MANKATO, Minn. — If you’re waiting for Minnesota State’s late-game dazzle to end, you may be waiting a long time.
The Mavericks (11-7-9 overall, 9-5-7 WCHA), like they’ve done numerous times this year, rallied from a late deficit and defeated Minnesota-Duluth 5-3.
MSU scored three goals in the last 3:05 of play to defeat the Bulldogs (11-10-4 overall, 7-7-3 WCHA) and extend its nation-best 12-game unbeaten streak (7-0-5). The streak is the longest for Mankato since it went 13 games without a loss in the 1989-90 and 1985-86 seasons.
“I was hoping that we could get it to overtime for the longest time,” said Maverick coach Troy Jutting. “They keep battling. They keep battling like they’ve done all year.”
Jutting’s club has been no stranger to overtime. Seven of its previous nine games went into OT. But the Mavericks went beyond Jutting’s expectations and pulled out a victory in regulation.
Trailing 3-2 late in the third, MSU captain B.J. Abel picked the best time possible to score his 100th career point.
Teammate Cole Bassett grabbed the puck along the left boards near the blue line and threw the puck on net, where Abel was fighting for position with a Bulldog player. The puck deflected off Abel and beat UMD goalie Isaac Reichmuth to notch Abel’s milestone goal at 16:55 of the third.
“I saw Cole standing at the blue line,” Abel said. “I just knew I had to get to the net. I had no idea it went off me.”
“Good to get out of the way,” Abel added about the 100th point. “It’s something I’ve been working for. If they would have told me when I was younger that I was going to go and score 100 points in the best league in the country, I’d never believe it.”
Just 37 seconds later, Dana Sorenson beat Reichmuth again to give his squad a 4-3 lead.
Sorenson lost control of the puck at the UMD blue line as he led the rush. After gathering the puck, he stickhandled past the defense and fired a laser from the top of the slot that beat Reichmuth high for his ninth goal of the season.
“I tried to poke it ahead to (Grant Stevenson), and the defenseman went right to him,” Sorenson said. “And then I just kind of went in, poked the puck to the middle, skated to the middle, and shot. I saw a little bit of room top shelf.”
“He kept his feet moving, and that was the key,” Jutting said. “He kept his feet moving so he separated a little bit, and then obviously made a nice shot.”
“That was good,” Abel said. “That will help his confidence. That was a good shot. He’s a sniper.”
After calling a timeout, UMD pulled its goalie and pressured for the tying goal. But the Mavericks scored their third goal in a span of 1:49 as Adam Gerlach filled the empty net to bring 4,147 fans to their feet.
“We’re a very calm team,” Abel said of his team’s comeback performance. “We all know. We’ve done it before. We’ve sort of done it every weekend. Score a goal and tie it up or something.
“When it gets down to four minutes,” Abel continued, “we go, ‘Come on guys, let’s finish the job. Let’s do it.’ Finally, somebody comes through, we get a bounce … things have just been working out of us now.”
“Right now they’ve got some confidence,” said UMD coach Scott Sandelin. “They’re riding that and playing well. They didn’t quit. Give them a lot of credit. They kept battling and waited for their opportunity and capitalized on it.
“When things are rolling … sometimes you get those,” Sandelin added. “Work hard, you create your own luck and you create your own bounces. Tonight they worked hard like they always do. They’re a good hockey team playing well right now.”
Early on, the Mavericks came out with arguably their best start of the season. Their effort resulted in a goal less than a minute into the game.
After Abel missed two opportunities to score, Grant Stevenson finally did. The sophomore carried the puck down the left side on a two-on-one rush with Sorenson and fired the puck past Reichmuth 55 seconds into the contest.
But Reichmuth, the freshman sensation for the Bulldogs, kept his team in the game after they were outshot 5-0 through the first 10 minutes.
The goalie stopped Abel from the right circle 7:44 into the first, then followed it up with a glove save on Jake Brenk’s shot from the slot.
Reichmuth kept his team in the game, and they responded with a late goal from the most unlikely of sources.
UMD’s power play had gone 1-26 in their last extra-man opportunities. The Mavericks had also killed 39 of their past 44 penalties. But UMD scored on the power play with 10 seconds left in the first to tie the game at 1-1.
The play started as Nick Anderson fired the puck from the blue line. MSU’s Jon Volp made the save, but Luke Stauffacher fell on Volp and T.J. Caig was there to put the rebound over the MSU goaltender.
Although the Mavericks continued to outplay Duluth, Reichmuth kept his team in position to take the lead, which it did at 11:05 of the second.
After a scramble in front of the net, Ryan Geris found the puck in the slot and fired it on net. His shot beat a sprawling Volp to put UMD up 2-1.
The Mavericks continued to press and tied the game 2:34 later. Off a faceoff win in the UMD zone, Ryan McKelvie brought the puck towards the right side of the net. The freshman made a sweet pass through the crease to teammate Brock Becker on the left side. Becker shot the puck under Reichmuth’s glove for his fifth goal of the season.
The seesaw game continued as UMD regained the lead just 1:08 into the third.
Brett Hammond grabbed the puck and walked out to the front of MSU’s net. The sophomore slid the puck between Volp’s pads on the backhand for his seventh tally of the season.
On the other side of the rink, Reichmuth continued to be key for UMD as he stoned Bassett’s point-blank rebound attempt on the power play.
Reichmuth and his team seemed poised to pick up the road victory until Abel and Sorenson stole the game.
“I thought it was a pretty darn good college hockey game,” Jutting said.
“There’s going to be mistakes, but it’s when you make them,” Sandelin said. “We were pretty evenly matched. Both teams worked hard. They capitalized at the end on their opportunities. End of story.”
“They get some life with that third goal. We missed the coverage on that fourth goal. That’s the way it goes. You gotta finish chances. They did, we didn’t.”
The win was critical for the Mavericks as the two points kept MSU very much in the hunt for a top five finish in the WCHA.
“It’s so nice to come to the rink every day,” Sorenson said. “Everyone’s up. Since I’ve been here, this is the most fun time I’ve had playing hockey. It’s just great to be around these guys. It’s amazing coming to the rink every day.”
The two teams will finish their series Saturday night with game time set for 7:05.
“This is just another step to what we want to do,” Abel said. “We gotta forget about tonight, try to get the win, the sweep, tomorrow night. That’s the thing these guys have been able to do. After a big win, we’ve been able to forget about it, come back, and work hard the next night.”