MANKATO, Minn. — For the second year in a row, Providence swept Minnesota State in the Mavericks’ first series of the year.
Duplicating last season’s feat in Rhode Island, the Friars (4-0-0) swept this year’s series with a 5-3 win over MSU (0-2-0) in a physical contest that finished with 70 penalty minutes and the ejections of three players.
Chase Watson had two goals, Cody Loughlean, Torry Gajda each tallied a goal and an assist, and PC’s power play went 3-for-5 in front of 3,227 fans.
“We have to have a good power play,” said Providence coach Paul Pooley. “Last year, our power play struggled. This year, the difference is we’re moving the puck. We’re being a little more unselfish with the puck.”
But, for the second night in a row, it was the Mavericks who jumped out to an early 1-0 lead. MSU was able to do in six seconds of power-play time what it couldn’t do with 10 minutes the night before: score.
Off a faceoff win, defensemen Steven Johns passed the puck from the blue line to freshman David Backes at the left circle. Backes one-timed the puck past Friar netminder Bobby Goepfert at the 2:38 mark for his first collegiate goal.
“It was a great feeling,” Backes said. “The crowd was riled up, three minutes into the game, power-play goal … couldn’t ask for anything more.”
“I thought David played very well this weekend,” MSU coach Troy Jutting said of Backes, who finished the weekend with three points. “For his first weekend of college hockey, I don’t know that you can expect a whole bunch more than that.”
But the lead didn’t last long. Loughlean made a drop pass back to Peter Zingoni at MSU’s blue line. Zingoni fired a wrist shot that squeaked between MSU goalie Jon Volp’s pads and slowly rolled across the goal line at the 6:17 mark.
The Friars took the lead at 12:30 of the first with a power-play goal. Watson, a freshman, started the play with a shot from the top of the slot. Gajda found the rebound amidst sprawled skaters in front and tapped the puck in for his second goal in as many nights.
At the 17:46 mark of the first frame, a melee erupted when PC’s Bill McCreary slashed at Volp’s glove after the whistle blew. All 10 skaters and Volp turned the ice into a WWE event, which led to the ejection of McCreary and MSU’s Cole Bassett.
“Their guy was just in front of our net jabbing our goalie, and we weren’t going to take that tonight,” said Backes, who received a penalty for checking during the scrum.
“Hockey’s a physical game, and all it takes is one little thing like that for everybody to go off,” Watson said.
The fracas not only gave MSU a power play but also the emotion the Mavericks had lacked all series long. They used both to even the game before the end of the period. Shane Joseph snuck in from the right side and put a rebound past Goepfert at 18:49 of the period.
Rough play continued in the third as MSU sophomore Brock Becker was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct for checking from behind. The Friars took advantage of the extended power play as Loughlean notched his second goal of the year at the 2:16 mark.
The Mavericks answered with another power-play goal to tie the game at 3. Backes fired from the left side, and sophomore Jeff Marler, positioned in front of the net, deflected the puck past Goepfert at 9:08 of the second. The Mavericks finished 3 for 6 on the man advantage.
But Providence continued to ride a hot power play and scored its third extra-attacker goal of the night on Watson’s third goal of the year, giving the Friars a 4-3 lead at 16:50 of the second.
“A lot of times on the power play when you’re creating chances, sometimes you get nights where the puck is just going in the net,” Watson said. “Luckily tonight we got some bounces and got some goals.”
The Mavericks came close to tying the game with less than four minutes left in the third when Backes got the puck alone in front of Goepfert off a two-on-one with Joseph. However, the freshman fired the puck wide.
“I think if I hit the net, it’s a tie game,” Backes said. “It was inches.”
Watson added his second goal of the night on an empty-netter with five seconds remaining as the Friars won 5-3.
“It feels real good,” Watson said of the sweep. “We knew coming out here these guys were a tough team. It feels real good to just battle out two victories.”
“We got beat by a better team tonight,” Jutting said. “We did not play with the heart and emotion you need to play with to win against a team like Providence.”
However, Jutting drew comparisons to last year’s sweep and found positives.
“I think we’re a lot better team on the first weekend of the season this year than we were last year,” Jutting said. “Now, the question is, will this team improve the same way last year’s team did.”
MSU will hit the road next weekend to play Bemidji State in a nonconference series. Providence returns home for a contest against Boston University Friday.
“Obviously coming out here for two wins was big,” Pooley said, “but you know what, it means nothing come Friday night.”