MANKATO, Minn. — Brock Becker decided to give his coach the perfect gift: the game-winning goal in the first game of the playoffs.
The freshman broke a 1-1 tie with 7:35 left and lifted Minnesota State to a 2-1 victory against Wisconsin. MSU coach Troy Jutting, who turned 39 Friday, picked up his first playoff victory in his third year as head coach.
“I was just lucky to get one, I guess,” Becker said. “Definitely a good win. Good birthday present for him, I guess.”
“Really good gift. Best gift you can get,” Jutting said.
With the game tied, Becker received the pass at the blue line from fellow freshman Ryan McKelvie. Becker came in on the right side of a two-on-one with Jon Hart and fired the puck between UW goaltender Bernd Bruckler’s legs.
“Great pass by Ryan McKelvie,” Becker said. “Actually, we just spoke about it before. I said, ‘Hit me. I want it. I want the puck.’ And he gave it to me, and it worked out perfect. I looked off the shot, and the goalie fell for it. I just shot it five-hole, and fortunately enough, it went in.”
“I thought Brock had a very good game,” Jutting said. “He had probably two or three real good chances before he scored the goal, so he probably had three or four real quality chances tonight. He’s played very well the last 10, 12 games.”
After Becker’s heroics, it was up to sophomore goaltender Jon Volp. Starting his first playoff game ever, Volp robbed UW leading scorer Rene Bourque right after Becker’s goal.
Bourque found the puck and came in all alone on Volp. But he was unable to fake the goalie out, and his low shot was stopped.
“That was one of the key saves, no question,” Jutting said.
The Mavericks started the game with an incredible jump and took the lead just 1:18 into the contest.
After Dana Sorenson pushed the puck towards the crease from behind the net, Bruckler tried to nudge the puck away. However, the puck went right to MSU’s Grant Stevenson in front, who backhanded the puck past Bruckler to give his team a 1-0 lead.
But the Badgers were able to weather the early storm and tied the game at the 8:03 mark. Defenseman Brian Fahey ripped a shot from the slot that clanged off the post and into the net. Like a needle in a balloon, his goal seemed to deflate the arena filled with 4,182 fans.
“I think early in the game,” Fahey said, “I don’t know if it was playoffs or just coming into the building, but we were a little nervous and jittery. We’re a young team. But once we got our first goal, it gave guys a lot of confidence that we can play with this team and we can be in this game.”
“In games like this for young men, the emotional factor is sometimes too hard,” said UW coach Mike Eaves. “They’re not playing at their peak performance. I knew they were going to come out and give us a storm, and we just needed to weather it and settle in and get going, and we did that.”
Each team had excellent chances to score again, but the goaltenders settled down and shut down the opposing offenses.
At the 15:25 mark, Bourque found the puck after a scramble in front of MSU’s net. The junior fired a wrist shot on goal, but Volp made a right kick save to stop the attempt.
Later in the period, Maverick captain B.J. Abel finished off a two-on-two rush by firing the puck from the slot. However, Bruckler stopped the shot and stoned Brad Thompson on the rebound attempt.
The defensive struggle continued into the second as both goalkeepers managed to keep the game tied.
While the Badgers enjoyed an early power play, Fahey fired a shot from the left point. Volp made the save, and the puck bounced high in the air. Jake Heisler attempted to find the rebound and put it in, but the MSU defense did a good job of clearing the puck.
Later in the period, Becker had a chance to give MSU the lead as he started a two-on-one rush down ice. However, Bruckler denied him in close.
In the third, Volp was unbeatable and made 12 of his 33 saves.
Seconds into the period, Fahey passed from the top of the right side to Heisler in the crease. Heisler tipped the pass on net, but Volp made the stop look easy with a quick glove save.
After the game, Jutting was singing praises of both goalies.
“(Volp) had three or four that I thought were very good saves, as well as Bruckler…Especially this time of the year, hockey becomes a very momentum game. I thought both goalies did a good job of keeping the momentum for their teams and turned it into a great hockey game,” Jutting said.
“They’re a good team,” Becker said. “They didn’t get the respect stats-wise in the league. We weren’t looking forward to playing them, that’s for sure. But it was a big win. We knew we were going to have to battle, and it was going to be a close game. Just to come away with the win, we’re happy and looking forward to tomorrow.”
“I think we had our chances tonight,” Fahey said. “We had breakaways, we had missed shots. I think the chances were there, we just didn’t bury them. We gotta give the goalie and their defense credit, but hopefully tomorrow, when it comes down to crunch time, we can put those in the net when we need them.”
The Mavericks will try to close out the series tomorrow night with a win against the Badgers. Wisconsin, on the other hand, will attempt to stretch the series to three games with a victory tomorrow. Game time is set for 7:05 p.m.
“This team all year has responded pretty well,” Eaves said. “One of our quotes we use on the bench is ‘Next best shift.’ Now we gotta have our next best game.”