MANKATO, Minn. — Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves calls Minnesota State “a team of destiny.” He might be on to something.
The Mavericks (20-8-10) rallied from a two-goal deficit, then tied the game with under a minute remaining in regulation before winning 6-5 in double overtime. The win gave MSU the playoff sweep and sent the Mavericks to the WCHA Final Five.
After being held scoreless on two power-play chances in the first overtime, the Mavericks made the third time a charm as Grant Stevenson scored 1:21 into the second overtime.
“It’s a great feeling,” Stevenson said. “It came down to the wire in OT, and there’s nothing sweeter than to leave Mankato in that way.”
Junior Cole Bassett tried to pass the puck from the left corner. The puck hit a UW stick and landed in the slot for Stevenson. The sophomore blasted the puck past Wisconsin goalie Scott Kabotoff to give his team the 6-5 win in front of 4,617 fans.
“I think it was just down in the corner, and Bassett had the puck in the corner and made a play up front,” Stevenson said. “Hit a stick, and it just kind of bounced right my way. Just a fortunate bounce for us.”
“It had a funny bounce up front and kind of sat down flat for me right in the hash marks, and I just hit it as hard as I could,” Stevenson said. “I saw the goalie looked behind him, and then everyone in the crowds just went nuts. I got tackled by (Steven) Johns there, and it was a great feeling sitting at the bottom of that pile.”
Stevenson and his team got their overtime chance because of Adam Gerlach’s goal with just 32.2 seconds left in the third.
Trailing 5-4, the Mavericks pulled their goalie for the extra skater. Bassett slid the puck towards the net from the left corner. The puck hit the side of the net and bounced in front, where Gerlach put the puck past Kabotoff.
“Adam — that was a huge goal, obviously,” MSU coach Troy Jutting said.
“Bassett threw it on net again,” Stevenson said, who assisted on Gerlach’s goal. “That’s the smartest thing you can do late in the game. Gerlach is a horse. He had two guys on his back and he grabbed that puck and stuffed it home.”
Comebacks are nothing new for the Mavericks, who have rallied over 10 times this from third-period deficits tie or win while also setting an NCAA record for ties in a season with 10. Jutting felt that experience helped his team endure in overtime.
“I will say this [as] I said it before,” Jutting said. “I think being involved in all of those ties helped us. Kids brought it up a couple of times in the locker room, and I think being involved in all of those tight games has really helped in both games.”
“Definitely the team chemistry,” captain B.J. Abel said of why his team has been able to persevere. “We showed it tonight. We got down and we don’t give up. That shows how big of a heart we have. We did it all year, and hopefully we keep doing it. We know we have bigger hearts then anyone in this league.”
“That was a very typical night for us in all honesty,” Jutting said. “We’ve had a lot of comebacks in the third period.”
In the first period, the Mavericks outplayed Wisconsin but found themselves tied 2-2 after 20 minutes of action.
The Badgers took an early lead off a fluky play in MSU’s zone. Defenseman Aaron Forsythe attempted to pass the puck for the Mavericks, but his pass hit teammate Jake Brenk. The puck deflected past goaltender Jason Jensen, and UW’s Brent Gibson got credit for the goal at 2:00 of the first.
MSU was able to tie the game 6:10 later on a goal by Brad Thompson. The sophomore received the puck from Bassett and took a shot on his backhand in front of the net. Kabotoff made the save and attempted to pounce on the rebound. Thompson fought off a Badger defenseman, found the puck and slid it past the sprawled UW goalie to tie the contest.
Defenseman Joe Bourne gave MSU a 2-1 lead on the power play at the 14:50 mark of the first. Off a faceoff win in Wisconsin’s zone, Bourne stepped into a shot from the top of the point that went in just under the crossbar.
But Wisconsin answered back just 21 seconds later. Freshman John Funk found teammate Jake Heisler in the right circle. Heisler sent a quick shot over Jensen’s shoulder to make the score 2-2.
In the second, Wisconsin’s luck continued as the Badgers jumped up to a 4-2 lead.
Gibson scored his second of the night off a three-on-one rush. Tom Sawatske brought the puck down the left side and dished back to Joe Simon at the top of the slot. Simon sent a pass to Gibson on the right, and Gibson finished off the play from a tough angle.
Another fluky bounce led to the Badger’s fourth goal of the evening. After junior Rene Bourque missed a chance in front of the net, the forward tried to pass the puck out front. The puck hit Jensen’s skate and slid into the net. The goal symbolized Jensen’s frustrating night and sent him to the bench for the rest of the evening.
“It’s been an absent for a lot of the year,” Eaves said of the bounces his team received Saturday night. “We had a couple good things happen, and it was good for us. But we didn’t take care of some details going down the stretch.”
MSU started to rally as Dana Sorenson scored with 3:03 left in the second. Defenseman Matt Paluczak fired a shot on net from the top of the point. Kabotoff stopped the shot with a kick save, but Sorenson backhanded the rebound past the goalie as he was pushed to the ice.
Abel brought Minnesota State even with UW as he scored 11 seconds into the third period. The senior carried the puck into Wisconsin’s zone, skated to the lot and fired a low shot past Kabotoff to tie the game at 4-4.
But UW regained the lead off a power-play goal 7:12 into the third. Defenseman Andy Wozniewski fired the puck from the point. The shot missed, but A.J. Degenhardt was able to push the puck towards the crease from the left corner. Funk found the puck and slid it past MSU goalie Jon Volp to give his club a 5-4 lead.
In the first overtime, MSU dominated the play and had several chances to win the game, including two power plays.
At the 5:49 mark, Shane Joseph fed a pass cross-ice to Grant Stevenson on the left wing. Stevenson one-time the pass, but Kabotoff stopped the shot.
On their second power play of the period, Kabotoff robbed Stevenson’s shot from the left circle and stopped Bourne’s blast from the point with a kick save.
Despite being outshot 15-5 in the first overtime, Wisconsin had the best chance to end the game.
On a two-on-one rush twelve minutes in, Bourque passed from the left side to Ryan MacMurchy on the right. Volp stopped MacMurchy’s shot, but his movement carried him out of the net.
Captain Brad Winchester crashed towards the net and tried to find the loss puck in the crease. The senior couldn’t pull the trigger in time, and MSU cleared the rebound.
“He made a hell of a save on (MacMurchy) first,” Eaves said, “and then (Winchester) had two whacks at an open net. Kind of the way it’s been a lot of game. Close but no cigar.”
“It made me a little nervous because we put up so much pressure and then they got that odd man rush,” Abel said. “And I don’t know how they didn’t hit that in. We got through that, the guys stayed calm and we worked our way through it.”
For Wisconsin (13-23-4), the loss marked the end of a very disappointing season for the team.
“When you come down to the playoffs, and tonight’s game in particular, details are what get it done,” Eaves said. “And we fell short in a couple areas, and it ended up hurting us and costing us. So those are lessons for the guys returning. We want them to learn and we want them to remember so they become better players.”
The Mavericks will play Minnesota next Friday in the semifinal game of the WCHA tournament.
“We’re excited,” Stevenson said. “This is one step on the way. We have this first series done in two, which is good for us. Being able to rest and going up and play the Gophers. We’re looking forward to it. It’ll be a tough week of practice. We’re going to work on a lot of things and go up there in the best shape we’re ever going to be in.”
And for this team of destiny, it could be hard for any team to put MSU away for good.
“We’re not going to quit unless there’s no time left on the clock,” Abel said.