MANKATO, Minn. — Minnesota-Duluth said goodbye to another rink Saturday night.
The Bulldogs left Verizon Wireless Arena for the last time as a WCHA member in a men’s game against Minnesota State and not as memorable as hoped. Mankato scored twice in 10 seconds in the final three minutes of the third period to salvage a 4-4 overtime tie before 4,562 fans.
The No. 4-ranked Bulldogs (20-7-5, 14-6-4 WCHA) led 4-2 in the third before Michael Dorr, on a power play, and Eli Zuck brought the Mavericks back. Zuck scored with 2:04 left in the third.
Mankato (12-20-2, 8-16-2 WCHA) was outshot 42-31, but scored three man-advantage goals.
“We didn’t win the special teams game and that’s what cost us,” said UMD defenseman Drew Olson, who had two assists. “We blew a two-goal lead, but we have to focus on what we did well. In five-on-five play, that was one of our best games of the season.”
While UMD did clinch home ice for the WCHA playoffs for a third straight year, the Bulldogs fell two points behind first-place Minnesota, as the Gophers beat Bemidji State 4-1.
The Bulldogs appeared to have the game in hand as Mike Seidel and Travis Oleksuk connected for goals 88 seconds apart early in the third period. But after Dorr got Mankato within one with 2:14 left in regulation, junior center Zuck came in 3-on-2 from the next face off and beat goalie Kenny Reiter high to the blocker side. Reiter had a stomach flu from Wednesday through Friday, and missed a start Friday, but said he felt fine Saturday.
“It’s frustrating to let something like this slip away, but we still have an opportunity [in the last four games] to be at the top of the league,” said Reiter. “We have to get ready for Colorado College, which is breathing right down our neck.”
UMD came into the game 4-1 the last five games in Mankato and 11-1-1 the last 13 overall against Minnesota State, including the last four games, all wins, by a combined 22-9 margin.
Mankato wore dark road uniforms for Senior Night in the final home game of the season, which meant UMD was dressed in home whites.
For the second straight night, Mankato took a 1-0 lead. Center Zach Lehrke just snuck inside the left pipe 95 seconds into the game on a power play.
Keegan Flaherty got UMD even in a great individual effort during a 4-on-4 shift. He came across the front of the crease and stuffed the puck past senior goalie Austin Lee with 81 seconds left in the opening period.
UMD started the second period on a five-minute power play when Mankato’s Mike Louwerse was called for contact to the head a few seconds after the end of the first period, but the Bulldogs didn’t score.
Freshman winger Justin Crandall’s fifth goal of the season came on a slick rush as he cut from left wing to the slot for a goal at 7:18 of the second period. The only two penalties of the period led to a 5-on-3 power play for Mankato and the Mavericks took advantage with 2:21 left in the second. Lehrke put in a rebound for his 13th goal of the season.
“I didn’t like the finish, but we got three of four points on the road and we played well at even strength, as good as we’ve played in a month,” said UMD coach Scott Sandelin.
Rebound goals by Seidel and Oleksuk, his 20th of the season, and third in two games, put UMD up 4-2.
Then came Dorr and Zuck and a tie. Mankato led 6-2 in shots on goal in the five-minute overtime.
“Special teams decide a lot of games in this league and getting that [Dorr] power-play goal gave us a kick on the bench and it was a big momentum swing. We were battling against an exceptional team,” said Mavericks’ coach Troy Jutting, whose team is tied for 10th in the league.
The Bulldogs also said goodbye to Wisconsin’s home rink, the Kohl Center in Madison, Wis., in December, with a win and tie. In 2013-14, UMD will be in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, Mankato in the WCHA and Wisconsin in the Big Ten Conference.
Next season at Amsoil Arena, the Bulldogs play Wisconsin on Oct. 26-27, and Minnesota State on Feb. 8-9.
UMD’s final regular-season home series is next weekend with No. 15 Colorado College, five points behind the Bulldogs.