By James Garrison
The Denver University Pioneers (31-9-1) faced off against the Minnesota State Mavericks (38-6-1) in the NCAA National Championship game Saturday night at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. Riding five third period goals, the Pioneers took the contest 5-1.
The win brought the Pioneers their 9th National Championship in school history and their first title since 2017 at the helm of Jim Montgomery.
Denver Head Coach David Carle, who was an assistant coach under Montgomery as well as George Gwozdecky is just the fourth youngest coach to win an NCAA title at 32.
“I owe a lot of what I have in my life to the university”, said Carle post-game. “This program is very special, it means the world to me.”
The first period opened with a definite feeling-out process. Denver, with a slight edge in terms of possession early on, would struggle to get pucks on Hobey Baker Award winner Dryden McKay. McKay would only face three shots in the opening tally.
After Pioneers sophomore defenseman Mike Benning went off for tripping, the Mavericks would not miss on their first major chance.
Mavericks Junior forward Sam Morton wired a one-timer past Pioneers goaltender junior Magnus Chrona after a couple chances in and around the front of the net at 13:59 of the first period. The Mavericks would ride their lead into the locker room, finishing the period up 1-0.
Denver, with only three shots in the first period, would barely double their total in the second, adding just five in the middle frame.
Their best chance of the night to that point came as Cameron Wright couldn’t finish off a pretty passing play, missing a wide-open net midway through the second period.
After only eight shots through two periods, Denver was still in the game. Down by one, the Pioneers needed only one bounce to go their way. With just under five minutes gone in the third, Denver got their bounce.
Pioneers senior forward Ryan Barrow put home the rebound off of the shot from Benning to even the contest up at one apiece at 15:14.
“I just don’t think we were playing very well, outside of our goaltender,” said Carle about his team’s play in the first 40 minutes. “We weren’t connected and a lot of that was what [Minnesota State] was doing.”
Chrona stopped 27 out of 28 shots, keeping Denver in the game until they would ultimately tie the game.
“After the first one I felt almost immediately that we’re gonna get a second goal,” Chrona said post-game. After that, it was just pure joy and trying to stay in the moment.”
The Pioneers would quickly continue their momentum, drawing a penalty just 40 seconds later. Denver would not be able to capitalize on the power-play, but take the lead just seven seconds after the play returned to five on five.
Benning wired home a one-timer from the right circle past McKay to give the Pioneers the lead with 12:27 to go in the third.
The Pioneers kept it coming, adding an insurance goal with 6:26 remaining, as freshman forward Massimo Rizzo buried a 2 on 1 opportunity to pad the lead for Denver.
“Once we gave up the first one, I thought we were certainly leaking oil a little bit, and couldn’t stop the bleeding,” said Minnesota State Head Coach Mike Hastings post-game.
In addition to advancing to their first Frozen Four in school history, Minnesota State also set the record for most wins in Division 1 play.
“These kids came to work every day with a smile on their face and they made the dailies fantastic,” said Hastings. “The ride they took our staff on and our program on was special.”
The Pioneers would add two empty net goals from senior forwards Brett Stapley and Cameron Wright to give Denver the 5-1 final.
Now with nine national championships, Denver has tied the University of Michigan for the most titles by any school in the NCAA Division 1.
“It certainly was a goal to get to nine. The ultimate goal is to be the first one to ten,” said Carle. “I will tell you, winning Thursday against Michigan, the team at nine was a huge step in that direction. Obviously tonight was an even bigger step.”
The long wait for college hockey will now begin, with five months until the next season, where the Pioneers will be vying to defend their title.
“We’re here to stay,” said Carle.