Notre Dame’s Frozen Four hopes dashed by No. 1 Minnesota State and its Olympian

By John Fineran
ND Insider
ALBANY, NY - MARCH 26: The Notre Dame Fighting Irish take on the Minnesota State Mavericks during the NCAA Men's Ice Hockey East Regional final at the MVP Arena on March 26, 2022 in Albany, New York. (Photo by Rich Gagnon)

It took the hottest team and the hottest goaltender in college hockey to end No. 10 Notre Dame’s quest for a fifth trip to the NCAA Frozen Four during coach Jeff Jackson’s 17-year coaching tenure in South Bend.

No. 1 Minnesota State got the only goal of the game from U.S. Olympian Nathan Smith with 16 seconds left in the first period and a 23-save performance by senior goaltender Dryden McKay backed it up as the Mavericks scored a 1-0 victory over the Fighting Irish before 3,449 at the MVP Arena in Albany, New York.

“They are a tough team to play against,” Jackson said. “They do a good job possessing the puck. They have a lot of experienced guys and that makes it a challenge going up against them.”

Smith, a junior center who hails from the hockey “hotbed” of Hudson, Florida, northwest of Tampa, batted a rebound past Notre Dame goaltender Matthew Galajda at 19:44 of the first period after a Minnesota State faceoff win by Brendan Furry.

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Coach Mike Hastings’ Mavericks, who won their 17th straight game to improve to an impressive 37-5-0, made it stand up for McKay, a finalist for both the Mike Richter Goaltender of the Year Award and the Hobey Baker Award as the nation’s top collegiate player. The shutout was the 34th and the victory the 112th of McKay’s career for the Mankato-based member of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association.

The victory sends the Mavericks, who have been the nation’s No. 1 team for the last nine weeks, to Boston’s TD Garden for the Thursday, April 7 semifinals to play the Worchester (Massachusetts) Regional winner. The championship will be played Saturday, April 9.

“We knew this game was going to be an absolute battle and it was,” Hastings said after the teams shook hands. “We found a way to get to Boston.”

Galajda, one of four graduate transfers (he came from Cornell) on the Irish 2021-22 roster, finished with 32 saves. Hoping to win their first national title under Jackson, who coached Lake Superior State to a pair in the 1990s, Notre Dame instead returns home with final 28-12-0 record after advancing to the championship game with a dramatic 2-1 overtime victory Thursday against North Dakota on South Bend senior Graham Slaggert’s power-play game-winner.

“I’m so proud of this group,” Jackson said of his team which for the past month and a half has battled through injuries and illnesses to win eight of their last 10 games entering the championship game. “But that’s how you win. You win with character, gutsiness, and this group exemplified that. I’m extremely proud of what they accomplished.”

ALBANY, NY - MARCH 26: The Notre Dame Fighting Irish take on the Minnesota State Mavericks during the NCAA Men's Ice Hockey East Regional final at the MVP Arena on March 26, 2022 in Albany, New York. (Photo by Rich Gagnon)

Despite being outshot 33-23, Notre Dame did manage to outdraw Minnesota State in the faceoff circle by a 30-24 margin as freshman center Hunter Strand went 8-0 and senior center Cam Burke went 8-4 to lead the way. Senior defenseman Nick Leivermann finished with a team-high five shots on goal, one more than Graham Slaggert, and grad-transfer defenseman (from Connecticut) Adam Karashik had four of Notre Dame’s 14 blocked shots to finish the season with 99.

The Irish had their chances, especially with three power-play opportunities. But they managed just six shots as Minnesota State killed off all three penalties.

“We don’t have the offensive depth as some of the teams we play against,” Jackson said. “Our philosophy is to defend well and then transition from it. The problem tonight is we didn’t get many transition opportunities.”

But Galajda’s performance kept the Irish in it. “It’s great knowing the guy behind you has your back,” Karashik said. “He never quits on any puck, and he’s an unbelievable person off the ice as well.”

Notre Dame got an early power-play opportunity at 3:25 of the first period when Minnesota State defenseman Wyatt Aamodt tripped Irish right wing Trevor Janicke along the boards in the Mavericks’ defensive zone. Janicke remained on the ice after twisting his leg, was taken to the Irish bench and later to the locker room for treatment but returned.

During the power play, Max Ellis (3:35) and Ryder Rolston (5:13) tested McKay, but he stopped both attempts. The Irish then went without a shot on goal for the next 10:48 while the Mavericks stepped up their assault on Galajda, who stopped six shots.

Grant Silianoff, playing for the first time since a 4-2 victory at Michigan State Feb. 19, broke the Irish shot-on-goal slump when his effort from inside the faceoff circle at 16:01 was saved by McKay.

In the period’s final minute, Landon Slaggert carried into the Minnesota State zone, stopped and found brother Graham across the ice. But Graham’s effort was denied by McKay’s glove at 19:05. Nine seconds later, Jake Pivonka came up with the puck after a weird deflection, but his backhander, too, was stopped by McKay.

The Mavericks then got a faceoff to Galajda’s right with 19:41. On the faceoff, Furry won the draw from Graham Slaggert but Janicke blocked Nathan Smith’s initial shot from inside the faceoff circle. The rebound came to Furry, whose shot was kicked out by Galajda. But Smith got to that rebound in the slot and beat Galajda over his left shoulder at 19:44 what proved to be the game’s only goal.

The Irish got another power-play opportunity early in the second period when Aamodt went off for tripping again at 1:47, but Galajda made the initial save when Minnesota State defenseman Benton Maass broke in for a shorthanded shot. McKay then stoned Landon Slaggert (2:45), Ellis (3:08) and Jesse Lansdell (3:27) and his defensemen blocked another two Irish attempts.

Pivonka got another chance against McKay at 9:50 but was denied. The Mavericks then tested Galajda twice. The Irish goalie first stopped a shot by Ryan Sandelin, the son of Scott Sandelin, the coach of Minnesota Duluth which lost 2-1 to Denver earlier in the day in the Loveland (Colorado) Regional. He then denied Aamodt in the 13th minute.

The Irish penalty-kill, second in the nation, was called upon when defenseman Zach Plucinski went off for interference following a faceoff won by Notre Dame at 15:46. Landon Slaggert just missed a shorthanded try and Galajda then kept the deficit at one by stopping three shots, including back-to-backers by Smith and Cade Borchardt at 16:50.

Notre Dame ended the second period with its third power-play chance at 18:21, but Leivermann’s 25-foot try was denied by McKay, who had 16 saves through two periods, nine fewer than Galajda.

Notre Dame’s best scoring opportunities of the night came after a four-minute shot-on-goal drought late in the third period. McKay denied a shot by Leivermann at 13:39 with freshman Hunter Strand and grad-transfer (from Union) Jack Adams in close proximity. Five seconds later, McKay turned aside Graham Slaggert and Leivermann had another shot denied at 13:47.

Leivermann again was denied at 15:39. Jackson then pulled Galajda for a sixth attacker at 17:46, but Notre Dame managed just one shot on goal (by Leivermann) one minute later.

MINNESOTA STATE 1, NOTRE DAME 0

NCAA Albany (N.Y.) Regional Championship at MVP Arena

Notre Dame 0 | 0 | 0 — 0

Minnesota State 1 | 0 | 0 — 1

First Period—Scoring: 1. Minnesota State, Nathan Smith 19 (Brendan Furry) EV 19:44. Penalties: Notre Dame 0-0, Minnesota State 1-2.

Second Period—Scoring: None. Penalties (total): Notre Dame 1-2 (1-2), Minnesota State 2-4 (3-6).

Third Period—Scoring: None. Penalties (total): Notre Dame 0-0 (1-2), Minnesota State 0-0 (3-6).

Shots on goal: Notre Dame 23 (6-10-7), Minnesota State 33 (13-13-7). Goalie saves: Notre Dame, Matthew Galajda 32 (12-13-7), Minnesota State, Dryden McKay 23 (6-10-7).

Power-play opportunities: Notre Dame 0 of 3, Minnesota State 0 of 1. Faceoffs won: Notre Dame 30 (7-14-9), Minnesota State 24 (10-6-8). Blocked shots: Notre Dame 14 (7-4-3), Minnesota State 15 (5-6-4).

Referees: Geno Bindo and Jeremy Tufts. Linesmen: Kevin Briganti and Bill Kingdon. Attendance: 3,449 (14,236). Records: Notre Dame 28-12-0, Minnesota State 37-5-0.

NCAA DIVISION I MEN’S CHAMPIONSHIP

ALBANY, N.Y.  REGIONAL (MVP Arena)

Thursday, March 24 semifinals

(1)  Minnesota State 4, (4) Harvard 3

(3) Notre Dame 2, (2) North Dakota 1 (OT)

Saturday, March 26 championship

(1)  Minnesota State 1, (3) Notre Dame 0

LOVELAND, COLO.  REGIONAL (Budweiser Events Center)

Thursday, March 24 semifinals

(2)  Minnesota Duluth 3, (3) Michigan Tech 0

(1)  Denver 3, (4) UMass Lowell 2

Saturday, March 26 championship

(1)  Denver 2, (2) Minnesota Duluth 1

ALLENTOWN, PA. REGIONAL (PPL Center)

Friday, March 25 semifinals

(1)  Michigan 5, (4) American International 3

(2)  Quinnipiac 5, (3) St. Cloud State 4

Sunday, March 27 championship

(1)  Michigan (30-9-1) vs. (2) Quinnipiac (32-6-3), 6:30 p.m. (ESPN2)

WORCESTER, MASS. REGIONAL (DCU Center)

Friday, March 25 semifinals

(1)  Western Michigan 2, (4) Northeastern 1 (OT)

(2)  Minnesota 4, (3) Massachusetts 3 (OT)

Sunday, March 27 championship

(1)  Western Michigan (26-11-1) vs. (2) Minnesota (25-12-0), 4 p.m. (ESPN2)

BOSTON FROZEN FOUR (TD Garden)

Thursday, April 7 semifinals

Minnesota State (37-5-0) vs. Worcester Regional winner, 5 or 8:30 p.m. (ESPN2)

Denver (29-9-1) vs. Allentown Regional winner, 5 or 8:30 p.m. (ESPN2)

Saturday, April 9 championship

Semifinal winners, 8 p.m. (ESPN2)