DULUTH, Minn. — Jeff Marler scored his first goal in 23 games Friday night and Minnesota State Mankato won a hockey game.
Coincidence? Maybe. But before facing Minnesota Duluth at the DECC, Mankato coach Troy Jutting told Marler and linemate Austin Sutter that if either scored, the Mavericks would win.
Mankato defeated UMD, 5-4, in a Western Collegiate Hockey Association game before a crowd of 4,478. Marler had the game-winning goal early in the third period, while Sutter, with his second goal in 13 games, scored late in the second period.
The Mavericks (10-13-4, 6-10-3 WCHA) are 7-3-1 the last 11 games.
UMD (8-15-4, 5-11-3) has lost seven-straight league games and is winless the last six overall (0-5-1).
“Since Christmas, we came back with a new attitude. We had been playing too well not to be winning,” said Marler. “The difference is the one or two extra goals that we’re getting from guys who hadn’t been scoring.”
Scoring has been a problem for both teams – Mankato is seventh in the league at 2.89 a game and UMD is eighth at 2.67.
But as the Mavericks have improved the last moth, the Bulldogs are still struggling. Six of UMD’s seven recent WCHA losses have been by either one or two goals. UMD is 3-9-1 at home this season.
“It feels like we’ve been so close so many times. Like tonight, we played quite well, but we’re kicking ourselves in the butt with some mistakes,” said UMD freshman winger Mason Raymond, who had two goals. “We’re doing good things, we get the momentum swing, and then give it right back. It’s frustrating, there’s no doubt about it.”
The Bulldogs took a an early 1-0 lead as freshman winger Andrew Carroll put a Matt McKnight rebound into an empty net at 1:49. It was Carroll’s ninth goal of the season.
However, the advantage lasted just 43 seconds. Mankato rallied with goals 2:06 apart to go up, 2-1.
Freshman defenseman Blake Friesen earned his first collegiate goal at 2:32 from the right circle. It was just the fourth game for Friesen, playing in place of one of two defensemen sitting out a fighting disqualification.
A missed assignment by UMD led to Mankato’s second goal as goal-scoring leader Travis Morin took advantage from the left circle. UMD goalie Isaac Reichmuth kept UMD within a goal by stopping center Rob Rankin on a point-blank shot with eight seconds left.
Ryan Carter needed just 99 seconds of the second period to put Mankato up, 3-1, as his right wing attempt beat Reichmuth to the near side.
“We’ve been getting opportunities, but we’ve been scoring 2-something a game. Tonight we scored some goals,” said Jutting. “Every game is a huge game because of how bunched up the league is.”
UMD rallied for a 3-3 tie with two-straight goals. Michael Gergen stole the puck in the offensive zone and went to the net to earn his team-leading 12th goal of the season at 7:05. A power play which was 1-for-42 the last nine games clicked with 5:23 left. Raymond got a loose puck, skated behind the Mankato net, then stuffed a shot inside the left pipe by goalie Dan Tormey. It was the first goal in nine games for UMD’s scoring leader.
Despite being outshot, 14-7, in the second period, the Mavericks got a second goal with just 1:48 left. Right winger Kelly Kisio made a centering pass to a net-crashing Sutter as Mankato regained the lead, 4-3.
Marler finished a 3-on-2 rush at 3:45 of the third period to make it 5-3 before UMD put on some pressure and finished with a 37-29 shots advantage. Raymond’s 10th goal of the season came during a 5-on-3 power play with 7:01 left, and Reichmuth was pulled for an extra attacker with 1:32 remaining.
“We started the game well and then we were right back on our heels,” said UMD coach Scott Sandelin. “Then we came back, then we gave them another goal, and then took a bad penalty.
“You can only have so many holes in your foot before you can’t walk. We have to improve on our play away from the puck.”
Mankato moved alone into seventh place in the league while UMD fell into an eighth-place tie with idle Michigan Tech.