MANKATO, Minn. — Like the old saying goes, it wasn’t pretty, but it got the job done.
Minnesota State (12-14-1 overall, 8-11-1 WCHA) tallied early and held off a late comeback by Michigan Tech to win 3-2.
The Mavericks played a solid first period, taking the lead eight seconds into the contest and scoring again to head into intermission. However, the last two periods belonged to the Huskies (7-18-2 overall, 3-14-2 WCHA) as they outplayed MSU for almost the entire final 40 minutes.
But sophomore goaltender Jason Jensen bailed out his team, something he has done much this year. He made 35 saves total, 15 in the third period, to preserve the win and the two points for MSU in front of 3,012.
“I didn’t think we played very well tonight,” remarked MSU head coach Troy Jutting. “I just think we stopped pressing. We stood around and watched. We give them credit. They fought back, played hard and got themselves back in the hockey game.”
“I think (Jensen) bailed us out tonight, no question,” added Jutting. “Jason was excellent.”
MSU took advantage of a lucky break off the opening face off to take the lead.
MTU’s Jon Pittis won the draw, but the puck bounced over to MSU’s Justin Martin. Martin fired the puck off a Husky defenseman’s skate, and the puck bounced into the zone over the stick of Michigan Tech’s Brady Greco. Junior B.J. Abel, flying down the left side, fired a laser shot over MTU goaltender Brian Rogers’s glove for the opening goal only eight seconds in.
“I pretty much just saw the puck and skated as fast as I could,” said Abel. “I haven’t been scoring as much as I want to lately, so I just said I’m going to shoot it as hard as I can and not really worry about where it’s going, and it just went in.”
Mike Sertich, head coach for the Huskies, called the quick goal “shocking. It’s like going to the prom all dressed up but no place to dance.
“Down one-nothing eight seconds into the game, and this team has had that nemesis behind them all year. Seems like we’ve been climbing a hill all year long.”
MSU padded their lead 14:18 into the period with a power-play goal. With MTU’s Greg Amadio in the penalty box for hooking, Cole Bassett got the puck behind the Husky net off a turnover. Bassett made a short pass to teammate Jerry Cunningham who gathered the puck and came around the left side of the net and to the front of the goal. Finding himself alone in front of Rogers, Cunningham slid the puck underneath the goalie for his 10th goal of the season.
Jensen took care of his part in the first, stopping Pittis on a power play chance with under a minute left in the period. His team brought their 2-0 lead back from intermission but left their dominating play in the locker room.
The two teams played a tight second, allowing few quality scoring chances in the scoreless period. The Huskies outshot the Mavericks 10-8.
Jensen made perhaps his most dazzling save of the game on his back halfway through the period to keep MSU on top 2-0. MTU center Chris Durno passed the puck from the right side across the ice to defenseman Justin Brown. Brown gathered the puck on the left side of the goal and fired it on net. Jensen slid across to make a spectacular save, and he stayed on his back to keep the rebound attempt out of the net.
But Michigan Tech finally solved Jensen early in the third. Senior Paul Cabana lead a rush down ice and fired the puck from the right wing. Jensen kicked the puck into the left side where MTU captain Brad Patterson found it. Patterson, from a bad angle, fired the puck through traffic and over Jensen’s shoulder for his second goal of the year at the 3:38 mark.
With the Huskies surging and having cut into the lead, MSU needed an immediate answer. They got it 20 seconds after Patterson’s goal.
Freshman Jake Brenk took a nifty pass from teammate Nate Metcalf at the MTU blue line. Brenk, behind the defense, broke in all alone on Rogers. His shot hit the junior goalkeeper in the right side, and then trickled into the net to put MSU up by two once again. The goal was only Brenk’s second of the year and first since October 13 against Bemidji State.
“They were playing a one-man forecheck on us,” explained Brenk. “Nate Metcalf took it from behind the net, skated out, and threaded between the defensemen — perfect pass. I got it right at the blue line. I was real close to being off-sides. I went glove side high. I just got it right over his left shoulder.
“They always say that a team is always a little bit weaker right after they score a goal,” continued Brenk. “You should try to jump on them right after. We just executed the play and it happened.”
Michigan Tech continued to pressure the Mavericks and got back to within one with 10:50 left in the contest.
Freshman Rob Rankin put a shot on net from the right side of the point. Jensen made the save, and the puck bounced around in the crease between his legs. Finally, Chuck Fabry was able to find the puck and put it past the MSU goalie for his first goal of the season.
With 1:26 left in the game, Jensen made a huge save to bail his teammates out. After a MTU timeout, the Huskies pulled Rogers for the face off in Minnesota State’s zone. Off a designed play, the face off was won back to Brown on the right side of the blue line. He passed across the point to team-leading scorer Brett Engelhardt. Engelhardt one-timed the pass, but Jensen moved across the crease in time and made the save. Jensen and the Mavericks stifled any remaining chances to claim the 3-2 victory.
Sertich was happy with his team’s performance after the game, but he sighted special teams as the real reason for the outcome. The Mavericks were one for three with the man-advantage, while Michigan Tech was held scoreless on five power play chances.
“I felt we got stronger as the game went on. We worked hard, but we (also) executed the game plan. We knew what we wanted to do and we did it. Don’t discount what they did. They got key goals at key times with the first game and the third goal. That was a classic example of bouncing back, and we didn’t do that very well. Their power play scored the goal; that’s why they won the game.”
Sertich also thought Jensen was clutch in the end, especially on Engelhardt’s attempt.
MSU assistant captain Abel agreed and said Jensen was the reason they won the game.
“Jensen really kept us in there. We owe this game to him, just like the past couple of games.”
“It’s nice with two points, but we’re not happy at all,” Abel continued somberly. “We know we can play better. Tomorrow night’s another night, and we’re hoping for a sweep.”
The two teams will finish their series Saturday night with game time set for 7:05 at the Midwest Wireless Civic Center.