COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — This is not the way the MSU-Mankato Mavericks wanted their season to end. For Colorado College, it’s the perfect way to roll into the WCHA Final Five.
The Tigers spanked MSU-Mankato 7-3, defeating the Mavericks for the third straight time and giving Colorado College a 2-0 playoff series win. The 24-11-1 Tigers move on in the WCHA playoffs, while the Mavericks finish the season with a 19-18-1 overall record.
Once again, it was stellar defense and an opportunistic offense that gave Colorado College the edge over Mankato.
“I thought from the first faceoff we just had tremendous jump,” Tiger head coach Scott Owens. “We seemed like we had fresh legs, and we made a lot of things happen. We stress to these guys that if they don’t have a play to put it on net.”
For the Mavericks, the three games represented a strange meltdown at the worst time possible. After scoring 3.57 goals per game through 35 games, they scored three total in their final three games, all relatively meaningless scores in the third period Saturday night.
“We were a little frustrated not having scored,” Mankato head coach Troy Jutting said. “Colorado College is a great hockey team; they’re haven’t been in the Top 10 all season long without reason.”
The first period was a closely contested 20 minutes, although Colorado College took a 1-0 lead on sophomore left wing Noah Clarke’s 10th goal of the season. At 3:11 into the game, Clarke beat Maverick junior goaltender Eric Pateman with a slapshot from the top right zone. Junior center Alex Kim and junior right wing Trent Clark assisted.
MSU-Mankato appeared to tie the game at 16:10 when senior right wing T.J. Guidarelli scored on a rebound in front of the net. However, after an officials’ timeout, the head referee ruled Guidarelli’s skate knocked the puck past Tiger junior goalie Jeff Sanger. The Mavericks never again found themselves in such good position to make a game of it.
“If we could have gotten a break, our mental attitude would have been a little different,” Jutting said. “We started pressing and squeezing. We had a couple of open chances where we whiffed and hit the side of the net. It’s disappointing, but we lost to a great hockey team. I don’t think we need to hang our heads, but you have to be able to overcome those things.”
Colorado College added a second goal just 34 seconds into the second period to give Sanger some breathing room. Skating four-on-four due to matching penalties late in the first period, Clark took a pass from senior defenseman Paul Manning and beat Pateman to make it 2-0.
Tiger senior right wing Justin Morrison notched a power-play score later in the second period to make it 3-0. Morrison was able to push the pack past Pateman from a crowd in front of the net. Manning picked up another assist, and sophomore center Joe Cullen also assisted on the goal.
“Especially going into the playoffs, it’s good to see the team playing so well defensively,” Sanger said. “We did good job this weekend of not creating odd-man rushes against us. Our defense overall played unreal.”
Kim tallied the prettiest goal of the night when Clarke, making the perfect pass from the corner to Kim all by himself in front of the crease, set up the score. After Pateman committed himself to coming out of the net, Kim beat him five-hole to make it 4-0 in the second period.
The third period was a scorefest for both teams. Colorado College scored first at 3:32 to make it 5-0. On a power play, freshman left wing Peter Sejna was able to control the puck in a crowd and push it past Pateman. The Mavericks finally cracked Sanger on a power play in the third, when sophomore center Jerry Cunningham received a perfect pass from Guidarelli to beat Sanger and make it 5-1. It was the first goal for the Mavericks on Sanger in 165:56 minutes of play.
Although Sanger gave up the meaningless goal, he gives the Tigers what everyone wants in the playoffs — a very hot goalie.
“For us as a team, the big lead is tough for us to play with,” Sanger. “We have a tendency to relax, and we saw what could happen. Maybe it’s good it happened now instead of next week.”
The two teams each scored two more goals in the third, but clearly the night belonged to Sanger and Colorado College.
The Mavericks go home with a final season record over .500, but with the knowledge this weekend could have been different if they had been able to create and convert more scoring opportunities.
Jutting knows MSU-Mankato still has progress to make.
“We’ve had two years in this league and two years over .500,” Jutting said. “We’re definitely moving in the right direction. Obviously, for us to compete in the top of the league, we need to keep working to improve our team.”
For now, the Tigers can look to next week’s WCHA playoffs. With their opponent unknown until the completion of Sunday’s Minnesota-Duluth/North Dakota game, Colorado College hopes to build on the momentum of the past week and skate to the WCHA finals.
“We’re probably going to get Wisconsin,” Owens said. “Wisconsin is tough; Wisconsin is 9-0-1 on an NHL sheet, and that’s probably where we’re going to play, on an NHL sheet.”