MANKATO, Minn. — Freshman defenseman Nils Backstrom rifled home a big rebound just 31 seconds after the Mavericks had tied the game to lift Alaska-Anchorage to a 3-2 victory over Minnesota State-Mankato at the Midwest Wireless Civic Center on Friday night.
“[Backstrom] made a nice play,” said Minnesota State head coach Troy Jutting. “The loose pucks in front of the net tonight were tough. There were too many that we didn’t get our sticks on.”
With the Alaska-Anchorage (4-3-2, 2-3-0 WCHA) attacking off the center-ice faceoff, senior defenseman Chad Anderson took a shot from the point against Minnesota State sophomore Dan Tormey. Tormey made the initial save, but the rebound bounced well clear of the net, directly to UAA’s Nick Lowe, who tipped it to Backstrom for the one-timer which found the back of the net after Tormey’s initial save left him out of position for the rebound.
“We threw it at the net and got the rebound to pop out,” said Alaska-Anchorage head coach Dave Shyiak. “The goalie was down and we had an open net to shoot on.”
The high-flying first period began with a frenzied attack by Minnesota State (2-7-0, 1-4-0). The Mavericks had several scoring opportunities early on created by crisp passing and quick skating, but Anchorage netminder Nathan Lawson weathered the early storm.
With referee Jon Campion’s arm in the air midway through the period for an MSU penalty, the Seawolves began a fast and furious counter-attack. Luke Beaverson found Paul Crowder with a laser pass through the neutral zone, and Crowder hurried up the side boards before uncorking a perfect wrister from the faceoff circle that evaded Tormey top shelf for the first goal of the contest.
The UAA attack continued following the goal. At one point, freshman Jared Tuton took a shot from nearly the exact opposite side of the circle which Crowder had scored from and rang it off the post, bailing out a scrambling Tormey, who was trying to move back into position. Shortly thereafter, two quick penalties to MSU resulted in a five-on-three for Alaska-Anchorage, and while the Seawolves shot early and often in their two-man advantage, most shots were wide of the cage.
Soon after the first Minnesota State penalty expired, Anchorage made a costly mistake which resulted in the score being knotted at one. Just after the Mavericks had cleared the zone, a bad pass in the neutral zone was picked off by sophomore Jon Kalinski, who turned on the jets and hit the blue line on the breakaway. His shot to Lawson’s left was initially saved off of the bottom of the left pad, but Lawson could not reach the puck, which sat in the crease, and Kalinski was able to apply just a simple tap to push it over the line for his second shorthanded tally of the season.
The second period was toned down from the first’s high-speed action as both teams brought physical action more to bear, but there was one main incident during the second frame which swung momentum in both directions before the puck had even dropped again. With five minutes to play, Kalinski and linemate Travis Morin took the puck into the attacking zone with a two-on-one break, facing Anchorage defenseman Kevin Clark. Both Kalinski and Morin crashed in on the net, and all three men ended up bowling into Nathan Lawson in the crease, sending the cage flying and drawing a whistle.
At first, there was little reaction on either side, and the crowd was relatively docile in the immediate aftermath. To the side of the fallen cage, all three officials were meeting, and Campion emerged from the collective with his arm pointing toward the goal mouth. The horn went off, and a much-delayed celebration began as Lawson sat dumbfounded on his pads.
Naturally, the goal was immediately reviewed, and after a lengthy delay, not only was the goal overturned, but it was discovered that Kalinski had been given a five-minute major for charging the goaltender a call which had been made prior to the goal being awarded giving the Seawolves an extended power-play rather than giving the Mavericks the lead.
Alaska-Anchorage took to the attack during their five minute opportunity, but were unable to make anything come of it, and Minnesota State killed off the major just before the second period expired, swinging the momentum back into their favor as the second intermission began.
“I didn’t know what [Campion] had called at first,” Jutting said. “But I thought our guys did an excellent job of not letting that get them down and focusing on killing the penalty.”
But early in the third period, a stroke of luck helped UAA retake the lead. During an extended period of defense, Dan Tormey lost control of his stick, which quickly found its way into the far corner boards. Seconds later, the puck squirted over the blue line and out of the zone, but Anchorage quickly regained the zone before Tormey could retrieve his stick, and the sophomore was forced to make do with a defenseman’s stick. With an opportunistic shot, sophomore Jay Beagle put the puck on net and through Tormey’s fivehole a shot that would have been a gimme with the regular goaltender’s stick. Instead, junior Merit Waldrop, waiting on the backdoor, simply poked the puck into the net as it dribbled behind Tormey.
Good defense from Lawson in net helped Alaska-Anchorage maintain the lead into the later stretches of the period, but a poorly timed roughing penalty by UAA’s Mat Robinson gave the Mavericks a late power play opportunity that they quickly converted on. Ten seconds after the penalty, a blast by freshman Jerad Stewart directly in front of the crease evaded a defender, whose position screened Lawson just enough to let the puck get by, tying the game for a second time and pumping energy back into the Mankato faithful.
But just 31 seconds later, Backstrom’s eventual game-winner sucked the life back out of the building. Mankato could not get anything going with the extra skater late, and Anchorage just barely missed scoring on the empty net twice in the last ten seconds.
The game was punctuated by chippy play in and around the crease area. Other than Kalinski’s major penalty, there were three other penalties called for roughing or interference with the goaltender, and both Tormey and Lawson spent significant chunks of the evening on their backs after contact.
“There were a lot of loose pucks in there tonight,” said Jutting. “Kids were going in there hard trying to find them, and sometimes you end up going in just a little too hard. It was just a couple of teams digging in and trying to get to the puck.”
“Our whole emphasis the last couple of weeks has been for guys to go in there without the puck,” said Shyiak, essentially agreeing with Jutting’s assessment. “We were crashing the net and trying to find some ugly rebound goals.”
With the victory, Alaska-Anchorage moves into a three-way tie for seventh in the WCHA with Colorado College and Minnesota-Duluth.
“It was an ugly game both ways,” said Shyiak. “We showed resolve and found a way to win despite some poor execution on the power play, some sloppy puck movement, and not really keeping possession the way I would have liked. But they still get an ‘A’ for finding a way to win.”
Minnesota State is now alone in last place in the league.
“Obviously there’s a lot of frustration in the locker room,” said Jutting. “It’s really our fifth game in a row where we’ve been right there and it’s the difference of a goal or two. In all of those situations it’s the difference between a bounce here and a bounce there. I think our efforts have been pretty good, it’s just a matter of getting your stick on loose pucks.”
Both teams are back in action Saturday night at the Midwest Wireless Civic Center.