MANKATO, Minn. — Minnesota State continues to run into hot goaltenders. However, Friday night the Mavericks finally put enough pucks in the net to claim a victory.
After 73 of MSU’s 74 shots were stopped last weekend versus St. Cloud State, the Mavericks fired 54 shots on net Friday night against visiting Findlay and won 4-1.
MSU (4-3-0 overall) was led by junior Jerry Cunningham and senior Nate Mauer, who each tallied two goals for the Mavericks.
Cunningham scored both goals in the first 8:26 of the game. Mauer’s tallies were both power-play goals. MSU finished the game 3 for 4 on the power play, while the Oilers went 0 for 4 with the man-advantage.
The Oilers (2-3-0 overall) received stellar goaltending from Jamie VandeSpyker. The junior goalie made 50 saves and kept his team into the contest the entire night. The Mavericks outshot Findlay 54-16.
“We’ve always had good goaltending,” said Findlay head coach Craig Barnett. “When we play teams like this, we certainly need our goaltender to play great. I thought Jaime played fantastic tonight.”
Playing on the road and in their first game against a WCHA opponent, it would not have been unexpected for the Oilers to come out a bit nervous.
However, the Oilers jumped out to a surprising 1-0 lead at the 4:35 mark of the first. Captain Andy Croak got the puck in the slot and fired a backhand shot on net that slipped past MSU’s Jon Volp glove-side. Sophomore Christian Olson tallied the lone assist on the play.
MSU answered 34 seconds later to tie the game. Defenseman Aaron Forsythe took a shot from the point that hit VandeSpyker and bounced around in front of the crease. The Oiler goalie was unable to cover the puck, and it bounced over to Cunningham. The junior grabbed the puck, pulled it to his forehand and slid it into the empty right side of the net at 8:06.
Minnesota State captured the lead on the power play 8:26 into the game. With UF’s Kris Wiebe off for tripping, Cunningham took opportunity of the man-advantage and scored his second goal of the night. Freshman Steven Johns fired a hard slapshot on VandeSpyker from the blue line. VandeSpyker made a stick save, and the rebound soared what seemed like 30 feet into the air directly above the crease.
Cunningham, camped out on the right side of the goal, never lost sight of the puck. He waited patiently for the puck to fall under the crossbar and then batted it out of midair and into the net to put the Mavericks ahead 2-1. The goal was Cunningham’s third of the year.
When asked about his second goal, Cunningham laughed and said, “That was amazing. I was just sitting there watching (the puck). I saw the goalie and he had no idea where it was. I just waited and waited and batted it out of the air. I just knew I was going to get it in. It seemed like the clock stopped, everything stopped. I just had to wait for it and be patient.”
“Jerry’s a player,” explained MSU head coach Troy Jutting. “He’s been around the block. He understands the game very well. That was just a heads-up play to wait for the puck to come down before he swung at it.”
The goalies took over the rest of the period as Volp kept the Mavericks in the lead with a nice save nine minutes in. Croak passed to Olson, who fired the puck on net from the slot. Volp was up to the task and deflected the puck to the corner.
VandeSpyker kept the game close after numerous defensive breakdowns left MSU with brilliant scoring opportunities. Grant Stevenson passed to teammate Jake Brenk on a 2-on-0 rush in front of the net, but Brenk’s shot was stopped by the Oiler goalkeeper.
Freshman Rick Kisskeys also had a chance 12:47 in when he got the puck all alone in front of the UF net, but VandeSpyker stopped the puck and allowed no rebound.
The Mavericks outshot the Oilers 24-4 in the first and carried their 2-1 lead into intermission. It would take only 40 seconds for MSU to get its third goal of the night.
Again on the power play, Johns passed from the blue line to teammate and captain B. J. Abel in the right circle. Abel passed the puck right away to senior Nate Mauer, who was set up between the circles. Mauer one-timed the puck into the left side of the net to make the score 3-1.
VandeSpyker kept his team in the game throughout the night, but Findlay was never able to sustain any pressure. Mauer put the game away at 3:36 of the third period with MSU’s third power-play goal of the night.
Mauer took a pass from teammate Tim Jackman as he streaked down the left side towards the UF net. He fired the puck but just missed the net on the left side. The senior grabbed the puck from behind the net and quickly brought it around to the front. Mauer slid the puck underneath VandeSpyker’s leg and into the net for his fourth goal of the season.
MSU’s defense pressed down on the Oilers’ offense, and Volp stopped all six shots he faced in the third as the Mavericks held onto win 4-1.
Jutting was very happy with his team’s turnaround after being swept at home last weekend.
“I thought we did a good job of getting the puck to the net. I think kids went to the net and we had some good quality opportunities. And like I told the kids, if we keep doing that, they’re going to go in.”
Despite the loss, Barnett was very pleased with his team’s play.
“I was real proud of our effort,” said Barnett. “We never stopped working. That’s a great team we played. Their forwards are very quick. A 4-1 game, and they scored three power-play goals, so even strength it was a 1-1 game. Overall I was pleased with our effort. We never gave up and we kept working.”
Both teams felt the nonconference series was good for them to get back on track.
“I think these are games we need,” said Cunningham. “You make these plays and it just carries on. You get a goal, you get the power play working, and we have so much more confidence.”
“This helps us get ready for next weekend with Bemidji back home,” added Barnett.
The two teams will finish up their series Saturday night with game time set at 7:05 at the Midwest Wireless Civic Center.