BOSTON (AP)Denver is going for a record-tying ninth NCAA hockey championship. Minnesota State is hoping for its first.
It will be the bluebloods vs. the new blood in the Frozen Four final Saturday night.
”We’re here to win a national championship,” said Denver forward Bobby Brink, who led the nation in scoring this season. ”Every one of us want to make a mark on this program. We have such high standards here at Denver. To do that you have to win the national championship. That’s what we’re focused on.”
The schools come into the title game at the TD Garden with different histories and different paths.
Denver is trying to tie Michigan – the team the Pioneers eliminated 3-2 in overtime Thursday night to reach the championship game – for the title record. Minnesota State beat Minnesota 5-1 in the second semifinal.
The Mavericks are in the Frozen Four for the second straight year. Denver has been to four of the last six, but it missed the event in 2021. (Four players on this roster were on the team that reached the semifinals in 2019.)
There are also a lot of similarities.
The two No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament are the two top offensive teams in the nation – the only two with four players topping 40 points. Denver was first in scoring with 4.3 goals per game and second with 170 goals; MSU was second with 4.1 goals per game and first with 177 goals.
”They’ve obviously built something really special that we respect,” Pioneers coach David Carle said on Friday. ”We’re excited for the challenge to play them for a banner and a big trophy.”
The weekend of the Frozen Four is when the college hockey world hands out some other prizes, with Minnesota State goalie Dryden McKay taking the Hobey Baker Award that goes to the sport’s top player.
McKay had an NCAA-record 38 wins, and his 34 career shutouts are also the most ever. Brink and Minnesota forward Ben Meyers were also finalists.
In other awards, McKay was edged for the Mike Richter Award that goes to the goalie in college hockey. Northeastern’s Devon Levi won it after leading the NCAA with a .952 save percentage – the second-highest in NCAA history – a 1.54 goals-against average of 1.54 and a school-record 10 shutouts. The Huskies sophomore was also named NCAA hockey’s top rookie.
Josh Kosack of Union College won the Hockey Humanitarian Award for his work with Schenectady-area youth.
Minnesota State has taken full advantage of the NCAA’s loosened rules rules on transfers, bringing in Benton Maass (New Hampshire), David Silye (Clarkson) and Josh Groll (Michigan). Cameron Wright took advantage of the extra year granted to players because of COVID-19 and came to Denver after playing for Bowling Green.
”It was a no-brainer … to be able to play in games like this, to be able to play for the national championship,” Wright said. ”It’s definitely something that I recommend to guys if they have the opportunity to do it. Obviously, like I said, we’re playing for a national championship here. It worked out well for me.”
Carle said the combination of the transfer rule and the COVID eligibility waiver is ”very much warranted for all the players.”
”It’s an exciting opportunity for them because they’re the ones who really lived through the strains and struggles of COVID during what is supposed to be the best four years of their lives,” he said.
Wright scored for Denver in the semifinal victory over Michigan on Thursday night. Silye had a goal and an assist to help Minnesota State beat Minnesota, while Maass had a goal and Groll had an assist.
”We’ve been blessed,” Mavericks coach Mike Hastings said. ”All three of these young men have had an impact on our program in a short period of time. I think that has to do with the makeup of the human beings and the young men themselves. They’ve come in with the idea we’re going to earn everything we get.”
But Hastings said the transfer situation is ”ever-evolving.”
”I just think the portal is continuing to become more and more part of processes of structuring the roster,” he said. ”Now, we’ve got our own philosophies on what we’re going to do with that. Hopefully we can stay true to those. But I do think we need to continue to be flexible in our mindset of what’s going to happen.”