Monday, February 17, 2014

Mavs sweep Huntsville, now tied for first in WCHA

The Minnesota State University, Mankato men's hockey team has been playing well lately. So well, in fact, that they are now in a tie for first place in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association with Ferris State University, a task that seemed too far out of reach just over a month ago.

Climbing the NCAA scoring leaders, McInnis now has 17 goals
After a sweep over Bemidji State at home two weekends ago, this past weekend saw the University of Alabama-Huntsville Chargers come to town in a two game series at the Verizon Wireless Center. With a record of 1-30-1, the Chargers seemed to be a team that should be swept, especially at home. The Mavericks took care of business this weekend, earning themselves a share of first place in the WCHA.

Friday night saw Cole Huggins record the third shutout of his rookie season in a 4-0 victory on Valentine's Day. Junior defenseman Zach Palmquist scored the game winning goal in the first period when freshman Mike Huntebrinker sent a goal mouth pass to Palmquist, who was crashing down the slot when he buried the puck past Chargers goaltender Matt Larose. Sophomore Bryce Gervais then added a shorthanded goal after making a slick move to his forehand to beat Larose for a 2-0 lead. Before the first period ended, freshman Sean Flanagan tallied his fifth goal of the year, leading all Maverick defenseman. On a beautiful power play goal, captain Johnny McInnis found Flanagan at the top of the power play, and Flanagan unleashed a slap shot that found the back of the net for a 3-0 lead.

Though the Mavs peppered Larose with 15 shots in the second period, Larose stood tall and held the deficit to 3-0 heading into the third period.

In the third, Gervais added his second of the game with a power play goal when Palmquist threaded a pass through the neutral zone, sending Gervais alone on a breakaway, where he slipped the puck between Larose's legs to end the scoring at 4-0. 

Huggins made 17 saves on his way to a shutout, while the Mavs threw 46 shots of their own on Larose, and scored two power play goals on three opportunities with the man advantage.

Saturday night's game was a similar scene for both teams. 

Carmine Guerriero started in goal for Huntsville in favor of Larose on Saturday, but saw his fair share of shots as well, facing 61 in the game, and an astonishing 28 in the third period.

Junior Jean-Paul LaFontaine opened the scoring for the Mavs on a delayed penalty when he squeaked a puck past Guerriero on the short side for a 1-0 lead, Matt Leitner and Gervais with the assists. Then the Maverick power play generated some offense when senior Zach Lehrke found McInnis wide open in the slot for a one-timer that McInnis buried to go up 2-0 on the Chargers.

In the second period, LaFontaine struck again while on the power play to bring the score to 3-0. On a feed from Leitner, LaFontaine ripped a shot that trickled through the near side post and Guerriero to find its way to the back of the net.

Then in the third period, when the Mavs put 28 shots on goal, which would be a good amount in an entire game, Chase Grant scored the lone goal on a rebound to put the score at 4-0 for the second straight night.

J.P. on his 19th goal of the season, and his 100th career point 

Stephon Williams collected his first shutout of the year in the win, and the Mavericks scored two power play goals in six opportunities to earn the sweep over the Chargers. Also notable, LaFontaine's first period goal on Saturday was his 100th career point as a Maverick. He joins teammate, fellow junior Leitner, who also broke the 100 point barrier this season.

The Mavericks play as of late has been good for some of the players on the national stage as well. LaFontaine's 38 points are good for eighth in the NCAA, with Leitner just two points behind him at 36. They are the top two scorers in the WCHA. LaFontaine also stands sixth in the NCAA with 20 goals and first with 14 power play goals, while Leitner's 27 assists are also good for sixth in the nation in that category. Johnny McInnis has also been quietly creeping up the national scoring charts and has moved into 12th in the NCAA with 17 goals.

Chase Grant added a goal Saturday night
On a team level, the Mavs are third in the NCAA on the power play with a success rate of 26 percent, and their penalty kill is fourth, coming in at just under 88 percent.

Looking ahead, the Mavericks are in good position in the WCHA. While just over a month ago it seemed as if the WCHA regular season race was a race for second, and that no team could catch Ferris State, that has

changed. After Bemidji State took Ferris down 2-1 on Saturday night, MSU is now tied for first place in the WCHA with 34 points. Though Ferris has two games in hand on the Mavs, things are looking up.

Ferris will play Alaska-Anchorage next weekend while the Mavericks take the weekend off before heading to Lake Superior State University on Feb. 28th. With the sweep this past weekend, the Mavs cannot finish below second place in the conference, and have secured home ice for the first round of the WCHA playoffs. A good sign, because MSU is 13-1 on home ice this season.

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