Sunday, November 30, 2014

Mavericks extend winning streak to six

The Minnesota State University, Mankato men’s hockey team was expected to be good this year. They are expected to beat the lesser teams in the country, but when you’re ranked among the top ten in the nation, nearly everyone is a lesser team.

A sweep over Michigan Tech two weekends ago, who were ranked no. 1 at the time, showed just how good this Maverick team is, and extended their winning streak to four games. This past weekend, the Mavs kept things rolling and extended that streak to six.

Brett Knowles recorded his first career hat-trick on
The Mavericks who are now 11-3-0 (9-1-0 in the WCHA), headed to Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. on Friday for a series against the Lake Superior State University Lakers. LSSU, who won a pair of national championships in the early nineties when they played in three consecutive title games, have since fallen from grace.

After a 0-9 start to the season, the Lakers picked things up a bit, going 3-2 after their first nine heading into the series against MSU. Their turnaround pretty much ended there.

On Friday night the Mavericks won in dominating fashion.
Junior Brett Knowles, who had been sidelined until two weeks ago after he had hip surgery over the summer, stole the spotlight that night. Knowles opened the scoring early in the game with the eventual game winner when he redirected a Sean Flanagan shot past the Laker goaltender.

Knowles would tally again in the second period, sandwiched between a pair of Chase Grant goals before junior Teddy Blueger would score on a rising wrist shot from afar to give the Mavericks a four-goal second period.

In the third period, Casey Nelson wristed a power play goal past LSSU goaltender Gordon Defiel to extend the lead to 6-0 before Knowles would split the Laker defense on his way to a highlight reel breakaway goal for his third goal of the night and a 7-0 win. Both goals were scored on the power play.

It was the third hat-trick of the season for MSU, with Blueger and junior Bryce Gervais both recording three-goal games earlier this season. It was the first for Knowles, who scored his only goal of last season in the WCHA Final Five title game, and this hat-trick included his first three tallies of the 2014-2015 season.

Stephon Williams recorded 24 saves in the win, posting his first shutout of the season.

Saturday night didn’t see quite the scoring barrage that Friday’s game did, but it was still a game in which the Mavs controlled much of the play.

Junior forward Dylan Margonari put the Mavs on the board towards the end of the first period on his fourth goal of the season when he batted a puck out of the air and into the Laker net. The goal was initially called off, but after video review the goal stood.

The game was relatively quiet after that until the third period when MSU scored a pair of goals just over a minute apart to give them a cushion.

Zach Stepan netted his first of the year when he collected a loose puck in the slot and roofed it over the shoulder of Defiel. Shortly after, Matt Leitner came rushing down the left side and found an opening past Defiel for his fourth of the season to extend the lead to 3-0.

After losing the job last season, Williams has again
emerged as the starting goaltender for MSU.
Williams would again earn a shutout victory after he made 21 saves, giving him an 11-1 record on the season. Impressively, his stats have gotten even better. After posting two shutouts on the weekend, Williams now holds a 1.52 goals against average, and a .931 save percentage. His .917 winning percentage is the highest among WCHA goaltenders.

Williams playing his best hockey since his WCHA Goaltender of the Year season two years ago is a good sign for the Mavericks. While the Mavericks have the second best offense in the country, averaging 3.79 goals per game, having a goaltender who on average allows less than two goals per game puts a team in good position to win.

Still in second place in the WCHA behind Michigan Tech University, the Mavs have played two games less than MTU and should be in good position to move ahead of them for first place in the conference as the Huskies have this weekend off from games.

The Mavericks take the ice again this weekend when they return home to play at the Verizon Wireless Center in downtown Mankato. The Mavs play another WCHA series as the University of Alaska-Fairbanks comes to town.

After a 6-0 start, the Nanooks from Fairbanks have slipped to a 7-7 record, and 2-6 in the WCHA. These two teams take to the ice at 7:07 p.m. on Friday and Saturday in Mankato as the Mavericks look to extend their winning streak to eight with a sweep over the Nanooks.

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