ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Don’t try and convince the Minnesota State Mavericks or the St. Cloud State Huskies, who were eighth and 10th in the WCHA standings coming in, that their matchup Friday night at the National Hockey Center was a meaningless bout between bottom-feeders.
After a down-to-the-wire 4-3 MSU victory that featured 40 penalty minutes and a few major momentum-benders, it was clear both teams had plenty to play for.
Breaking out of some slumps was just the tip of the iceberg. Consider: the Huskies, fresh off a split with No. 2 Colorado College, were trying to break a seven-game conference losing streak at home, while MSU was trying to get the jump on a slide of its own that has led the Mavericks to only two wins in their last 15 games.
“Every game going on in this league tonight determines the standings which makes it great for the fans, the kids, the players and the coaches,” said Maverick head coach Troy Jutting. “You look at the last three weekends — Anchorage, Michigan Tech and St. Cloud — teams that are seven, eight, nine, and ten that are beating teams that are one, two, three, and four in this league with some regularity, not just in one game. That’s what makes this league so special.”
The Mavericks and Huskies traded crucial penalties late in the third period to swap power-play goals, but MSU freshman Austin Sutter got the last laugh with 1:30 remaining in regulation as he stuffed home a rebound that bounced off Husky goalie Tim Boron’s glove for the game winner.
The win felt a little better than most to MSU, considering the Mavericks were playing without three of their top forwards in Travis Morin, Brock Becker, and Jeff Marler due to injury. Along with Sutter, freshman Ryan Carter helped make up for the Mavericks’ offensive absences with two goals of his own.
“Missing those guys — that’s a big part of our offense, but we’re a hard-working team,” Carter said. “Our goal is to shoot the puck and go to the net. Missing Travis, Brock, and Marler on the power play, that slowed us down the last couple weeks but finally tonight we found it.”
Minnesota State struck first on a shorthanded opportunity at the 18:18 mark. After two Dave Iannazzo shots clanged off the left post, Mankato junior Rob Rankin darted the other way and made a power move past Brock Hooton near the left post.
Rankin’s shot bounced off SCSU goalie Tim Boron and found senior Brad Thompson’s stick in midair to give the Mavericks the early lead. Thompson’s eighth goal of the season (the third in his last four games) made up for a 2-on-0 rush earlier in the period where he fired wide left of the net, instead of using linemate Adam Gerlach.
MSU goalie Chris Clark made a quick stick-save on a breakaway by Husky senior Mike Doyle and then stifled Nate Dey on another breakaway with a point-blank glove save in the second period. After Hooton’s wrist shot from the right circle glanced off the left post, Husky freshman defenseman Aaron Brocklehurst finally found the back of the net with a top-shelf wrister past Clark stick-side to tie the game at the 14:28 mark.
The Mavericks took a 2-1 lead at the 17:19 mark on a 4-on-3 when Carter’s slapshot from the right circle trickled through Boron’s pads.
“Those goals, nobody wants to get them, but when they get them they’re glad when they get them,” Carter said. “(Boron) made the save but the puck had eyes, I guess.”
The Mavericks extended their lead to 3-1 4:05 into the third period when they caught Boron out of position trying to dig at a puck behind the net. MSU sophomore Kurtis Kisio ended up with the puck by the crossbar and found Carter near the left post for a one-timer before Boron could fully recover.
A pretty play from a couple Husky seniors on a two-on-one kept the game close. Peter Szabo floated a pass over Steven Johns’ stick to Iannazzo at the left post, and Iannazzo slammed on the breaks quickly enough to tuck a shot past Clark far-side.
The Mavericks’ status as the most-penalized team in the WCHA seemed to bite them at the worst time possible. Rankin, whose frustration was building since a goal off his skate was called back early in the first period, put the Mavericks’ lead in jeopardy midway through the third period. After getting a holding penalty, Rankin jabbed Iannazzo in the helmet to give him back-to-back minors and the Huskies a 5-on-3 power play.
After MSU gained one man back, Iannazzo got his revenge by tallying his second straight far-side goal after streaking inside from the left circle to tie the game at 3 at the 12:24 mark.
The Huskies returned the favor when SCSU freshman Casey Borer took a crucial holding penalty to give the Mavericks a power play with 2:20 left in regulation.
MSU senior Jake Brenk fired a shot from between the circles that bounced off Boron’s glove and Sutter muscled home the game-winner at the crease with 1:30 left.
“It was a good comeback but with a tie game late in the game, but you can’t take a penalty,” said SCSU head coach Craig Dahl. “Realistically, I don’t think our defensemen played well all game.”
MSU got into more of an open-ice offensive game than the Huskies wanted.
“We know that’s their style, to run and gun,” Iannazzo said. “We wanted to play down in their zone, working their ‘D.’ We wanted a hard working game with a lot of mucking and grinding to get our goals. [The loss] is kind of tough to take right now.”
With their third straight victory at the NHC, the Mavericks move up to 10-15-6 (7-14-4 WCHA), while SCSU falls to 13-18-2 (7-16-0 WCHA). The teams will conclude the series Saturday at Mankato, where SCSU won earlier this season 4-2.