ST. PAUL, Minn. — “Home” wasn’t that sweet for Minnesota State Friday night.
Taking on Minnesota at the Xcel Center — in a game originally slated for the Midwest Wireless Center in Mankato — the Mavericks gave up a hat trick to Minnesota’s Danny Irmen as the Gophers posted a 9-6 win.
In a wide-open contest devoid of defense and goaltending, the Gophers tried to put the Mavericks away with a five-goal second period. But Minnesota State endured to keep it a game most of the way, though the Mavericks never got closer than two goals late.
Moving the game to the spacious confines of the Xcel netted the Minnesota State athletic department $100,000, by some estimates, though some viewed it as a dangerous precedent.
“We did not give away home ice,” said Minnesota State head coach Troy Jutting. “That was not why we lost the game.”
Paid attendance was announced at 17,019, with the crowd split 50-50 or slightly favoring the Gophers, depending on who was asked.
For Minnesota, the win ended a three-game losing streak, the Gophers’ first in 15 months. The nine goals for Minnesota equaled its season high, as did the nine allowed by Minnesota State. Conversely, the six goals allowed by the Gophers were a season-most, and six scored by the Mavericks tied their high this year.
“It was one of those wild nights,” said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia. “Someone was going to win with a field goal.”
Before the game, 10-year-old Mankato native Katherine Kjeer delivered a nervous but crowd-pleasingly lilting version of the national anthem. But once play began, the jumpiest folks in the arena were the goaltenders.
Three netminders — Kellen Briggs for Minnesota, and Chris Clark and Jon Volp for Minnesota State — combined to allow 15 goals and an .805 save percentage. Clark, in particular, received an unusual accolade, returning to the ice in the third period after being pulled early in the second. His replacement, Volp, had given up three goals on seven shots during his stint.
“It wasn’t Kellen’s finest hour,” said Lucia. “He has won a lot of games for us this year. … Tonight, our offense bailed him out.”
Irmen’s goals were the Gophers’ second, third and sixth of the game, giving him his first career hat trick. His final marker, at 12:10 of the second period, made the score 6-2 as Minnesota seemed to turn the contest into a rout.
Up 7-4 after two periods, Minnesota looked to shut off the lights with Tyler Hirsch’s goal at 4:26 of the third, a shot from the left side that caught Clark (27 saves, six goals against) out of position.
But the Mavericks wouldn’t go away, scoring two goals during a five-on-three power play. After penalties to Minnesota’s Barry Tallackson and Chris Harrington put the Mavericks up two men for over a minute, Kyle Peto scored cleanly on a slapshot for his first goal of the season at 11:18.
Seconds later, Ryan Carter turned the would-be rout into a game again. Operating in the left circle, Kurtis Kisio swung a cross-ice pass to Carter in the right circle, and Carter ripped a slapshot past the blocker side of Briggs (31 saves) to trim the Gopher lead to 8-6.
But Ryan Potulny finally got into the scoring act for the Gophers to end it. Andy Sertich’s shot rebounded to Potulny, who skimmed it into the right side of the net to make it 9-6 Minnesota at 13:49.
Potulny’s goal was his 20th of the season, and Irmen picked up the second assist to give him a four-point night.
“That was a total team effort defensively,” said Jutting. “I don’t even want to say ‘effort.’”
Early on, the fireworks started with a Gino Guyer shorthander for Minnesota at 4:23 of the first. The Mavericks knotted the score on a goal from Brock Becker, who backhanded the puck past Briggs at 7:56, but Irmen gave Minnesota the lead again at 10:18, banging the puck in off Clark’s arm.
The first frame ended 2-1, but Irmen added to the Minnesota lead at 1:57 of the second while cutting across the high slot. And at 7:48, Atherton rang a shot home off the post as Clark waved helplessly.
Atherton’s goal ended Clark’s first stint in net, as Jutting pulled him for Volp. The move paid dividends when Adam Gerlach fired a Lucas Fransen centering pass in at 8:04 to narrow the advantage to 4-2.
Tom Pohl restored the Gophers’ three-goal lead at 11:46. Garrett Smaagaard unleashed a blast from the left side, and Pohl sent home the rebound.
Irmen then finished the hat trick on a shorthanded breakaway. Given 100 feet of ice to work with, Irmen deked twice and nearly lost the puck before watching it trickle inside the left post, his 17th of the season, just 24 seconds after Pohl’s tally.
“I got the whole thing,” laughed Irmen. “I have not had a hat trick, probably, since high school. [But] the ‘W’ means more.”
Down 6-2, Gerlach squeezed a centering pass to Thompson, who one-timed it in at 14:19. Three minutes later, the Mavericks pulled within two once more on Becker’s second strike, off a deflected pass by Jeff Marler.
Midway through the third, though, Becker left with a possible broken foot. X-rays are expected Saturday.
“[Becker] has made some big plays for us lately,” said Jutting. “He had a big goal in North Dakota. We won’t know until tomorrow.”
The Gophers, as they did all game, responded immediately. Just seven seconds after Becker’s goal, Tallackson squashed the attempted comeback, taking a centering pass from Guyer and firing inside the far post to make it 7-4 Gophers after two.
The two teams play again Saturday night in Mankato at 7 p.m. CT.