MANKATO, Minn. — At the end of the weekend, Minnesota State coach Troy Jutting can be happy with his team’s effort and Denver coach George Gwozdecky can breathe a sigh of relief. Minnesota State tested No. 1 Denver all weekend, but the Pioneers left the Verizon Wireless Center with all four points.
Rhett Rakhshani backhanded a rebound from a Tyler Ruegsegger shot with 13 seconds left in overtime to give Denver its 10th straight victory, 4-3, as the Pioneers clinched the McNaughton Cup Saturday night.
“Look at the competitive nature of the games this weekend,” said Gwozdecky. “You couldn’t tell who was the No. 1 team and who was the No. 9 team. That’s the WCHA.”
The Pioneers had a chance to score the game-winner with just under two minutes left in OT when Ruegsegger was one-on-one with MSU goaltender Austin Lee, but Lee came up with a pad save and kicked the rebound out to Mavericks forward Kael Mouillierat.
Mouillierat headed a two-on-one and left a pass for Tyler Elbrecht trailing in the slot, but Pioneers’ goalie Marc Cheverie buried the shot in his pads and held on.
The Pioneers won the last faceoff in the Mavericks’ end and got the puck back to Patrick Wiercioch, who spun around a Mavericks’ defender at the blue line and passed the puck to Ruegsegger down low at Lee’s right. Ruegsegger’s shot bounced off Lee’s pad right to Rakhshani.
“That was not the play we were planning to work,” Rakhshani said. “I tried to get lost on the other side of the net. There was a rebound off the pad and I was there.”
The Pioneers held a 3-1 lead until late in the second period, scoring two straight first-period goals.
Less than a minute after MSU’s Channing Boe went off for hooking, teammate Jerad Stewart checked Rakhshani from behind with 4:32 left in the first period. Stewart received a five-minute major and a game misconduct.
With seven seconds left on the penalty to Boe, Joe Colborne found Anthony Maiani at the top of the crease, who tipped the puck past Lee.
The Pioneers went back on the power play late in the period when Tyler Pitlick went to the box for charging. Peter Wiercioch connected with Colborne on the back door, as Colborne put it home as the buzzer sounded.
Jesse Martin’s wrist shot at 10:24 made it 3-1 Denver before Eriah Hayes tipped in a feed from Geoff Irwin four minutes later.
Pitlick tied the game on a highlight-reel goal when he stole the puck at the Denver blue line, put a move on one Pioneer and beat Cheverie on the forehand.
Pitlick’s first goal gave the Mavericks a 1-0 lead when he had a two-on-one with teammate Eriah Hayes, but chose to take it himself, beating Cheverie five-hole on a wrist shot from the left circle.
“I got the puck from the defender and poked it around the other guy and made a move on Cheverie,” Pitlick said. “Nothing really too special.”
Lee made a tremendous stretching toe save 2:10 into the third period. The play went under review, but the call on the ice remained no goal.
“The referee told me that the quality of the picture on the screen wasn’t clear enough to see whether the puck crossed the line,” Gwozdecky said. “Secondly, if it crossed the line, when he blew the whistle.”
Lee finished with 32 saves and Cheverie stopped 36 shots. Denver plays a home-and-home series with Colorado College next weekend and MSU is home-and-home with St. Cloud State.