MANKATO, Minn. — Minnesota State rallied for a 5-5 tie against the U.S. Under-18 Team in exhibition play Saturday.
MSU’s Brock Becker scored two goals, including the game-tying goal with 5:30 left in the third. Becker was playing in his first game since he broke his foot against Minnesota on January 14.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better start,” Becker said.
Maverick coach Troy Jutting said he had planned to only play Becker on the power plays and in one or two shifts per period, but he decided to expand his playing time once he realized the junior was capable of doing so.
“Brock looked good. Shows what we’ve been missing the last five weeks,” Jutting said.
The exhibition game gave Becker the opportunity to get prepared for next weekend’s WCHA match against Denver.
“It was huge,” Becker said. “This game worked out perfect for me just to get a little ice time and to get a feel for the game again.”
Becker, who said he hardly slept Saturday night due to the anticipation of playing, started and finished the scoring in the game.
On a power play in the first, Mark Hinz’s shot from the point was stopped by USA goalie Joe Palmer. Becker found the rebound in front, went from backhand to forehand, and slid the puck under Palmer at 16:14 of the period to put his team up 1-0.
Then, with his team trailing 5-4, Becker got the puck at the USA blueline, broke in alone on Palmer, and beat the netminder between his legs for his second goal of the game at 14:30 of the third.
The game was a seesaw battle between the two squads.
After Becker’s first goal, Team USA answered back with a goal from Phil Kessel. On a two-on-one down low, Kessel took a feed from Peter Mueller and scored from the left side at 17:07.
MSU regained the lead off a shorthanded goal. Palmer came out to play a puck in the USA zone, and Maverick forward Adam Gerlach skated in and pressured Palmer. The goalie attempted to throw the puck into the corner, but Gerlach knocked the puck out of midair and corralled it into the empty net at 18:30.
Finally, at 19:45, USA’s Kyle Lawson ripped a shot from the blue line that beat MSU goalie Kyle Nixon high. Lawson’s goal came on a five-on-three power play and tied the game at 2-2.
The Mavericks recaptured the lead with another shorthanded goal just 1:11 into the second. Joel Hanson intercepted an errant pass at mid ice, broke in alone on Palmer, and beat the goalie over Palmer’s left shoulder.
Once again, Team USA bounced right back. Luke Popko scored a fluky goal by throwing the puck up from behind the net. The puck hit Nixon, who was sprawled on the ice, in the back and bounced into the net at 6:40 of the second.
Ryan Stoa gave Team USA its first lead of the game at 9:05 of the second. Skating four-on-four, Lawson moved in from the point and took a backhanded shot from the slot. Nixon made a pad save on the shot, but Stoa was there to slam home the rebound.
Popko increased his team’s lead with his second goal of the night. With the Mavericks on the power play, Popko stole the puck from Hinz at the USA blueline and broke in alone on Nixon. He backhanded the puck into the top right corner of the net at 11:36 of the second.
“They played a really good game,” Becker said. “It was fun. They didn’t play like 17-year-olds with men. They played like men with men.”
The Mavericks cut Team USA’s lead in half with a power-play goal by Brad Thompson at 16:53 of the second. Thompson deflected Ryan Carter’s shot to make it a 5-4 contest.
In the third, the Mavericks poured on heavy pressure and finally got the equalizer on Becker’s chance.
In overtime, Palmer stopped Rob Rankin’s partial breakaway. At the other end, Nixon answered by robbing Nathan Gerbe’s chance at the right post with a diving save. Both teams also failed to score on the power play in overtime.
The Mavericks outshot Team USA 46-36 and went 2 for 11 on the power play. Team USA went 1 for 7 with the man advantage.
“I was pleased,” Jutting said. “That’s a very, very good hockey team. A very skilled hockey team.”
Next weekend, Team USA will continue play against collegiate teams as it takes on Michigan. The Mavericks will host Denver.