MANKATO, Minn. — For some reason, Minnesota State just could not find the net when given golden opportunities to score.
Typically against a team ranked No. 4 in the country, that is a recipe for disaster — especially against a goalie like Peter Mannino.
But the resourceful Mavericks took advantage of a Denver team minus Brock Trotter, refused to quit, and by the time it was over, MSU had bruised its way to a 5-1 win to the delight of the 4,102 fans at the Alltel Center.
“It’s not a very good performance and it’s a performance that we’re not very proud of, that’s for sure,” Pioneers head coach George Gwozdecky said. “We need to play a lot better tomorrow to get a win.”
For the second consecutive weekend, it was the Mavericks third line boasting the fire power. Geoff Irwin, Andy Sackrison and Jason Wiley accounted for three of the team’s five goals (one apiece) and added three assists in the win.
“They’re playing really good right now,” Mavericks head coach Troy Jutting said. “They have good chemistry together, they understand each other and what each of them do well and the things they need to do to help each other.”
MSU was on the board first just past the halfway point of the opening period.
Sackrison wheeled around the net and turned to fire the puck. He patiently waited until finally shooting from the left circle. His shot got caught in traffic before squirting free to Irwin on the doorstep. His weak forehand shot slipped between Peter Mannino and the right post at 11:39.
Minutes later, the Mavericks had a chance to make it 2-0, but Trevor Bruess made one too many move on his breakaway attempt, and the puck slipped off his stick.
Irwin’s tally was the only scoring in the opening 20 minutes, as the Pioneers led in chances 9-8.
A wild set of events early in the second had a chance to turn the tide in favor of either team.
Just minutes into the period, Joel Hanson had a goal waved off because of a slashing penalty called on MSU in front of the net.
A quick penalty on Denver made it 4-on-4 and MSU had yet another chance. This time it was Jon Kalinski — and his shot made it through Mannino’s pads — but the senior goalie closed his legs in time to make the save.
The Pioneers made MSU pay less than a minute later.
After Mike Zacharias made a spectacular sprawling save on Chris Butler’s shot at the left post, Patrick Mullen tapped the puck into the slot where Rhett Rakhshani buried his ninth goal of the season. The power play goal at 4:01 tied the game. Mullen and Butler earned assists.
“It was a wide open net,” Rakhshani said. ”
Tyler Bozak had a breakaway opportunity of his own two minutes later, but his wrister sailed high and wide.
The Mavericks buried their second goal on the game’s next 4-on-4 opportunity.
R.J. Linder’s shot from the left point was deflected by a DU defender off Jason Wiley – who was charging hard to the right post. The goal at 9:21 was reviewed and upheld. Linder and Kurt Davis had the assists.
The Mavericks extended their lead to 3-1 at 13:12 on another rebound off a Linder shot. This time it was Sackrison on the doorstep who punched the puck past Mannino for his third goal of the season.
“Now I realize what it takes to get points,” Sackrison said. “It’s a confidence thing. When you feel better about yourself, you’re going to play better.”
“The commitment to defense, the commitment to competing to get the puck back was heavily in their favor tonight,” Pioneers head coach George Gwozdecky said.
MSU outshot the Pioneers 11-7 in the period and held a 19-16 edge in shots and a 3-1 lead after two.
Minnesota State extended their lead to three 7:13 into the third – capitalizing on a 3-on-2. Irwin floated a pretty saucer pass right onto the tape of defenseman Ben Youds, who rifled a wrister over Mannino’s glove for her first collegiate goal. Sackrison earned the second assist.
The Mavericks capped scoring on a Joel Hanson goal at 18:15 of the third.
Youds’ goal seemed to put Denver away. The Pioneers struggled without Trotter — their leading scorer — who did not make the trip to Mankato. DU officials would not comment on his absence, only saying he did not make the trip. It appears his status for next weekend’s series against Minnesota may also in question.
Zacharias made 22 saves for the win. Mannino stopped 24 shots, and kept the score from getting out of hand.
“Peter [Mannino] was great,” Gwozdecky said. “That game could have been a lot worse had it not been for Peter.”
The Mavericks (12-10-4 overall, 6-9-4 WCHA) and Pioneers (18-7-0, 12-5-0) will play the wrap up the series Saturday with a 7:07 p.m. face-off at the Alltel Center.