MANKATO, Minn. — A goal and an assist might not qualify as a career game for most college hockey players, but for Minnesota State’s Adam Mueller, this performance went deeper than the box score.
Mueller, a junior left wing who plays on the fourth line, found himself in the middle of a few scoring chances, saw one shot clank off the crossbar, threw a few body checks and started a short-handed odd-man rush as the Mavericks killed a late penalty in the third period.
“I just think all 20 guys came out to play tonight,” Mueller said. “Things kind of bounced my way tonight. It was just my night I guess and it was a good night to have it.”
Mueller’s goal was the game-winner, the first of his career, in a 3-2 Minnesota State win over No. 17 Minnesota on Friday in MSU’s first game at the Verizon Wireless Center in 41 days. The Mavericks have beaten the Gophers in four out of the last five meetings.
“I thought Adam played extremely well tonight,” Mavericks coach Troy Jutting said. “It’s two great back-to-back games by Adam. Adam’s a big part of our penalty kill. It’s a role he’s taken with a point of pride and I think he’s done a great job there.”
Mueller’s goal came at the 6:29 mark of the second period when Minnesota State forward Corey Leivermann worked the puck out of the corner at Gophers goaltender Alex Kangas’ right and found Mueller streaking to the net. Mueller backhanded the puck through Kangas’ five hole for his second goal of the season, giving the Mavericks a two-goal lead.
“It was a down-low cycle-in play,” Mueller said. “Corey flipped it out to me, I think [Kangas] thought the pass was going to Joe [Schiller] at the net. I just threw it in five-hole and saw it hit the back of the net.”
The Gophers got within a goal with just under five minutes to go in the second period on a Nick Larson goal assisted by Nico Sacchetti. The third period went by without a goal but the Gophers had their chances to tie. The Mavericks had to kill off two penalties late in the third period and Phil Cook faced his share of tough shots down the stretch.
“We had our looks, we had our chances, they blocked some shots and we just missed on some goalmouth scrambles,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said. “It’s a lot easier when you can play with a lead.”
Cook made a save in traffic with 15 seconds left in the game and corralled a loose puck in the crease as the net got disengaged with five seconds left. Minnesota State won the ensuing faceoff and sent the puck the length of the ice to seal the win.
“I think he wanted the first goal back but he made some critical saves for us tonight,” Jutting said.
The Mavericks got the first goal of the game when Ben Youds faked around a Gophers defender and floated a wrist shot from the point and beat Kangas high 6:12 into the game.
“We all watched [Youds'] shot go through and hit the water bottle and we were all like, ‘No way,’” Mueller said. “It was so cool to see the water bottle explode in the first goal of a big series.”
The Gophers tied the game 1:50 later when Cook made the initial stop on Kevin Wehrs’ shot but the puck trickled through as Nick Bjugstad made a hustle play to dive and knock the puck in as it sat in the crease.
The Mavericks took the lead back when Mike Dorr, sitting at Kangas’ right, knocked in the rebound from Sackrison’s shot from the left of Kangas at 13:11 of the first period.
“Coach said at the beginning of the week that we need to pick up the penalty kill and that’s what we did tonight,” Mueller said. “We had momentum coming into the night from two wins last week. It was fun to have the crowd in it.”
Lucia said Minnesota assistant captain Mike Hoeffel sat out Friday’s game because of illness but hopes to have the first-line left wing back for Saturday’s game. Hoeffel made the trip to Mankato but became ill Thursday night, according to Lucia.
“He started getting sick in the middle of the night and I found out at breakfast this morning,” Lucia said. “We’ll see what he was able to eat tonight and what his energy level will be like tomorrow.”