MANKATO, Minn. — B.J. Abel definitely didn’t disappoint on Senior Night.
In the last WCHA regular season game of his career, the MSU-Mankato senior scored two goals, and the Mavericks (16-7-9, 14-5-7 WCHA) held off a late rally to sweep visiting North Dakota (22-8-4, 12-8-4), 5-4.
“Well, it couldn’t go any better,” Abel said. “It’s things you dream about, going out like this and scoring two goals in a sellout crowd in your home place. It’s amazing. I can’t explain it.”
The Mavericks also got two goals from sophomore Grant Stevenson and 48 saves from Jason Jensen as MSU extended its school-best unbeaten streak to 17 games with the win.
“I didn’t think tonight was nearly as good a game as last night for us,” MSU head coach Troy Jutting said. “I thought North Dakota played extremely hard, I thought we got great goaltending, we got a couple of bounces, scored a couple of key goals and ended up winning the game because of it.”
The victory came in front of the largest crowd ever in Mankato (5,182). That broke the old record of 5,144, set against UND in February of 2000.
“Awesome, awesome,” Jutting said. “We’ve won two one-goal games with the crowd on our side, and I’ve told you all along that I think the crowd is worth a goal. I really do, and I think they were tonight.”
“This is one of the biggest home ice advantages we’ve had, playing for it or playing against it,” Abel said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. It was awesome, and it’s tough to lose when you have a crowd like this.”
The win also put the Mavericks just two points behind Colorado College for first in the league, a huge jump for a team many picked to be cellar-dwellers in the WCHA this season. The Mavericks are now guaranteed a top-four finish in the WCHA as well.
UND, which outshot MSU, 52-21, and scored three times on seven power-play chances, now falls to 0-4-1 in its last five and is just one point up on Denver and Minnesota-Duluth.
But it would be North Dakota taking the first lead of the game as the Sioux took advantage of a power play 11:46 into the game.
The play started as defenseman Nick Fuher fired the puck from the top of the left circle. Jensen stopped the shot, and Kevin Spiewak attempted another shot before senior Jason Notermann finally found the puck and put it in for his 13th tally of the season.
The lead didn’t last long. Just 1:48 later, Maverick defenseman Nate Metcalf scored his first goal of the season to make the game 1-1.
Off a faceoff win in the UND zone, Jon Hart slid the puck back to Metcalf at the point. The junior beat UND goalie Marc Ranfranz over his left shoulder.
Only 2:03 later, Stevenson gave MSU its first lead of the night on a partial breakaway goal.
Defenseman Steven Johns got the puck off a turnover and quickly fed Stevenson at mid-ice. Stevenson flew down the zone and beat Ranfranz high for his 23rd goal of the season.
MSU built its lead to two when Abel notched his first goal of the game. Shane Joseph carried the puck down the center of the zone and dished it over to Cole Bassett on the right side. Bassett one-timed the pass, and Ranfranz made the initial save. But Abel, who was camped out in front of the net, put the rebound in at 3:54 of the second.
The Sioux had a great chance to tie the game later in the period. After MSU’s Aaron Forsythe was given a five-minute major for high sticking, Tyler Palmiscno scored a rebound goal from the right side after Andy Schneider’s shot was stopped. The power-play goal came at 12:02 of the second.
After Palmiscno’s goal, UND came within inches of tying the game. Freshman Mike Prpich had the puck on the left side of the net after a scramble in front. Jensen was down on his side, but he managed to reach up and snag Prpich’s shot to keep his team up 3-2.
Abel added another goal late in the second to regain his team’s two-goal lead. The senior picked up the puck inside the blue line of the UND zone and fired a shot on net. Ranfranz was screened and never saw Abel’s shot until it sat in his net. The goal, Abel’s 10th of the season, came at 17:59 of the period.
The Mavericks built a 5-2 lead in the third as Bassett found Stevenson undetected in the slot during a four-on-three power play. Stevenson’s league-leading 24th goal came just 40 seconds into the period.
UND wasn’t ready to give up yet. The Sioux made the game close as Brandon Bochenski scored his 31st goal of the year on the power play just 29 seconds after Stevenson’s tally.
Then, North Dakota caught a break to make the score 5-4. After a collision between a MSU and a Sioux player brought Jensen down, freshman defenseman Lee Marvin tossed the puck on net from the blue line to score. The goal was Marvin’s first career goal, coming at 6:50 of the third and prompting MSU to take a timeout.
MSU held off the furious late rally to post the sweep, much in part due to Jensen’s play.
With Abel off for holding the stick 10:05 into the period, Jensen robbed Bochenski and Schneider with beautiful saves.
“I couldn’t look at the play,” Abel said. “It’s something that I don’t want to talk about. Bad news.”
With 2:15 left in the game, Jensen made a flashy glove save to stop Zach Parise’s rocket from the right circle. And with 50.1 seconds left, the junior goalie robbed Notermann with a nice save and no rebound to give MSU the win.
“It’s 5-2, we score two goals to make it 5-4, and it was a smart move to call the timeout and try to get the momentum away from us,” said UND assistant coach Brad Berry.
“We just couldn’t quite get that last one. [Jensen's] a big goaltender; he covers a lot of the net. We had a lot of shots on him. We didn’t get the tie, and he played very well for them.”
“It’s tough getting the lead,” Stevenson said. “You get a little scared, but when they came back, it’s character on our team keeping our composure.”
“I thought North Dakota came hard tonight,” Jutting said. “They came after us. I give our kids credit. We didn’t back down, we didn’t play as well as we’re capable of, but I thought North Dakota really came after it tonight. The thing is they just keep battling. They don’t let too much of that upset them. They keep working hard and we, I thought for the most part, played pretty smart tonight.”
Much of the talk after the game was about Abel. The senior not only notched two big goals, but he was paired against Parise’s line. The freshman phenomenon registered zero points on the weekend, and linemate Bochenski didn’t tally until the final two goals of the night.
“I thought B.J. had maybe his best weekend ever here,” Jutting said. “He didn’t score last night, and I don’t know if he got any points last night, but he played the game that B.J. plays. He was tough, tough, tough all weekend long on them. I think B.J. showed what a 24-year-old senior is like in this league. He’s a man.”
“Playing against Parise and Bochenski for 120 minutes, you gotta come ready to play,” Abel said. “Defensively I thought I played really well, and a lot of other guys did too. Shut those guys down. It worked out great.”
So what does MSU’s second place standing and four-point series win mean?
“Well, obviously it’s a big weekend for us,” Jutting said. “But you know what? It’s not the end for us. Big weekend, big win for us, but we need to continue on now. The kids have done a great job of putting themselves in a position to have some real fun this year now. It’ll be back to normal on Monday.”
“There were two very good hockey teams playing,” UND’s Berry said. “It was frustrating not coming away with any points, but like I said, Mankato’s playing very well right now, they’ve got some good goaltending.”
North Dakota hosts Minnesota-Duluth next week in a pivotal match up that could decide home ice in the playoffs for the two teams.
“We’ve had the effort in Denver last weekend and the effort here this weekend,” Berry said. “We just have to have a better result, and that means all 20 guys playing error free hockey and playing to win. We just have to focus on who we have next and hopefully get on a run before the playoffs start here.”
The Mavericks, meanwhile, head to Colorado College with a chance of passing CC for first in the WCHA.
“We’re going into that last weekend with a shot at the league championship,” Jutting said.