MANKATO, Minn. — When Brock Becker gets a hunch, you’d better watch out.
The freshman forward for 15th-ranked Minnesota State made good on pregame predictions of a big night by scoring two goals in MSU’s 4-1 over visiting Minnesota-Duluth.
“It was kind of weird,” Becker said. “Before the game, just talking to the guys, I told them I had a feeling. Next thing I knew, I didn’t change anything, just pucks were bouncing. Next thing I knew, I was on the score sheet a few times, and it felt good. Just to contribute, I’ll take anything I can get.”
Shane Joseph also scored two goals, and junior goaltender Jason Jensen stopped 29 of 30 shots to give the Mavericks (12-7-9 overall, 10-5-7 WCHA) their second sweep of the year.
The victory put MSU in sole possession of second place in the WCHA with 27 points.
“It’s a huge weekend for us,” said Maverick coach Troy Jutting. “To come away with four points at this time going into the break and everything I think is very big for us.”
But the Bulldogs (11-11-4 overall, 7-8-3 WCHA) took the early lead in the game as sophomore T.J. Caig scored his second goal in as many nights. Jesse Unklesbay made a nifty backhand pass from the right circle to Caig in the slot, who one-timed the puck past Jensen for his third goal of the year at 1:47.
The Mavericks bounced right back and tied the game 48 seconds later off a spectacular play from Becker. The freshman carried the puck into the right corner, fought through a check, and kicked the puck to his stick before firing the puck on net. UMD’s Isaac Reichmuth made the initial save, but Becker again used his feet to kick the rebound to his stick. He carried the puck to the left side of the net and put it past Reichmuth for his first goal of the night.
“He came out and made a great move out of the corner to score that goal,” Joseph said. “Great effort. That’s what we need out of him. We saw we he can do tonight, and hopefully he can bring that every night.”
“I thought Brock played probably his best game of the season,” Jutting said. “I think Brock is going to be an excellent hockey player in this league. Freshman after Christmas time, a lot of times, you start to see them start to emerge. I think Brock is starting to do that.”
After Becker’s goal, the netminders took over.
While shorthanded, MSU’s B.J. Abel broke in on Reichmuth alone. But the freshman goaltender stood tall in net and kept the puck out.
Later in the first, Caig set up teammate Nick Anderson by dropping the puck back to Anderson at the top of the slot. But Jensen stopped Anderson’s wrist shot and allowed no rebound.
The goaltending duel continued as Jensen stopped Marco Peluso all alone in front while UMD enjoyed a power play in the second.
Finally, late in the second, the Mavericks were able to solve Reichmuth and take a 2-1 lead.
Dana Sorenson, the hero in Friday’s game, carried the puck behind the net before sending a pass to the front. Joseph, the leading-goal scorer for MSU, fired the puck past Reichmuth while being checked to the ground by a Bulldog player. The goal, which came at 15:12 of the second, was Joseph’s 21st of the year, one more than his total last season.
The Mavericks increased their lead to two with another goal from a tremendous effort by Becker. Steven Johns fired the puck from the blue line, but Reichmuth made the save. Becker, who was tied up in front of the net, managed to swipe the rebound into the net while falling to the ground. Becker’s seventh goal of the season came at 10:22 of the third.
“One of the d-men throw it on net,” Becker said, “and I went to the net hard like the coaches told me all year — something I’ve been working on. I saw the puck lying there, and there was a guy in my way. So I just thought I’d jump and try to get a stick on it or anything I can. And next thing I knew, guys were pilling on top of me.
Things got even uglier for UMD as the Mavericks made the score 4-1 at the 13:40 mark. Defenseman Aaron Forsythe put another shot on net from the point. Reichmuth left a bad rebound on the shot, and Joseph buried the loose puck for his second tally of the night and 22nd of the year.
The game was marred by a brawl late in the game due to Jeff Marler running into goaltender Rob Anderson, who replaced Reichmuth after Joseph’s second tally. The event resulted in Marler and Jay Hardwick each receiving 10-minute game misconducts.
Becker’s earlier predictions were the topic of much discussion after the game.
“He’s always saying something,” said Joseph, laughing. “He gets these hunches. And he’s told me once, like earlier on in the year, he had a hunch he was going to get one. And what do you know? He got one.”
“It’s a great feeling, just going out there in front of the crowd and lifting the stick,” Becker said after being named the game’s first star. “It’s kind of new. I’m at a loss for words right now, but I’m happy with the big win. Sweep this weekend is huge for us. Puts us in second place for sure. We’re just looking to go up from there.”
The win extended MSU unbeaten streak to 13 games. That streak ties for second longest in school history. The team went 15 games without a loss over the course of the 1979-80 and 1980-81 seasons.
“Awesome,” Joseph said about his team’s move to second place. “This is the farthest we’ve ever been up in the standings. We’re battling, and once we got to this place, we think, “Hey, we’re only six points out of first.” We had goals coming in the year to finish a top five team. We got to that level where we know we can be a top five team, and once you get to that, you have to reevaluate the goal and go for a higher goal.”
The sweep was the first over UMD this year, and the loss ended a 7-0-0 streak on Saturdays for the Bulldogs.
The weekend was frustrating for Bulldog coach Scott Sandelin, who felt his offense showed up for Saturday night’s game, while the defense did not. According to the UMD coach, that was the opposite of what happened Friday night.
“For the most part, I felt better about the way we played tonight except defensively,” Sandelin said. “Believe it or not, I thought we controlled the play. I thought in the second period we had them. It was 1-1, and they came down and got a goal.”
“We had different parts of our game going on different nights,” Sandelin added. “We didn’t play poorly. I thought we played now four pretty good games in a row. Not great games this weekend, but we did some good things tonight, we did some good things last night, and we’ve just go to move on. It’s not over. A lot of games left.”
The Bulldogs will return home next week for a series against Denver. The Mavericks are idle next week before taking to the road against Alaska Anchorage the following week.