MANKATO, Minn. — When these two teams get together, the unexpected is expected, and the defense goes into hibernation.
Minnesota State knocked off the No. 1 Denver Pioneers by a score of 8-5 in the latest chapter in a story of bizarre contests.
Last year, the two teams combined to score 47 goals in four games. That included a game in which MSU trailed 7-1 in the second period only to come back and win 8-7 in Mankato.
“It’s unbelievable,” said MSU’s David Backes, attempting to explain the way the two teams have played each other recently.
“It’s just something that happens,” added Denver senior Jon Foster. “Whenever we come here, Mankato always plays us really well.”
In the 8-5 win Friday night, the Mavericks (8-15-4 WCHA, 11-16-6 overall) jumped ahead with a four-goal first period and answered every Denver comeback attempt with a goal of their own.
Freshman Ryan Carter led the Mavericks with his first career hat trick. Backes also tallied twice for MSU. The Pioneers (17-6-2 WCHA, 22-8-2 overall) got a two-goal performance from Foster in front of 3,557 fans.
“The way I look at it is that a dog is the most dangerous when its back is against the wall,” Carter said. “And we kind of pinned ourselves up against the wall. We’re fighting back now, and I think we’re dangerous.”
In the first, Minnesota State outshot DU 14-10 and scored three goals on its first five shots.
Backes, the Mavericks’ leading scorer, gave his squad the early 1-0 lead. On the power play, Travis Morin passed from the left circle cross-ice to Backes, who one-timed the puck into the left side of the net at 3:38 of the period.
Only 12 seconds later, Minnesota State doubled its lead on Carter’s first goal of the night. Carter grabbed the puck behind the net and came around to the right side of the goal. The freshman put the puck on net, and it deflected off DU goalie Glenn Fisher’s pads and in.
“When you get a few breaks like that, you have a chance to score some goals,” MSU coach Troy Jutting said.
Then, at the 7:35 mark, the Mavericks scored again to chase Fisher from the net. Joel Hanson started a three-on-two rush and fired from the left side. The puck hit the far post and went in for Hanson’s third career goal.
“We haven’t built momentum (this season),” Jutting said. “We’d score a goal, and it would take us 25 minutes to score the next one. Tonight, we finally got a little momentum going.”
Fisher was replaced by Peter Mannino after allowing three goals on five shots. Fisher would later come back in the third after Mannino allowed five goals on 21 shots.
Denver was able to respond 18 seconds after Hanson’s goal to make the score 3-1. Foster carried the puck from the left boards and came in on net before beating MSU goalie Chris Clark low stick side.
But Minnesota State regained its three-goal lead on a shorthanded tally. On a two-on-one rush, Adam Gerlach fed Carter on the left side. Carter deked Mannino to the ice and buried the puck into the left side of the net at 10:11 of the first.
“I think we got the lead tonight, and for the first time in awhile, instead of playing a prevent defense, we kind of went on the attack a little more and tried playing in their zone,” Backes said.
MSU built its lead to 5-1 in the second with another power play tally. From the left point, Kyle Peto sent a pass to Brock Becker at the right side of the net. Becker easily put the puck past Mannino at 7:42 of the period.
However, the Pioneers surged back and scored two goals to close the lead to 5-3 at the end of two.
With a five-on-three power play, defenseman Matt Carle ripped a shot from the top of the slot that beat Clark high at 13:15 of the second.
Then, with 1:30 left in the period, junior Gabe Gauthier finished off a tic-tac-toe play in front of the crease to bring Denver within two. Gauthier’s 16th goal of the season came right as a Pioneer power play was expiring.
Jeff Marler stalled the Pioneer comeback with a fluky goal 22 seconds into the third period. From behind the DU net, Marler slid the puck harmlessly into the crease. The puck caromed off Mannino’s skate and into the net.
“We had a couple of those tonight,” Carter said. “Sometime those are breaks, but sometimes when you’re playing well and playing hard, throw things on the net. They’re going to find their way in sooner or later.”
But Denver wasn’t done yet. Foster and Kevin Ulanski scored 4:13 apart early in the third to make it a 6-5 game.
Once again, the Mavericks answered the bell. Becker sprung Backes for a breakaway, and the sophomore beat Mannino low on the backhand at 9:14 of the third.
Carter finished off his hat trick on a three-on-two rush with six minutes left in the game to ice the 8-5 victory.
“He’s red hot right now, but he’s had a very good year for us,” Jutting said. “He’s been very solid for us all year long. He’s got 15 goals now as a freshman. In this league, that’s a big number.”
The Pioneers, who have played good defense all year long, have allowed 18 goals in their last three games.
“We’re going through a little bit of a phase right now,” said Pioneers coach George Gwozdecky. “We haven’t had the kind of performance over the last four or five games that we expect of ourselves in all the areas.”
“We just didn’t play up to our abilities today,” Foster added.
The two teams resume play Saturday at 7:07 p.m. CT.