MANKATO, Minn. — Minnesota State-Mankato senior Justin Martin isn’t a goal-scorer.
It’s not in his title. He’s one of those hardworking unsung heroes who shuts down other teams’ top players rather than scoring flashy goals. In fact, coming into Saturday’s game against Nebraska-Omaha, Martin had only 12 goals and 37 points in 136 games, statistics some players reach in one season.
But Martin scored the most memorable goal of his career in overtime Saturday night, Senior Night, to lift Minnesota State to a 4-3 victory over visiting Nebraska-Omaha.
Only 1:07 into the extra session, Martin gathered the puck and fired it from the right faceoff circle. UNO goalie Brian Haaland stopped the puck, but Martin followed his shot to the net. The forward from Hutchinson, Minn., backhanded the rebound past Haaland to give his team the win.
“It’s a great way to cap off my career here,” expressed Martin. “I couldn’t have written a better script for it.”
MSU had carried a 3-0 lead into the third period, only to watch Omaha battle back and tie the game with less than four minutes left. But Martin, playing in his final game at Mankato, was there to put the exclamation point on a superb career.
“The emotions were going through me all week,” Martin continued, talking about his last game at MSU. “It’s tough to come in and know that you’re going to play you’re last game here. You don’t know how to feel. Right now it feels good. Maybe a few weeks down the road I’ll feel a little downer, but I can look back at it as the highlight of my career.”
“Kind of one of those storybook things that you hope can happen for kids,” MSU head coach Troy Jutting said of Martin’s goal. “I’m extremely happy for him.”
Martin’s goal wasn’t the only lasting memory written Saturday night. MSU senior goaltender Erik Gilbertson was finally able to play in a regular-season game.
After Mankato suffered numerous goaltending injuries early in the year, Gilbertson was called up from MSU’s club team to play the backup role. Although he knew he’s never get to start a game, Gilbertson was willing to sacrifice his remaining club games for a chance to help out the team.
Jutting told Gilbertson five minutes before the game that he would start. Although he played only 3:31 of the first and never faced a shot, the chance will forever be a memory for Gilbertson.
Minnesota State started the scoring in the game on a lucky break in the first. After MSU was buzzing the Omaha net, defenseman Peter Runkel got the puck on the right point. Runkel moved into the right circle and fired on net. His shot was wide right, but UNO goalie Dan Ellis came out in an attempt to catch it. Ellis missed the puck, and it bounced off Omaha sophomore Andrew Wong and into the net. The goal, Runkel’s second of the year, came at 7:30 of the period.
Mankato scored quickly into the second to pad their lead. Sophomore Cole Bassett received the puck behind the UNO net and came around to the front. After evading a UNO defenseman, Bassett fired the puck past Ellis low glove side for his first goal of the game. The goal came at 2:08.
After Bassett’s goal, MSU goaltender Jason Jensen had to come up with numerous saves on a 5-on-3 power play for UNO to keep his team ahead.
His best save with his team shorthanded came off a shot from junior Greg Zanon. The UNO defenseman took a hard slapshot on net from the right point. Jensen made the save and kept Omaha from putting the rebound in. Seconds later, Jensen stopped winger David Brisson on the left side as MSU killed the power play.
MSU went up 3-0 as Bassett beat Ellis again, this time on their own power play. With Omaha’s Chris Claffey of for tripping, sophomore Shane Joseph passed from behind the net out to Bassett, who was setup on the right side. Bassett let a quick shot go and beat Ellis over his shoulder for his eighth goal of the year.
Ellis left the game after two periods due to an elbow injury he suffered from a tough shot in the second. UNO head coach Mike Kemp said he could have played if he needed to, but they felt it best to keep him out. Haaland started the third for Omaha.
Down 3-0 heading into the third, UNO wasn’t ready to quit. They came out on fire and dominated the entire twenty minutes.
Junior Joe Pereira started the scoring as he tipped in a pass from Gus Groslie as 9:44 of the third to make the score 3-1.
At 16:08 of the period, freshman Anthony Adams scored on a rebound goal. After Jensen had made a save, the goaltender attempted to cover up the rebound in front of him. Adams gathered the puck before Jensen could find it and put it over the sprawled goaltender for his fourth goal of the season.
Only 38 seconds later, senior Shane Glover beat Jensen off a faceoff win in MSU’s zone. Positioned on the wing, Glover received the puck from teammate Jeff Hoggan and ripped the puck over Jensen’s shoulder to make the score 3-3.
But Martin came up big in overtime and gave MSU their 4-3 win in the nonconference match up.
“He basically said we have to start playing in their end,” Martin said of Jutting’s speech before overtime. “I think we had maybe four shots in the third period. Guys took it to heart, and we went out there. (The older guys) just kind of took it upon ourselves to get this done, and we got it done in our first shift.”
Although the two teams split (Nebraska-Omaha won 4-2 Thursday night in Omaha), UNO took a trophy from the series matchup: the Spirit of the Mavericks trophy. The trophy, created just this year, was given to UNO because they scored more goals than MSU in the series.
Kemp was happy with his team’s play in the third, but was unhappy with the final results.
“I liked the way we played in the third period. I thought we came out and put some pressure on. We were starting to get some pucks to the net. We were starting to show a little life. But it was a frustrating way to end a hockey game.
“Through the first two periods we didn’t show a lot of life,” continued Kemp. “When you don’t show a lot of life and you get a couple of goals against you, especially like the way some of those went in, those things set you back on your heels. I was thankful that we came to life and something we can build on going into the playoffs.”
On the other side of the ice, Jutting was happy with the game despite his team’s lackluster effort in the third.
“I’m a little disappointed, but besides two faceoff goals, we shut down a pretty good hockey team. All in all this was a good way to go into the playoffs.
It’s a whole new season now,” continued Jutting about the playoffs. “Our league has been a tough league all year. I think both of our goalies heading into the playoffs can feel confident about the way they are playing.”
MSU finished sixth in the WCHA standings and will play at Wisconsin next weekend in a best of three series. UNO heads home and will take on Notre Dame in the first round of the CCHA playoffs. That series is also a best of three.
“It’s an important time for us,” remarked Kemp. “We’ve been erratic here of late. We need to get down and play the same way every night, because if you want to win in the playoffs, you have to string them together. You can’t take a night off.”