MANKATO, Minn. — After taking a crosscheck to the head in the third period, Minnesota State’s David Backes almost couldn’t finish the game.
Fortunately for the Mavericks, he did.
Backes tallied with 1.1 seconds on the clock in the third as the Mavericks rallied to tie the No. 5 Denver Pioneers (11-5-3, 5-5-3 WCHA) in front of 3,190.
“Obviously you’re pleased when you’re down that late in the game to come out with a point,” Maverick coach Troy Jutting said.
“That last goal was kind of a heartbreaker,” DU’s Gabe Gauthier said. “We need a better effort in the last thirty seconds. We need less panic and a better effort from everybody on the ice.”
Trailing 4-3, MSU (3-9-3, 2-7-2 WCHA) pulled goaltender Jon Volp to get the extra attacker. After a scramble in front of the net, Backes found the puck and put it past DU netminder Adam Berkhoel.
“Basically chaos,” Backes said, describing the moment. “You’re trying to stay on your feet and get a look at the puck and whack it to the net. It’s a good feeling.”
“He’s just a good hockey player,” Jutting said of Backes. “He’s a big, strong, tough kid who plays hard and has the ability to score as well. That’s a combination you don’t find a whole bunch.”
Earlier in the third, Backes collided with Denver captain Ryan Caldwell and took a crosscheck to the forehead. The incident resulted in a cut on Backes’ head that forced him to miss a couple of shifts before his heroic goal.
“A little bell-rung, you could say,” Backes said.
Backes also got the Mavericks on track earlier in the game. Trailing 2-0 after the first period, Backes scored on a two-on-one rush in the second.
The freshman forward attempted to pass from the right wing to Shane Joseph on the left side. Pioneer defenseman Brett Skinner intercepted the pass, but he carried the puck into the net as he crashed into Berkhoel. A goal was awarded to Backes at 1:50 after officials reviewed the play.
MSU continued to roll as Kurtis Kisio tied the game 2-2 less than four minutes later. The freshman wristed the puck over Berkhoel’s glove and into the right corner of the net for his first career goal.
Later in the period, sophomore Ryan McKelvie found a loose puck in front of Berkhoel and scored his first tally of the season to give MSU a 3-2 lead at 13:53.
“When we came back after the first period, they took control,” said Gauthier, a sophomore. “We kind of took a lapse, and they shoved it in our faces. We can’t let that happen tomorrow night.”
An early goal by Denver in the third retied the game. Connor James finished off a beautiful give-and-go with Kevin Ulanski by one-timing the puck by Volp from the left circle at 1:44.
The Pioneers weren’t done there. Junior Luke Fulghum got the puck in MSU’s zone and blistered a shot past Volp to give Denver a 4-3 lead 3:47 into the final period.
“I thought we played pretty good with the exception that we made a couple of turnovers there in the third period,” Jutting said. “And to their credit, they took advantage.”
Early on, the Pioneers jumped out to a 1-0 lead just 2:17 into the game. After Volp lost track of a loose puck, DU’s Ryan Helgason found the rubber and put it inside the right post for the freshman’s first collegiate goal.
The lead increased to two as Denver’s Max Bull fed Caldwell for a tip-in goal at 10:25 of the first.
Berkhoel was stellar in the first and kept a slumping MSU power-play unit from catching fire.
The DU goalie stopped 10 shots on the power play in the first, including a point-blank blast from Joseph in front with under two minutes left in the period. Both teams went 0-5 on the power play.
“Adam Berkhoel had a terrific game, and that was the only reason that we were able to get that point,” Denver coach George Gwozdecky said.
After Backes’ goal, both teams had chances in overtime, but neither could score.
“Kind of a character tie there,” Backes added who said his team needs to play a whole game with the intensity it showed in the final minute Friday.
“It was a fun game to play,” Gauthier said. “Wish it was a different outcome, though.”
Gwozdecky was upset with his team’s play and thought the Pioneers lucky to earn a tie despite leading in the last seconds of regulation. Denver was outshot 47-33.
“When you play sporadically like we did and you’re able to get 15 or 16 minutes of decent play and really get outplayed the rest of the way, we’re lucky to get a point. It’s probably obvious to say this, but the game didn’t come down to that last shift in the third period where they were able to tie it up,” Gwozdecky said.
The two teams will play the series finale Saturday at 7:05 p.m. at the Midwest Wireless Civic Center.
“We’ve got to find some way to play a lot better because that’s just not good enough,” Gwozdecky said.