Harvard comeback falls short in 4-3 loss to Minnesota State in NCAA hockey tournament

The Minnesota State men’s hockey team during practice for the NCAA hockey tournament on Wednesday at MVP Arena in Albany.
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The Minnesota State men’s hockey team during practice for the NCAA hockey tournament on Wednesday at MVP Arena in Albany.

ALBANY — Two weeks ago, Harvard rallied from a 3-0 deficit to beat RPI 4-3 in overtime in Game 1 of the ECAC Hockey tournament quarterfinals.

That scenario unfolded again Thursday afternoon in the first semifinal of the NCAA hockey tournament Albany Regional at MVP Arena. The Crimson fell behind to top-ranked Minnesota State 3-0, and the Crimson made a comeback.

This time, however, Harvard couldn’t complete the rally. The Mavericks, the No. 2 seed in the tournament, held on for a 4-3 victory.

“We’ve been in that situation a few times this year, and been able to come back completely,” Harvard forward Nick Aburzzese said. “[We] definitely had confidence there and just shows the resilience of this group that we’ve had all year.”

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Top-ranked Minnesota State (36-5-0) advances to Saturday’s regional final against Notre Dame, which beat North Dakota 2-1 in overtime in the second semifinal. Game time is 6:30 p.m.

Late first-period goals by Aktio Hirose and Reggie Lutz gave the Mavericks a 2-0 lead. And when Brendan Furry scored 2:06 into the second period, Minnesota State appeared to be in control.

But the momentum switched midway through the second. Minnesota State was awarded a penalty shot when Harvard defenseman Marshall Rifai covered the puck in the goal crease with his glove. Julian Napravnik took the penalty shot. He skated down the left side and tried to beat goalie Mitchell Gibson to his right side. Gibson got his blocker on it.

That gave life to the Crimson, who scored two goals in a 48-second span late in the period. Sean Farrell fired the puck from behind the goal line that hit goalie Dryden McKay’s skate and went in with 3:18 left. Alex Gaffney beat McKay between the pads with 2:30 to go.

“I thought that was a turning point in the game,” Minnesota State head coach Mike Hastings said. “Momentum is one that moves both ways during the game, and it went from us to them and they capitalized on it. They ended up getting it to 3-2 going into the third.”

The Mavericks got some insurance less than six minutes into the third period when Ondrej Pavel fired a wrist shot from the left circle over Gibson’s glove.

It got very interesting with 5:21 left when Minnesota State’s Nathan Smith was called for tripping, giving Harvard a power play. Midway through the power play, Gibson was pulled for an extra attacker. The move paid off when a pass by Dornbach across the front of the Minnesota State net hit a Mavericks defender’s skate and into the net with 3:31 remaining.

About a minute later, Gibson again headed to the bench for an extra attacker. In the final 20 seconds of the game, Harvard was looking for a lane to shoot. But Minnesota State clogged the lanes, forcing the Crimson to move the puck around the perimeter. Harvard never got a shot on goal.

Watching from the bench, defenseman Hirose was impressed with how his teammates shut Harvard down.

“I just thought our whole defensive structure is just on point there,” Hirose said. “We were getting in lanes, our sticks were fantastic. And a shout out to [defenseman] Wyatt Aamodt. That guy had two or three blocks there at the end that helped us secure the game.”

It was a frustrating end to Harvard’s season.

“They were doing a good job of getting in lanes,” Abruzzese said. “They didn’t make it easier on us all [in the game]. The last 20 seconds was kind of a microcosm of that.”

Harvard 0 2 1 — 3

Minnesota State 2 1 1 — 4

First Period — 1, Minnesota State, Hirose 3 (Groll, Pavel), 14:12. 2, Minnesota State, Lutz 14 (Hirose), 17:46 (pp). Penalties — Harvard bench, served by Wong (too many men), 16:56; Maass, MSU (tripping), 19:21.

Second Period — 3, Minnesota State, Furry 12, 2:06. 4, Harvard, Farrell 10 (Coronato, Abruzzese), 16:42. 5, Harvard, Gaffney 7 (Laferriere), 17:30. Penalties — Rifai, Har (closing hand on puck), 10:02; Rifai, Har (roughing), 11:25.

Third Period — 6, Minnesota State, Pavel 11 (Groll, Hirose), 5:59. 7, Harvard, Dornbach 8 (Farrell, Laferriere), 16:29 (pp). Penalties — Smith, MSU (tripping), 14:39.

Missed penalty shot — Minnesota State, Napravnik, 10:02 second.

Shots on Goal — Harvard 6-10-6 — 22. Minnesota State 19-15-6 — 40.

Power-play opportunities — Harvard 1 of 2; Minnesota State 1 of 2.

Goalies — Harvard, Gibson 18-10-1 (40 shots-36 saves). Minnesota State, McKay 36-4-0 (22-19).

T — 2:30.

Referees — Joe Sullivan, Dan Dreger. Linesmen — Justin Hills, Geoff Shultz.

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