MANKATO, Minn. — It’s a shame they can’t all be this good.
In a game with a playoff-type atmosphere and the second-best attendance ever for a Minnesota State home contest, the Mavericks defeated the North Dakota Fighting Sioux 2-1 in front of 5,112 fans.
The win extended MSU’s (15-7-9, 13-5-7 WCHA) nation-best unbeaten streak to 16 games, breaking the record of 15 set through the 1979-1980 and 1980-1981 seasons. It also put the No. 12 Mavericks five points ahead of UND (22-7-4, 12-7-4) in the conference.
Sophomore Jon Hart played the unexpected role of a hero Friday night. The forward notched his first goal of the season and just his second career goal to put MSU over the No. 7 Sioux.
With the score tied 1-1 halfway through the third, freshman Ryan McKelvie carried the puck from the left corner on net. McKelvie made a nice move to get around the defense and attempted to fire the puck on goal. But he fanned on his shot, and the puck slid over to Hart on the right side.
“I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience,” Hart said. “It just didn’t seem real.”
The sophomore from Brooklyn Park, Minn., fired the puck past UND goaltender Marc Ranfranz at 9:06 of the third to give his team the eventual game winning goal.
“It felt really nice,” Hart said. “I just fired it. He wasn’t really in position, and I just fired it five-hole. Guys have been telling me a long time, ‘You’re gonna get one.’ I just picked a good time, I guess.”
“That kid works as hard as anybody we’ve got,” said MSU coach Troy Jutting. “I couldn’t be happier for a kid like Jon Hart. He’s kind of the epitome of what the game is all about.”
MSU goaltender Jon Volp was also key in the victory, stopping 27 of 28 shots. He also got help from unexpected sources: three shots hit the post, and Volp was bailed out by teammate Aaron Forsythe’s quick play.
After a scoreless first period, UND was enjoying a power-play opportunity early in the second. Defenseman Andy Schneider fired a shot from the point. The puck hit the crossbar, bounced out, then rolled back towards the net as a Sioux skater fanned on the shot. Volp was out of position to stop the puck, but Forsythe, a defenseman, saved the day by backhanding the puck away before it could roll across the line.
Earlier in the game, Kevin Spiewak hit the post on a first-period two-on-one, and Nick Fuher’s shot found metal late in the first stanza.
“It’s just one of those nights where it’s going good for the goalie,” Volp said of his luck.
But the sophomore goaltender didn’t just use luck on the way to his seventh victory of the year. Volp robbed freshman sensation Zach Parise in the first period as well.
After serving time in the penalty box, Parise grabbed the puck and came down the right side of the ice. The freshman fired a high wrist shot on net, and Volp snatched the puck out of the air with a spectacular glove save.
“That team, they take shots, they swarm the net,” Volp said. “They’re a scary team. They’ve got fast forwards and forwards that can handle the puck well. It was definitely a busy game. They’re just a great team.”
“That’s the way he’s been,” Jutting said. “Other than real early in the season when we kind of left him out to dry, since he’s gotten back there and had his opportunities, he’s played that way all year for us.”
Volp’s play put MSU in position to take the lead, which it did at 9:11 of the second.
After UND’s Brian Canady was given a five-minute major and ejected for spearing, MSU capitalized to score the game’s first goal.
Sophomore Grant Stevenson started the rush into the Sioux zone and fired a shot from the left side. Ranfranz made the save, and he stopped ensuing shots by Shane Joseph and Dana Sorenson while on his back. But after the scramble in front, Stevenson finally found the puck and put it over the sprawled goalkeeper for his 22nd goal of the season.
But the Sioux weren’t done yet. Freshman Mike Prpich followed his own shot to the net and beat Volp at the 3:16 mark of the third to tie the game at 1-1.
Ranfranz was also spectacular in net. The UND goaltender stopped 30 shots and gave his team a chance to win.
In the first, Ranfranz robbed Stevenson’s slapshot on the power play.
After Hart scored in the third, Joseph attempted to pad his team’s lead when he had the puck all alone in front of the Sioux net. But Ranfranz stopped the initial shot and Joseph’s rebound to keep the game close.
“Ranfranz, he played a great game today. It was good competition tonight,” Volp said.
“I thought Jonny Volp played very well,” Jutting said. “I thought their goaltender played very well. You look at the game tonight, and people are going to look at a 2-1 hockey game and think, ‘Not a lot of great opportunities.’ I think there was a ton of great opportunities. Great job by both goaltenders.”
The crowd lifted the Mavericks as well. On a weekend that has been described as the Mavericks’ most important home series ever, the school had several promotions throughout the night, and excited fans were there to cheer their team to a new record.
“I hope the fans thought it was a great hockey game,” Jutting said. “Obviously North Dakota’s a premier program in the country.
“If you’ve watched the North Dakota-Mankato rivalry develop over the last five years, almost every game is like this. … In terms of their entertainment dollar, I think people got their money’s worth tonight.”
“It was a great experience tonight,” Hart said. “I looked at a guy and I said, ‘Is this our arena?’ The fans were just great tonight. Hopefully they can keep supporting us like this. It really helps a lot.”
North Dakota’s players and coaches were unavailable for comment after the game.
The two teams will conclude the series Saturday night, Senior Night for MSU. Game time is set for 7:05 p.m.
“It’s a big win tonight,” Hart said. “But if we don’t get a win tomorrow night, it really doesn’t help us a whole lot.”