Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Mavs Split at NMU

After this past weekend at Northern Michigan University, the Minnesota State University, Mankato men’s hockey team has found themselves in a similar position they were in just a couple of weeks ago. After sweeping the no. 2 team in the nation Ferris State Bulldogs a few weekends ago, the Mavericks found themselves just two points behind Ferris in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association standings, with the Bulldogs having two games in hand.

Now, after a weekend playing on the road at NMU, the Mavs are still in second place, two points behind Ferris, who have two games in hand. The Wildcats, who are in eighth place in the WCHA, held their own and then some on Friday night.

Senior captain Johnny McInnis got on the board first for the Mavericks when he buried a power play goal assisted by freshman forward Zach Stepan and junior Matt Leitner to go up 1-0 on the Wildcats with under three minutes left in the first period. But NMU would answer right back as Stephan Vigier tied the game with a power-play goal of his own with just 16 seconds remaining in the first period.

Neither team could find the back of the net in the second period, but both teams traded chances and shots, which remained mostly even throughout the game. The third period was when the home team took over.
Chase Grant scored a Maverick goal in the third, assisted by sophomore Teddy Blueger and freshman Sean Flanagan, but it was sandwiched between four Wildcat goals, including a shorthanded empty net goal to seal the win for NMU. The 5-2 win was much needed for the Wildcats as they try and claw their way to the middle of the pack in the WCHA.

The Mavs bounced back on Saturday night in a game where special teams were the difference maker.
McInnis scored the only goal in the first period while on the power play to give the Mavs a 1-0 lead, assists going to senior Zach Lehrke and Leitner.

Leitner would find McInnis again halfway through the second period, when he and Jean-Paul LaFontaine assisted on McInnis’ second goal of the game and the eventual game winner for a 2-0 lead. Later in the period, LaFontaine would find Leitner for a power-play goal to take the lead to three before the Wildcats were able to stop the bleeding with a goal from Erik Higby, which came on a rarely called penalty shot. The Mavs headed to the locker room with a 3-1 lead after two periods and kept rolling in the third to earn a much needed win.

The Mavericks, who had scored only their first shorthanded goal of the year two weekends ago at the North Star College Cup, were able to tally two in the third period while down a man. Leitner recorded his fourth point of the game when he found sophomore Bryce Gervais who netted a shorthanded goal to go up 4-1. Later in the period, Flanagan would find Chase Grant while on the penalty kill, and Grant found the back of the net for a 5-1 lead, which was the final score in this Maverick win.

MSU looks pretty comfortable in second place in the WCHA, with a three-point lead and two games in hand over third place Bowling Green. It may be hard for the Mavs to catch Ferris State without the Bulldogs being swept in the final stretch of the season. But things have been clicking lately for the Mavs, which is a good sign heading towards the postseason.

The Maverick power play is fourth best in the nation with LaFontaine and McInnis ranking among the top power-play goal scorers in the NCAA at first and fourth, respectively. Both players are also in the top-15 among total goals scored, and LaFontaine ranks 15th in the NCAA for total points. So the Mavs top guns have been stepping up and putting pucks in the net, which is huge for them as earlier in the year goal scoring was an issue for this team.

More WCHA play to come this weekend as in state rival Bemidji State University comes to Mankato this Friday for a weekend series. The Mavs split with the Beavers in Bemidji earlier this season, and the fifth place BSU is much improved from last season, holding a .500 record in league play. However, if the Mavs plan to catch Ferris State and be crowned kings of the WCHA, this is a must sweep weekend in Mankato. With only eight games remaining on the year, MSU needs to be nearly perfect in the final stretch of the season to catch or surpass Ferris.

The puck drops between MSU and the Beavers Friday at 7:37 p.m. at the Verizon Wireless Center in downtown Mankato, with Saturday night’s game starting at 7:07 p.m.

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