|Captain Johnny McInnis in front of the Bowling Green net|
For the second time in a two week span, the Minnesota State University, Mankato men’s hockey team was able to salvage a series split with the Bowling Green State University Falcons after losing the Friday night game. After being swept by the University of Minnesota last weekend, the Mavericks looked to put a couple tallies in the win column to get them back on track.
In Friday night’s game in Bowling Green, Ohio, there were a couple of surprises.
Senior forward Zach Lehrke returned to the team last week after hanging up the skates earlier this season due to a rare medical condition he has had most of his life. He missed the first 10 games this season, but has now returned to the Mavericks’ lineup for the remainder of the season.
Also a surprise, freshman goaltender Cole Huggins started in goal on Friday night. Not a surprise because of how he has played; Huggins has done quite well for himself, excusing the two losses he recorded at Minnesota as simply just facing a better team with one of the best offenses in the nation. But surprising because last year’s WCHA Goalie of the Year winner, sophomore goaltender Stephon Williams, has played little over the last couple of weeks.
The Mavs got off to a good start Friday night, leading the Falcons on the road 2-0 after the first period. Freshman defenseman Sean Flanagan recorded his second goal of the season on an assist from junior forward Matt Leitner. Just a few minutes later, junior forward J.P. LaFontaine buried a power play goal assisted by Lehrke, his first point in his first game back. Junior defenseman Zach Palmquist also recorded an assist on the play.
Although the first period seemed to be all Mavericks, the second period was owned by the Falcons.
Just 16 seconds into the second period, Falcons forward Mark Cooper netted a power play goal to bring the score within one. The Mavericks tried to separate themselves from the Falcons but couldn’t find the back of the net. At 6:47 of the middle period, Cooper scored his second of the night when he tied the game on an assist by Falcon’s forward Matt Pohlkamp, a Brainerd, Minn. native.
The third period saw what seems to be becoming a familiar sight for the Mavs against the Falcons. Bowling Green’s Adam Berkle scored a shorthanded goal to give the Falcons a 3-2 lead early in the period. The Mavericks gave up two goals while on the power play to the Falcons when they last played in Mankato. The Mavs came back though, scoring a shorthanded goal of their own when freshman forward Zach Stepan buried a sharp angle shot to tie the game 3-3 with 11:37 of the period, assisted by sophomore Teddy Blueger.
The first 60 minutes ended in a tie and the two teams headed for overtime.
With just 32 seconds remaining in the extra period, Cooper completed the hat-trick, scoring his third goal of the game and the game-winning goal on the power play with Berkle getting an assist on the play.
Saturday night saw Maverick head coach Mike Hastings change things up.
Huggins, who had started the previous four games, was on the bench, giving Williams a chance to get back to his winning ways.
This didn’t last long, though, as Williams gave up two goals in the second half of the first period to Mike Sullivan on the power play, with Cooper scoring his fourth goal of the weekend. Down 2-0 after the first period, Williams was back on the bench and Huggins would start the second period.
There wasn’t much action in the second period until with 3:22 remaining when the Mavs got their power play clicking. The preseason WCHA player of the year, Leitner, scored his first goal of the year with the man advantage with LaFontaine getting the lone assist.
The Mavericks then headed into the third period down 2-1 before their power play unit struck again.
At the 8:40 mark of the third, LaFontaine found the back of the net for his second power play goal of the weekend to tie the game 2-2, assists once again going to Lehrke and Palmquist.
The third period would end in a 2-2 tie, and these teams would head to overtime for the third time in four games playede against each other.
Just 1:30 into overtime, junior forward Chase Grant found sophomore Bryce Gervais in front where Gervais buried the game winning goal, his fourth tally of the season.
Although a series split was not ideal for the Mavericks, it is much better than being swept in a conference series.
Currently, the Mavs sit tied for sixth in the 10-team WCHA standings with Lake Superior State. While that doesn’t look good, it is still early on in the season and four of the top five teams have played two or more games more than the Mavs. A sweep at home over Alaska-Anchorage would serve them well this weekend and could place them as high as third in the conference behind Ferris State and Bemidji State who sit at number one and two respectively.
For a team who has struggled early on finding ways to score, especially on the power play, the Mavericks may have found some help in Lehrke. The Mavs scored three power play goals over the weekend, Lehrke assisting on two of them, which is promising. The big question mark is in the net, where Minnesota State can’t seem to find a permanent solution. Huggins has done well so far in his young career, but Williams was the top goalie in a much tougher conference last season, and Hastings is still waiting for him to come around this year.
At home this weekend, the Mavericks look to gain four crucial points in the WCHA standings when the Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves come to town. Anchorage has played two more games than the Mavs, but sits directly ahead of them in the standings, so a sweep would put the Mavericks in the right direction. The puck drops at 7:37 p.m. on Friday and 7:07 p.m. on Saturday night at the Verizon Wireless Center in downtown Mankato.