MANKATO, Minn. — After sitting out for almost a month with a back injury, junior Eric Pateman returned in goal for Minnesota State University-Mankato (4-6-0 overall and in the WCHA) and made the key saves to earn a split with the Denver Pioneers (2-6-0 overall, 2-4-0 in the WCHA).
The Mavericks tallied three special-teams goals and another one four-on-four to defeat the visiting Pioneers, 4-2.
“I was a little nervous,” Pateman said. “It felt like it was my first game of college hockey.” He was welcomed back with an extra-long round of applause by the 3,636 fans at the Midwest Wireless Civic Center.
Pateman was strong from the beginning, making key saves in the first period to keep the score knotted at zero. His best of the period came 14 minutes in while Denver was on the power play. With MSU forward Ryan Severson off for checking the goalie, Pateman made an incredible save on Denver’s Bjorn Engstrom. Engstrom found the puck in a scramble in front of the net and had an empty-net opportunity, but Pateman was able to dive back into the crease and make the stick save.
MSU struck first less than a minute later. Still down a man, MSU’s T.J. Guidarelli rushed the puck one-on-one with against a Denver defenseman. Pioneer goalie Adam Berkhoel directed Guidarelli’s shot into the corner, but Guidarelli got to the loose puck and centered it to teammate Cole Bassett who was all alone in front. Bassett slid the puck behind Berkhoel for the game’s first goal at the 15:31 mark.
Pateman continued making important saves for the Mavericks in the second period. Less than two minutes in, Denver applied heavy pressure in the Mankato zone. After Pateman made an initial save, a scramble again formed in front of the net, and he was unable to jump on the loose puck. Pioneer junior David Neale found the puck and took a slap shot at the net, but Pateman made a tremendous glove save to keep the score 1-0.
Just over five minutes into the second, Denver was finally able to get on the board. This time it was the Pioneers’ turn to score shorthanded. With defenseman Judd Stauss off for interference, Denver’s Kelly Popadynetz stole a pass in the Denver zone from B.J. Abel and came in on a breakaway. Popadynetz’s first shot was stopped by Pateman, but he was able to push the rebound in to tie the game.
MSU came back to take the lead once more with another special teams goal. On the power play, Maverick defenseman Ben Christopherson made a pass from the corner of the MSU zone to teammate Josh Kern waiting at the Denver blue line. Kern, who was behind the Denver defense, came in all alone and wristed the puck underneath Berkhoel’s arm to make the score 2-1 with 6:28 left in the period.
The Mavericks scored again less than three minutes later with a 4-on-4 goal. Sophomore Jerry Cunningham led a three on two rush down the ice and blasted the puck between Berkhoel’s legs to increase their lead to two goals. Cunningham finished with a goal and an assist, and he also has seven points in four games since being suspended for the first six games of the season.
In the third period, Berkhoel made numerous saves to keep Denver in the game, but the Mavericks were finally able to make it a three-goal lead on the power play. At the 14:48 mark, Christopherson received a pass from junior Nate Mauer and took a shot from the point that deflected off a Denver defenseman and into the net to make it 4-1.
Mankato finished 2-for-5 on the power play, while Denver was 0-for-3.
Even down by three, the Pioneers never gave up. With 2:35 left in the game, Denver’s Ryan Caldwell fired a slapshot on goal. Pateman was there for the save, but junior Chris Paradise was able to bat the rebound out of midair and into the net to make the score 4-2.
Then, after pulling the goalie and putting intense pressure on MSU, the Pioneers thought they had scored again as Paradise put the puck in the net once more with 1:27 left. However, an early whistle canceled out the goal, and MSU hung on for the split.
MSU head coach Troy Jutting was happy with Pateman’s play, saying, “He made some huge saves at key times. Those are momentum changers, one way or the other. Tonight he made the saves, and they were the momentum changers for us.”
Pioneer head coach George Gwozdecky agreed with Jutting, saying that Pateman was the difference in the game.
“I thought Eric Pateman played extremely well in goal for them,” Gwozdecky said. “In the third period, he made a big difference. Any time you can put as many pucks on net as we did and only come out with two goals, obviously the goaltender is a real difference.”
Jutting also commented on the special-teams difference in the game, saying, “It’s not our style, and it’s not normally good for us, but we played through it tonight and we made some plays. It worked out for us tonight.”
The Mavericks stay at home next weekend and will face Alaska-Anchorage. The Pioneers will head home to host Michigan Tech.