MANKATO, Minn. — It was a win that was long overdue for Shane Joseph and Minnesota State.
After suffering its worst season since joining the WCHA in 1999, MSU closed out the regular season by beating Nebraska-Omaha 9-1 Saturday night in a nonconference matchup.
The win gave MSU a sweep over UNO (7-24-5), ensuring that the Spirit of the Maverick trophy will remain in Mankato for another year. The win also gave MSU (9-22-5) a season best three-game winning streak.
“I think we’re as high as we’ve been on that rollercoaster all year,” MSU coach Troy Jutting said. “It’s nice to get our first three-game winning streak of the season.”
Four times this season, Minnesota State has lost by six or more goals at home. The worst was a punishing 10-1 loss by North Dakota in MSU’s last home game.
“We’ve been run out of the barn, so to say, five or six times this year,” Joseph said. “So it definitely feels good to be on the other side of that. It’s good for our confidence, and it’s an overall good feeling that we have throughout the team.”
Joseph, the team’s captain and MVP, provided the spark by scoring the team’s first two goals. He also added an assist. Freshman David Backes led all scorers with four assists, and goalie Jon Volp stopped 27 shots to get his third straight win.
Special teams were key in the game. MSU went 5 for 9 on the power play, including 4 for 4 in the first period. Nebraska-Omaha went 1 for 6.
The first of MSU’s four power-play tallies in the opening period came at 2:55. Defenseman Steven Johns fired a shot from the point that hit UNO’s Chris Claffey in front of the net. The puck ricocheted to the left side of the net to Joseph. The senior put the puck past UNO goalie Kris Tebbs, who was out of position, for his 16th of the season.
Joseph struck again 1:51 later. After a scramble in front, Joseph tried to put the puck in the right side. Tebbs made the save, but Joseph wrapped around the back of the net to the left side and scored.
“I thought Shane played extremely well tonight. I thought all of our guys played pretty good,” Jutting said.
Nebraska-Omaha cut the lead in half as Mike Lefley made good on UNO’s only power play of the first. The sophomore fired a shot from the right circle that hit the crossbar and went in at 9:46 to make the score 2-1.
MSU went up 3-1 at 16:50 of the period. Joseph fed Backes from behind the net, and Backes put a shot on net from the left side. Tebbs stopped Backes, but the rebound went to Chad Clower on the right side, who put the puck into the net.
Johns finished off the scoring in the period by one-timing a pass from Backes past Tebbs with 16 seconds left in the first. Johns’ goal, his third of the year, chased Tebbs from net, who gave way to Chris Holt. It also capped the 4 for 4 power play performance in the period.
The Mavericks came into the game with a hot power play, scoring on 7 of their past 13 extra-man opportunities. Jutting said the key was that his team was moving the puck better on the power play recently.
“It’s nice to see the power play working as well as it has,” Jutting said.
“We’ve been a very good penalty killing team all year long and very proud of our penalty kill,” UNO coach Mike Kemp said. “Tonight, it seemed like every shot that went at the net went in. Our penalty killers seemed to be standing in cement tonight.”
In the second, Volp played strong to keep the ice slanted in MSU’s favor. Volp stopped Dan Knapp’s power-play chance in the slot early in the period. Later on, he robbed Andrew Wong on a shorthanded tip in front of the net.
“Jon Volp, I thought, played another good hockey game. It’s nice to see him on top of his game as well,” Jutting said.
Meanwhile, MSU continued to put in the goals. Jake Brenk scored his fourth goal of the year at 13:53, and Adam Gerlach scored Mankato’s fifth power-play goal at 15:30.
Travis Morin scored two goals and Brad Thompson also tallied in the third to cap the 9-1 win.
For Joseph and three other MSU seniors, it was the last time they will play in front of their home crowd at the Midwest Wireless Civic Center. Joseph made sure he left on a good note with his three-point night.
“Anytime you leave a team or play your last game at a rink, you want to have a good showing,” Joseph said. “You want to come out and play your best hockey for the fans and for yourself too.”
With the conference playoffs coming up next weekend, both MSU and UNO are facing powerhouse opponents.
Nebraska-Omaha will face off against No. 6 Michigan, the CCHA top seed.
“Obviously it’s a new season,” Kemp said. “The way our season has gone, all we’re looking for is something good to happen.”
Minnesota State will head north to face No. 5 Minnesota-Duluth, the second seed in the WCHA.
“To win it 9-1, I think, helps our confidence heading into the playoffs,” Jutting said. “Now we’ll play a great team … We just need to make sure that we’re ready to play as good as we’re capable of playing.”
“A win is a win no matter who you’re playing, and it’s contagious and you learn how to do it,” Joseph said. “We’re excited about next weekend. We’re on a role here, and we’re going to look forward to keeping that up for next weekend.”