Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Another split for the Mavericks

Another non-conference series, another split for the Minnesota State University, Mankato men's hockey team. The Mavericks headed north to Duluth for Friday night's matchup against the University of Minnesota-Duluth that saw a scary comeback capped by an overtime win. 

Freshman forward C.J. Franklin got things rolling for the Mavericks in the first period Friday night when Matt Leitner found him in the slot and Franklin fired home a one-timer past UMD goaltender Matt McNeely. Later in the first, Jordan Nelson extended the Maverick lead to two when he turned around and fired a low shot that fooled McNeely and found its way to the back of the net. 

After Bulldog forward Kyle Osterberg took a major penalty for checking from behind in the second period, the Mavs were granted a five minute power play. Though UMD forward Dom Toninato scored a short handed goal to cut the lead in half, the Mavericks made the most of their lengthy power play by scoring two of their own. 

Junior center Teddy Blueger scored a similar goal to Nelson's when he took a behind the back shot that trickled through McNeely's legs, then J.P. LaFontaine found Brad McClure alone in front and McClure went upstairs over the glove of McNeely for his third tally of the season. 

With a 4-1 lead, the Mavericks seemed poised to cruise to an effortless victory in this one. But the Bulldogs were scratching at the door all night. 

Adding a power play goal of their own, Carson Soucy put UMD back in the game when he snuck one past MSU goaltender Stephon Williams before Bulldog captain Adam Krause sniped the top corner past Williams to end the second period only down 4-3. 

The third period only saw one goal, and it was a big one. Late in the third, UMD's Tony Cameranesi took a shot from the boards that got redirected twice before reaching the net, leaving Williams with no chance of making the stop. Freshman Karson Kuhlman would be credited with the goal, the first of his career at UMD. 

As the teams headed to overtime, Krause took an untimely penalty that put MSU on the power play. After senior Zach Palmquist fired a shot on goal from the point, freshman Zeb Knutson pushed a rebound past McNeely for the overtime victory and his first goal in a Mavericks sweater. 

Saturday night's home opener in Mankato saw the first ever championship banner raising at the Verizon Wireless Center, celebrating last season's WCHA Final Five tournament championship. After the banner raising, this game was mostly all Bulldogs. 

Dylan Margonari opened up the scoring early when he stuffed in a loose puck in the crease, putting the Mavs up 1-0 on home ice. Then in the second period, Osterberg went top shelf on MSU goaltender Cole Huggins to tie the game.

Soucy would score his second goal in as many nights to put the Bulldogs up 2-1 before the Mavs came back on a Brett Stern shot right off an offensive zone face off that Chase Grant deflected into the UMD goal. 

With the score tied at two after two periods, it seemed like the third period would be a tight one, but that wasn't the case in this game. 

Toninato recorded another short handed goal on the weekend when he put the Bulldogs up 3-2 on an absolute ripper of a shot that found the top corner past Huggins. Special teams would come in handy again for UMD when freshman Jared Thomas was found all alone on the top of the goal crease and tapped in a power play goal to extend the lead to 4-2. 

In an effort to get back in the game, Maverick head coach Mike Hastings pulled Huggins in favor of an extra attacker up front, but it backfired. Thomas struck again with an empty net goal to all but seal the game for the Bulldogs. After UMD took a late penalty, Cameranesi tallied another empty net goal while short handed to clinch the series split with a 6-2 win. 

"The first two periods were a wash," said Hastings. "Not a great reaction from us coming out in the third."

While a loss at home where the Mavs were 16-0-1 last season may have put a damper on the weekend, a 2-2 record heading into conference play isn't a bad way to start the season. The Mavericks will have to go to work on their power play, though, as they were scoreless on six power plays on Saturday night. 

"Special teams win and lose hockey games," said Hastings. "I think this game showed that."

The Mavericks slipped one spot to no. 13 in the NCAA, but a split against a team ranked among the top 20 doesn't necessarily hurt their season. 

"These weekends are big for the pair wise rankings," said senior captain Brett Stern. "They help us get into the NCAA tournament."

MSU hits the ice again this weekend in their first conference series of the season when Alabama-Huntsville comes to town. The puck drops in downtown Mankato at 7:07 p.m. Friday and Saturday night. 

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