BOSTON - The 2022 Frozen Four was all about Dryden McKay...until it wasn't. The Hobey Baker winner and Minnesota State goaltender was strafed for three goals in the third period as Denver came back to beat the Mavericks 5-1, ending the proceedings with two empty-netters.
It was a stunning reversal of fortune for the Pioneers, who had been completely locked down by Minnesota State in the first two periods. In fact, Denver had just eight shots on goal heading into the final frame as they trailed the Mavs 1-0.
But that's why the other goaltender in the game, San Jose Sharks prospect Magnus Chrona, was so important to Denver. The 6-foot-5 Swede kept the Pioneers in the game, making a number of crucial stops while his teammates tried to find an opening in Minnesota State's stifling defensive system.
Florida Panthers draft pick Mike Benning was key to that, assisting on Ryan Barrow's first Denver goal, then blasting the game-winner over McKay's shoulder himself.
"You know, they're a pretty sound team; they're older," Benning said. "All of us had to keep playing our game and just get shots to the net. He's a really good goalie but he's not perfect. So obviously I saw a shot and took it. And Barrow saw a shot and took it. And a lot of our guys did. And it's just kind of picking away at the game piece by piece. That's how we found our success tonight."
Once the floodgates opened, Denver rolled as Minnesota State tried to get back into an offensive mindset after spending so much of the game in a defensive shell. The Mavs' physicality and great positioning had really flummoxed the Pioneers, who admitted to some nerves on the big night.
"Once we started supporting pucks, that kind of worked," Barrow said. "Once we started opening our mouths - I think maybe on the big stage, you get a little timid, you're not really talking. Once we started helping each other out there I think it made a huge difference."
For Chrona, the stakes were obvious, but he was prepared.
"A big thing for me this year has been pretty easy: just breathe," he said. "But honestly, as soon as we had one, I think our momentum kind of falls down after and we just kept getting more. And after the first one I felt almost immediately that we were going to get a second goal. And after that it was just pure joy and trying to stay in the moment for the time and enjoy it."
But truly, it was a remarkable turnaround. Denver looked dead in the water for much of the game. Barrow said it was as if the skaters on the team didn't realize they were in the national championship for the first 40 minutes. It was Chrona and his big frame that kept the game within one goal and once the Pioneers cracked the Mavericks' armor, it was an entirely new contest.
"We felt if we could get to doing what we do, we would give ourselves a chance," said coach David Carle. "And Magnus made save after save there in big moments."
With the title, Denver is now tied with Michigan for the most men's hockey titles in the NCAA with nine. Benning was named the Frozen Four's most outstanding player and was joined on the all-tournament team by Chrona, Barrow, Carter Savoie (EDM) and Minnesota State's Jack McNeely and Sam Morton. Next year's Frozen Four will take place in Tampa.