Sunday, October 26, 2014

Break out the brooms

The Minnesota State University, Mankato men's hockey team started conference play off right this past weekend with a sweep at home over visitors Alabama-Huntsville. With their first Western Collegiate Hockey Association series of the 2014-2015 season, the Mavericks peppered the Chargers with shots all weekend, but had a little trouble finding the back of the net behind Chargers goaltender Carmine Guerriero. 

On Friday night, MSU outshot Huntsville 18-7 in the first period, and 19-7 in the second period, but the game remained scoreless heading into the third. The Mavericks didn't want the Chargers hanging around too long, though, and J.P. LaFontaine put the Mavs on the board first with a goal 51 seconds into the third period. 

"It's frustrating, but the way we looked at it, they hadn't been in our end," said LaFontaine. "We thought, it will go in eventually."

Senior Matt Leitner threaded a short pass through a Huntsville defender to LaFontaine, who went top shelf over Guerriero's blocker to take a 1-0 lead.  Shortly after, the Mavs would extend their lead. 

Junior forward Bryce Gervais would bury his second goal of the season 3:31 into the third on a power play after a Michael Huntebrinker shot was kicked out by Guerriero and on to the tape of Gervais who pumped it home for a 2-0 lead. 

"We didn't get rattled," said Gervais. "We tried to focus on the positives."

Though a series of penalties put the Mavericks at a five on three disadvantage late in the third period, MSU a killed off the penalties to get back to even strength. Then with 30 seconds remaining in the game, the Chargers scored a goal from Brandon Carlson to cut the lead in half with their goaltender pulled for an extra attacker. 

However, on the ensuing face off, senior Zach Palmquist dumped the puck into the empty net to seal up a 3-1 Maverick victory and earn their first two WCHA points of the season. In dominating fashion, MSU outshot the Chargers 57-18 in this one, with Guerriero making 54 stops. 

"Goalies at this level, you give them an opportunity to see the puck and they're going to stop it," said Maverick Head Coach Mike Hastings. "[Guerriero] was good. We had some real quality opportunities."

On Saturday the Mavericks didn't throw as many shots at the Charger goal, but had more luck finding the back of the net. 

Senior captain Chase Grant put the Mavs up in the first period when he redirected a Jordan Nelson pass that found it's way past Guerriero. Palmquist also recorded an assist on the play. Huntsville fought their way back, though. 

In the second period, Josh Kestner deflected a shot past MSU goaltender Stephon Williams to even the score at one apiece. From there, the Mavs kept rolling through. 

"That's about as solid a period as we've played," said Hastings. "On both sides of the puck I liked our teams responsibility with and without the puck."

Gervais scored a slick goal on the power play when Huntebrinker found him alone in front of the Charger goal and set him up for the go-ahead goal. Then in the third period, freshman C.J. Franklin found Teddy Blueger streaking through center ice, and Blueger made a few quick moves around Guerriero before burying a highlight reel goal to extend the lead to 3-1. 

Gervais would finish things off with his third goal of the weekend and second of the night while short handed when Leitner threaded a breakaway pass to him and Gervais slid it between Guerriero's legs for a 4-1 lead. 

With the sweep, the Mavericks move to 4-2-0 on the season and 2-0 in conference play. Notable around the WCHA, conference rival Ferris State was swept this past weekend by Michigan Tech. Last season, MSU and Ferris State battled as the top two teams in the league. 

"After losing the third period at home last weekend, it was nice to play the way we did this weekend." Hastings said. 

Next up for MSU is a road series this weekend at Bowling Green State University. Last season MSU went 3-2 against BGSU, including a victory in the WCHA Final Five Tournament. Puck drop for this series is at 6:07 p.m. for both Friday and Saturday night's games. 

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