OMAHA, Neb. — Mike Hastings is an Omaha hockey icon, but in his first game as a head coach against one of the city’s teams, he tried to keep things as normal as possible.
Lately, ‘normal’ for his Minnesota State team has equated to winning, and MSU did just that again Friday night. In beating No. 13 Nebraska-Omaha 6-3 on UNO’s own slab of ice at CenturyLink Center, MSU picked up its seventh win in a row.
Ranked 20th in the country, the WCHA’s purple Mavericks boosted their overall record to 10-5-2 and their league record to 8-5-0. No. 13 UNO, the league’s red Mavericks, dropped to 10-6-1 (6-4-1 WCHA).
Hastings had spent the past three seasons under UNO head coach Dean Blais and previously served for 14 years as the head coach of the USHL’s Omaha Lancers junior team.
This weekend’s series is strictly about business, though, and Hastings said as such after the game.
“We came out to try and win a hockey game,” Hastings said. “It’s been nice to come back and see some friends, but ultimately, when we got to the rink, it was about winning the hockey game and that’s what we focused on.”
UNO started brightest, though, and the hosts didn’t waste a whole lot of time before opening the scoring in the game’s first minute. Junior co-captain Matt White put his team up 1-0 on the red Mavericks’ first shot, wristing a shot past MSU goaltender Stephon Williams low glove-side at the near post 53 seconds into the tilt.
MSU restored parity 12:11 into the first period with the first of two goals on the night from junior forward Johnny McInnis. Latching onto a nice centering pass by linemate Chase Grant from behind the goal line, McInnis beat UNO goalkeeper John Faulkner from close range for a power-play marker.
The visitors then jumped ahead 3:08 into the second period on an even-strength goal from freshman winger Dylan Margonari. Seconds after an MSU power play ended, Faulkner stopped an initial shot from MSU’s Zach Lehrke, but the rebound fell to Margonari at the far post and Faulkner couldn’t get across in time.
UNO then picked up a power-play goal of its own at 8:26 to cancel out Margonari’s tally. Zahn Raubenheimer lit the lamp for his seventh goal of the season with a shot that crept in at the right-hand post.
MSU retook the lead soon after that, though, with JP Lafontaine scoring a power-play goal – the visitors’ second such goal of the night – at 10:03 on what was nearly a carbon copy of Margonari’s tally earlier in the period.
Faulkner was again too slow getting from post to post and when a feed from Matt Leitner came out to the far side of the crease, Lafontaine had enough time to bury his third goal of the year.
Faulkner’s night in the UNO net ended 83 seconds later when McInnis scored again at 11:26 of the same period. McInnis’s eighth goal of the season came when he barreled down the slot, slammed on the brakes just in front of Faulkner and scored from the top of the crease.
UNO’s backup goalie, freshman Anthony Stolarz, didn’t manage a whole lot better, letting in both of MSU’s only two shots of the third period.
Nebraska-Omaha forward Ryan Walters scored at 12:04 of the second period to cut the visitors’ lead to 4-3, but nothing went the host’s way thereafter. MSU forward Bryce Gervais scored on a shorthanded breakaway 1:40 into the final frame and John Jutzi topped the scoring off with exactly two minutes left to play.
Apart from holding MSU to just that pair of shots on Stolarz’s net in the third period, not a whole lot else worked for UNO in the final 20 minutes of the game. Pulling Stolarz with more than six minutes left to play while on a power play didn’t work, nor did fielding five defensemen at one point.
However, it was the second period where MSU really – some might say finally, considering it had been an even game through the first 20 minutes – took hold of the night’s matchup.
UNO is normally a strong second-period team. However, Hastings, who helped shape the red Mavericks’ game before taking over in Mankato, Minn., for now-UNO assistant Troy Jutting, was pleased Friday to see his new charges neutralize his old ones.
Williams was especially good despite conceding three goals. The newcomer stopped 25 other shots and made a handful of highlight-reel saves.
“Their team speed is really hard to deal with and if you look at them over the season so far, their second period has been their most dangerous,” Hastings said. “They’ve scored a lot of goals in the second period and they made a push [tonight], but I thought Willy was good and made a couple [saves] that he shouldn’t have.”
Blais was understandably less-than-pleased with UNO’s performance.
“It’s a game of 60 minutes and we had a sporadic performance,” Blais said. “We didn’t have a great team game. Half our team was a little off and that’s too many, especially against a team that’s won six in a row and is playing with confidence.”