams and is a free agent. He has one more season left in Minnesota State, but has indicated he has no plans to return for another NCAA campaign.
“I gave up a bad rebound on the first one [goal] and they used capital, “McKay said.” It would have been nice to make a few more rescues for the boys. It just did not happen. “
The Pioneers had last done the championship game in 2017, which was the last time they won the title. Carle took over after Jim Montgomery after that championship. At 32, Carle becomes the fourth youngest head coach to win a national hockey championship for men.