MANKATO, Minn. — Most of the time, experience is key to winning. We’ll call this game an exception.
With seven freshmen dressed in their lineup, Minnesota State (11-13-1 overall, 7-11-1 WCHA) claimed a key conference victory against visiting Wisconsin (9-12-2 overall, 7-7-1 WCHA) with a 3-1 win in front of 4,295.
The Mavericks were lead offensively by sophomore Shane Joseph, with two goals, and freshman Rick Kisskeys, who tallied the game-winning goal. Sophomore goaltender Jason Jensen was sensational in net, stopping 36 of the 37 shots he faced.
Wisconsin came into the game with the obvious experience edge on its roster. The Badgers dressed seven seniors and five juniors, as compared to MSU’s two seniors and three juniors.
The coaching experience was also heavily slanted towards UW. Head coach Jeff Sauer, who announced last week that he will retire after this season, has been a head coach for 31 years, 20 at Wisconsin. MSU head coach Troy Jutting is in only his second year as head coach.
But with MSU riding a hot goaltender and Wisconsin in a scoring slump, the Mavericks were able to claim the win and move into a tie with the Badgers in the WCHA standings.
The first period turned out to be showcase for the goaltenders as Jensen and UW’s Scott Kabotoff kept the game scoreless.
Jensen was tested early in the game as Badger forward Brad Winchester put a tough shot on goal only five minutes into the contest. Winchester moved around MSU defenseman Steven Johns in the right corner, then moved to the front of the net and fired the puck low on Jensen. But the sophomore goalkeeper was up to the task and kept the puck out.
It was Kabotoff’s turn later in the period. Nine minutes into the game, MSU junior Jerry Cunningham got the puck in the right faceoff circle and fired a rising backhand shot on the junior goaltender. Kabotoff was able to keep the puck out of the net, even after Cunningham crashed into him.
Jensen was tested again halfway through the period as he stopped Andy Wheeler on a breakaway. Jensen and Kabotoff made 15 and 13 saves respectively in the period.
Early in the second, senior Matt Hussey finally solved Jensen and scored to put Wisconsin up 1-0. Teammate Kent Davyduke got the puck along the boards near the Badger bench and passed cross-ice to Hussey. Hussey used his speed to get past the MSU defense at the blue line and came in all alone on the Maverick goaltender. Hussey sent a quick wrist shot past Jensen for his 13th goal of the year at the 1:17 mark.
Facing a one-goal deficit and a dominant goaltender, it seemed the Mavericks would need a bit of luck to get on the scoreboard. They got it at 3:52.
After MSU dumped the puck into the Badger zone, Kabotoff went behind the net to get the puck. The goalie attempted to clear the puck up ice, but his pass was intercepted by MSU forward Shane Joseph in the right faceoff circle. Joseph fired the puck on goal, and Kabotoff wasn’t able to dive back in time to stop it as the score became 1-1.
“Shane didn’t have a big year last year as a freshman, but he’s a kid we thought was going to break out this year,” remarked Jutting. “He’s a special player. He has the ability to make plays and beat people.”
The Mavericks finally got a clean goal past Kabotoff as they took the lead with only 1:03 left in the second. MSU defenseman Joe Bourne shot the puck from the left side of the blue line. Kabotoff went down and made a pad save, but the rebound bounced out to freshman Kisskeys. Kisskeys took the puck from left to right across the crease and fired it high over the sprawled UW goaltender for his second goal of the season.
With the 2-1 lead and the momentum, MSU came out strong in the third and peppered Kabotoff numerous times in an attempt to pad their lead. However, Kabotoff was up to the task and kept his team in the game. The junior finished with 34 saves.
The Badgers had an opportunity to tie the game on the power play six minutes into the period, but Jensen stopped Brad Winchester and Matt Doman to preserve the lead.
With a minute and a half left in the game, Jensen came up with his biggest save of the night. Hussey, with the puck all alone in the slot, sent a hard slap shot on net. Jensen had gone down already and had traffic in front of him, but he was able to find Hussey’s shot and made a magnificent glove save.
“It was one of those deals where your heart is beating a hundred miles a minute, and you’re just hoping that you’re in the right spot,” commented Jensen. “He (Hussey) made a great shot, and thank God my glove was right there. It was a bullet. Thank God my glove was in the right spot because I don’t think we could have handled a tie tonight; we worked too hard.”
Joseph added an empty net goal with 25 seconds left to record his second goal of the night. More importantly, the goal iced the 3-1 win for MSU.
After the game, Jutting mentioned how pleased he was to see his younger players starting to perform.
“I think our younger guys are starting to — they’re not junior players or high school players anymore, they’re college hockey players and they’re starting to come on.
“They have to contribute,” he added. “I’ve really seen an improvement in the young kids. It usually happens (like that): they go home for Christmas, have a week off, have a chance to think about things, and usually they come back and there’s a step up in their game.”
Jensen was also in Jutting’s list of praise.
“For Jason to play the way he’s playing right now is a surprise on one hand, but he’s always been a worker and he’s never dropped his chin once,” Jutting said. “Sometimes you get what you deserve. I can’t say enough about that kid.”
For the Badgers, Sauer thought that the effort was there, but his team is just in a goal-scoring slump as of late.
“That’s the most shots we’ve had in quite a few games, and the fact that we didn’t score … We have not scored a lot of goals in the last six or seven games, and it’s something we have to try and correct if we can. The effort was there, we had chances early, but we’re struggling to score. We have to find people that can score goals, and we don’t know where they are.”
Discounting their 8-3 victory over Minnesota last Friday, the Badgers have scored eight goals in their past six games.
“We’ve got the veterans and they don’t,” Sauer went on. “They have a goaltender in there that they talk about is a third-string goaltender, and it puts a challenge out to the upperclassmen (to score).”
The two teams will finish their series Saturday night as game time is set for 7:05.
“I told the guys tonight we don’t want to go home in seventh place,” exclaimed Sauer. “We lose tomorrow night, we’re in seventh place.”