MANKATO, Minn. — If there are two sides to every story, there are also two sides to every shutout.
After Minnesota State-Mankato (18-8-9) blanked Nebraska-Omaha 3-0 Thursday night, each team faced different realities.
For MSU, it was the first shutout of the season. It also came after the team gave up 14 goals last weekend at Colorado College.
For Nebraska-Omaha (13-20-4), it was the third consecutive shutout against. Last weekend, UNO was defeated 4-0 and 5-0 by Ferris State. The team hasn’t scored a goal in 188:35 of playing time.
“Good things happen to teams who work to make good things happen,” UNO coach Mike Kemp said. “They don’t just happen because you want them to. We’re not working hard enough to get the goals. We’re getting close, but we’re not working hard enough.”
Sophomore goaltender Jon Volp led MSU with 34 saves. Freshman Brock Becker scored the game-winning goal and also added an assist in front of 3,360 fans at MSU’s last regular-season home game.
MSU took the lead late in the first period as Becker scored his 12th goal of the season with 2:45 left in the first.
Defenseman Joe Bourne sent a pass from the MSU zone all the way to Becker at the UNO blue line. Becker, with an Omaha defenseman draped on his back, came in on goalie Dan Ellis, deked, and slid the puck under the junior goaltender to give his team a 1-0 lead.
“I think Brock’s really starting to come into his own,” MSU coach Troy Jutting said. “You can see him gaining confidence.”
UNO defenseman Greg Zanon came close to tying the game just moments later. With less than two minutes left in the period, Zanon fired a shot from inside the blue line. The puck hit the crossbar, bounced down and was swept away.
In the second, Volp stayed sharp and kept Nebraska-Omaha off the scoreboard.
Early in the period, he stopped shots from Aaron Smith and Mike Lefley on the right side of the zone.
Later on, Volp snagged a Zanon slapshot in his glove with only 31.9 seconds left in the second.
Meanwhile, MSU increased the lead to two as Becker’s effort resulted in another goal at the 14:44 mark of the second.
The freshman carried the puck into UNO’s zone on a two-on-two rush with Ryan McKelvie. After losing the puck, Becker and an Omaha defenseman slid into the Ellis. McKelvie grabbed the puck and tossed it over the sprawled goaltender for his second career goal and second in as many games.
Once again, UNO responded immediately but found only metal.
After a turnover by MSU in its own zone, UNO leading scorer David Brisson fired a laser shot from the slot. The puck nailed the post and bounced away.
“Seems to be our luck lately,” Brisson said. “It would have changed the game. But hey, what can you do?”
Christian Toll scored his first career goal 3:47 into the third to give MSU a 3-0 lead.
After bouncing off a skate in the UNO zone, the puck caromed over to Toll, who was all alone on the left side of the net. Toll backhanded the puck past Ellis to pad MSU’s lead.
“He’s a great kid,” Jutting said. “The kids just love him. It’s neat when a kid like that scores … I think the guys on the bench are happier than the guy who scored the goal.”
After MSU was called for too many men, the only penalty of the game, UNO had a chance to score with the power play. But Volp stopped Zanon’s tipped shot from the point to preserve the shutout.
“Something like that,” Volp said, “the ref’s not calling things all night and then the linesman calls a penalty. You think, ‘Oh, here we go. Gonna lose it right here.’ But, luckily the team played great, and it feels good.”
With 1:33 left in the game, Joe Pereira had the last chance for UNO. His shot from the left circle was stopped by a kick save from Volp.
For Volp, it was his first shutout in 25 career games.
“I’m happy for Jon,” Jutting said. “I thought Jon did a nice job tonight.”
“After the second period, that’s all you think about is getting the shutout,” Volp said. “You try to block it out of your mind, but you just keep thinking, ‘Five more minutes,’ or whatever. Just nags on you. It’s a relief to finally get it.”
The last time Volp was in net, he got chased by CC after giving up his sixth goal of the game last Friday night.
“It feels great to come back and get a shutout, especially after giving up six goals on 31 shots,” Volp said. “It helps a lot for my confidence going into the playoffs.”
As for UNO’s offensive woes, Kemp has just been trying to encourage his players to keep fighting for the goals.
“All you can do is say, ‘Keep plugging away and keep going after it. Something will bounce in or hit somebody’s skate or hit the shaft of the goalie’s stick and go in.’ … You just have to keep going after it. You don’t have any other alternative,” Kemp said.
“You gotta pay a price to score goals,” Kemp added. “Not every goal is a clear shot, not every goal is a clean shot. You gotta get bodies to the net, you gotta get people to the net, create a little disturbance, and pretty soon the puck bounces to you.”
“Obviously we’re all looking forward to scoring a goal,” Brisson said. “We had some opportunities again tonight, a couple crossbars. You can’t rely on that to win a hockey game.”
The two teams will finish the series Saturday night in Omaha, where the Maverick Cup will be on the line. The game will also be the last in the Omaha Civic Auditorium for UNO.
“It’s going to be a bittersweet thing,” Kemp said. “It’s going to be hard to leave the place, but we know we’re going to a real exciting place to play next year.”
“We gotta find a way to score some goals before the playoffs,” Brisson said. “Obviously Saturday’s our last game before the playoffs. Hopefully we can get one right away in the first period.”