MANKATO, Minn. — It was a win almost six years in the making.
Coming into the weekend, it was billed as a battle of the goaltenders and it didn’t disappoint. Minnesota State’s Mike Zacharias and Minnesota’s Alex Kangas went save for save for almost 100 minutes before the Mavericks’ Trevor Breuss scored a shorthanded goal 17:36 into the second overtime to propel MSU to a 1-0 victory in game one of a Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoff match up Friday at Alltel Center.
The game winner was, needless to say, unexpected.
Referee Derek Shepherd hadn’t called a penalty on either team since the second period — and not one on MSU since the first. But a too many men call with just over three minutes left in the second overtime put UM on its fifth man-advantage, and it seemed, finally, after 96 minutes of hockey, a victory was within their grasp.
But a Maverick two-on-one break less than a minute into the power play brought the crowd to its feet. MSU’s Jon Kalinski waited with the puck until he was beyond the goal line, lofting a pass over a sprawled Gopher defenseman to Bruess, who roofed a shot over Kangas’ shoulder.
The goal and win snapped a 20-game losing streak to the Gophers, dating back to the 2002-03 season.
“It was a great pass,” Bruess said. “Jonny won his battle but he fell down. I couldn’t believe he was able to get up after that. At that point in the game… it’s just an amazing play.”
“Kalinski and Bruess, two great penalty killers,” Gophers coach Don Lucia said. “They made the play.”
In a game filled with few grand scoring chances, perhaps the best two came on MSU penalty kills.
Minnesota had four power plays in the opening period but until the goal, the game’s best scoring chance came in the first half of the first period. Bruess fought off a pair of Gophers behind Kangas and fired a pass to the Zach Harrison in the slot. Kangas made a clean glove save to keep the game tied at zero.
“When you kill eight minutes off in the first 20, it’s critical,” said Mavericks head coach Troy Jutting, who celebrated his 44th birthday Friday. “We kept our momentum going that way. It was critical that we didn’t allow them to get any momentum going against us.”
From there on, it was a tale of two goaltenders. Kangas made a number of quality saves in the second period, as MSU buzzed the Gopher net to the tune of a 15-4 edge in shots.
The Gophers never had a golden opportunity to score, but they had plenty of solid shots. MSU outchanced the Gophers 45-34 on the night.
“They had a couple quality opportunities,” said Zacharias, who secured his fifth shutout of the season, a school record. “I just needed to keep it going no matter what save I have to make.”
The Mavericks appeared to win the game nine minutes into overtime, as the puck appeared to slip behind Kangas and just over the line off a scramble in front. Never called a goal on the ice, the play was reviewed by Shepherd. His ruling said the puck was kicked in by MSU’s Jerad Stewart.
That was the final golden chance for either team until the winner.
Afterwards, Jutting was careful not to get too excited.
“It’s not over,” he said. “That’s the reality of it. It’s not over by any means.”
The game was the longest in the 13-year Division I history of Minnesota State and the first double overtime contest since the first round of the playoffs during the 2002-03 season, also in the Alltel Center, but against Wisconsin. The Mavericks won that one too, but it ended 6-5.
The two teams will play game two of their playoff series at the Alltel Center Saturday. Face off is scheduled for 7:07 p.m.