GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Was it Minnesota State’s coaching or was it the Mavericks’ never-say-die attitude that gave them a stunning last-second road victory over eighth-ranked North Dakota?
It was probably a combination of both that led to sophomore forward David Backes’ goal with three seconds left to give MSU a 4-3 upset victory.
UND rallied to tie the game 3-3 at 13:59 of the third period on a power play goal by sophomore forward Drew Stafford. But the Mavericks played a full 60 minutes and the Sioux didn’t.
“It hurts because we thought we were going to come back and win it,” said Sioux forward Brady Murray. “Three seconds left, and they scored. It’s more of a shock than anything.”
As the clock wound down, MSU made one final rush into UND’s zone. Junior forward Brock Becker was knocked down, got back up and carried the puck into the right circle where he spotted Backes all alone.
“He beat one of their guys and found me at the back door,” Backes said of Becker’s effort. “I had the easy part. He made the great play. There’s nothing the goalie can do when it’s a backdoor pass and nobody’s on me.”
Becker and Backes had discussed such a play, but it didn’t happen exactly as they’d planned.
“Before last night’s game I was talking to him (Backes) and I said, ‘If it comes down to it, I’m going to be on the back door. You hit me.’ It’s kind of ironic that I hit him on the back door.”
Following MSU’s 3-2 loss Friday to UND, Mavericks coach Troy Jutting expressed disappointment with his team’s performance.
“Last night after the game, I thought we needed to do something to shake us up a bit,” Jutting said.
On Saturday morning, the coach ordered his players to put on their gear and he held a full practice.
“We skated our butts off in the morning,” Becker said. “It was different, but we all bought in. We said, ‘Let’s try something new.’ Whatever we were doing wasn’t working.”
Jutting said he didn’t know if the extra practice made the difference, but he did know that the Mavericks played better Saturday night.
“I think tonight we showed up at the rink ready to play for the whole 60 minutes,” he said. “It’s not something we’ve done at all this year and not something we normally do. But I just really felt like we needed to change something up to have a different outcome.”
UND opened the scoring in the first period with a goal by Murray at the 2:37 mark. MSU responded with a power play goal by junior forward Jeff Marler at 11:49.
The Mavericks took a 2-1 lead with a power play goal at 13:40 of the second period. Backes tipped in defenseman Steven Johns shot from the point. But the Sioux answered with a power play goal of their own at 15:41. Freshman forward Rastislav Spirko shot in the rebound from senior defenseman Matt Jones’ shot.
Untimely mistakes in the third period proved costly to UND. With the game tied 2-2, Sioux goalie Jordan Parise charged out of the crease to play a loose puck in the slot. But his clearing attempt went directly on to the stick of MSU forward Brad Thompson who fired it back into the vacant net at the 1:40 mark.
“If you make a decision to make the play, you have to get it done,” said UND coach Dave Hakstol. “It was unfortunate, but the bottom line is, you have to make the play.”
The Sioux tied it 3-3 late in the third period when Stafford one-timed Colby Genoway’s cross-ice pass past MSU goalie John Volp.
But with time running out, Hakstol said defensive breakdowns in the Sioux zone led directly to Backes’ game-winning goal.
“The last 15-20 seconds of a game, there can’t be that type of a breakdown,” he noted.
Murray said the Sioux believed that if the game went into overtime, they had momentum on their side and would win it.
“I think we thought we were going to wait until overtime to win,” he said. “We kind of laid back in the last minute. They took it to us and they got the late goal.”
Jutting had nothing but praise for Backes’ two-goal performance and last-second heroics.
“David’s a great player,” he said. “He put himself in position to have the puck at a crucial time in a good spot, and I think that’s what great players do.”
UND’s overall record is 14-8-2 (10-7-1 WCHA). MSU improves to 8-11-3 overall (5-10-1 WCHA). The Sioux next travel to Colorado College for a two-game series Jan. 14-15. MSU plays a two-game series at Minnesota Jan. 14-5.