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Hockey

Irish to face Mavericks in Albany Regional Final

| Friday, March 25, 2022

The Notre Dame men’s hockey team has advanced to the Albany Regional Final after their 2-1 overtime victory against North Dakota. Winning the final on Saturday would send the Irish to Boston, where they would play in the Frozen Four. 

However, standing in their way is a team that might be the most complete in college hockey: Minnesota State. 

The Minnesota State Mavericks are 36-5-0 overall and are 23-3-0 in the CCHA, where they are the regular-season conference and tournament champions. 

Notre Dame has a massive task ahead, no matter how you slice it. Through the March 20 USCHO rankings, Minnesota State held the top spot (984 points to No. 2 Michigan’s 963). And by College Hockey News (CHN) RPI metric, Minnesota State is .0007 worse than Michigan. And even CHN acknowledges that Minnesota State is a better team when examining its weighted win percentage. The Mavericks currently have a weighted win percentage of .8434, while Michigan has a percentage of .7671. 

Looking at the Mavericks defensively, they are one of the best in the country. They only allow 1.27 goals per game, a mark that ranks second-best in the nation. 

This largely stems from how Minnesota State is able to limit both the quantity and quality of shots opponents can take. The Mavericks only allow 18.8 shots per game, meaning that only 6.8% of opponents’ shots end up in the back of the net. This mark is second best only to Quinnipiac. 

Looking specifically at the Mavericks’ roster, Minnesota State has some strong defensemen. Jake Livingstone, a sophomore, has nine goals and 21 assists, and a plus/minus of 24. Another critical defender is Akito Hirose. While he may only have two goals, Hirose has 24 assists and a plus/minus of 26. 

Livingstone has played in 41 games and Hirose, 35. Expect them to play a lot of minutes and help shut down the Irish and contribute to the offense. 

Notre Dame is not going to get a lot of shots, and the shots they do get are unlikely to be good ones. 

And the good ones? Dryden McKay, the Maverick goaltender, is one of the best in the nation, with a save percentage of .931. 

Minnesota State appears just as potent on the other end of the ice. The Mavericks average 4.17 goals per game and have scored the most goals of any team this season (167). The only team with a higher average is Denver (4.38), but they only played 37 games to States 40. 

Minnesota State has a high goals-per-game mark, but they also have the highest shot percentage in college hockey. 12.7% of their shots turn into goals. 

A significant reason for that is Minnesota State’s four 40+ point forwards. Nathan Smith, a junior forward, has 18 goals and 31 assists, with a shot percentage of 19.4% (+25).

Julian Napravnik, a senior for State, also has 18 goals and 31 assists, with a shot percentage of 14.5% (+35). Next comes Brendan Furry, a junior with 12 goals and 30 assists with a shot percentage of 14.0 (+29). Finally, Cade Borchardt, has 40 points, 15 goals, 25 assists, and a percentage of 12.6 (+35). 

And as a bit of a bonus, add in the leading goal scorer for the Mavericks, junior Ryan Sandelin. Sandelin had 21 goals but just 12 assists and a team-best shot percentage of 21.2% (+33).

So yeah, the Mavericks are loaded on both sides of the rink. The good thing about playing North Dakota was that they were not that great on offense. However, Minnesota State simply does not have that problem. 

And where North Dakota was deficient at the penalty kill (which proved to be their downfall), the Mavericks do not have that problem either. They rank No. 6 with a percentage of .869. Minnesota State does allow a fair amount of opportunities for teams to go on the Power Play (137 this season), but they should be able to kill them off. 

And unlike the Irish, who are excellent at the kill but lack when they have the man advantage, the Mavericks are great at converting the Power Play. Minnesota State has converted just under .270 of their 160 power-play opportunities, third in the nation

And as discussed in the preview of the North Dakota game, Dakota would likely be able to control the game because they were so good at winning faceoffs. That ended up being true, as North Dakota went 27-19 in faceoffs in the matchup(.587). 

Minnesota State is even better than North Dakota. They lead the nation in faceoff win percentage at .582It should be another advantage for Minnesota State when the two teams meet on Saturday at 6:30 on ESPNU. 

With all of these supportive stats, it’s an intimidating portrait of an outstanding team. 

They are not an invulnerable team though, Minnesota State has lost five times (saying that seems insane). The team has a loss to St. Cloud State, 1-3, Michigan 2-3, Ferris State 1-2, Lake Superior 0-1, and Northern Michigan 2-4. 

In each of the losses (except for Northern Michigan), the opposition scored first. It is imperative that Notre Dame score first in their matchup. When Minnesota State has a lead, they are a different team, and they will not surrender their lead easily. 

If the Irish can score first,  Notre Dame’s defense is capable of protecting their lead. If Minnesota State scores first, Notre Dame’s offense will not be good enough to keep up. 

Even in the scenario where the Irish score first, preventing a Maverick comeback will be a challenge. For Notre Dame to win, graduate student goaltender Matthew Galajda needs to be the best player on the ice. If Galajda allows more than two goals, it’s difficult to see Notre Dame winning.

Senior defenseman Spencer Stastney will also need to step up and be the best skater on the ice. He is arguably one of the best defenseman Notre Dame has, and to help stop the oncoming Minnesota onslaught, the Irish will need Stastney to play his best hockey yet.

Prediction

If ND scores first, they should win. Notre Dame 2, Minnesota State 1

If Minnesota State scores first, the game will look different. Notre Dame 1, Minnesota State 3

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About Thomas Zwiller

Thomas is a sophomore currently in attendance at Holy Cross College, studying Business and Theology He is from Saint Joseph MI, and went to high school at Saint Joe SB, playing both varsity football and hockey. Feel free to contact him about all things NFL and NBA.

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