STORRS, Conn. — Regardless if it comes from a coach or a fan, it’s rare to hear collective praise for the on-ice officials.
That was the case Saturday afternoon however, in Minnesota State’s 3-1 win over Brown in the opener of the UConn Holiday Classic at the Mark Edward Freitas Ice Forum, a crisp, yet physical game that featured three penalties and concluded in just under two hours.
“Refreshing; I guess that would be the best word I can use,” Minnesota State coach Mike Hastings said of the lack of penalties. “We came back on the 26th, practiced on the 27th, and had an hour [in Storrs] on the 28th. It just allows guys to get into the game.”
“I wish every game was that way,” Brown coach Brendan Whittet said. “The guys let the kids play. Were there some things they could have called? Maybe. But you know what, I prefer that to a power-play fest. That was one of the best-refereed games I’ve been a part of in a long time.”
Jean-Paul LaFontaine scored two goals, including an empty-netter in the waning seconds, while Stephon Williams made 18 saves for the win. Anthony Borelli stopped 24 shots for Brown, despite being stricken with the flu.
“That wasn’t a Mona Lisa; It was kind of ugly,” Hastings said. “It was one of those coming back from the break [games].”
A slashing call against Jeff Ryan sent Minnesota State on its first power play of the game at 8:33 in the third, and the Mavericks wasted little time, scoring 29 seconds in on LaFontaine’s first of the game.
“It was nice to get it setup and I thought we had really good movement,” LaFontaine said. “Matty Leitner just made a really good play [to get the puck to me].”
“One of Matty’s greatest assets is not only his ability to pass, but to put it in an area where a guy can do something with it right away, and he put it in a great area for JP,” Hastings said.
Minnesota State took a 1-0 lead on a fluky goal late in the first. The puck went off the endglass and bounced out, hitting Borelli, who misplayed it as it dropped to the front of the net for a crashing Zach Palmquist at 14:31.
“I was actually about to get off the ice and then I saw a big scrum in front of the net and I thought I should get back in there,” Palmquist said. “It was kind of a lucky goal, but we’ll take it.”
Brown’s Mark Naclerio scored a short-handed goal at 13:16 in the third, but the Bears couldn’t get the equalizer despite a flurry of activity in front of the net in the closing seconds with Borelli on the bench.
The Mavericks face the winner of the Connecticut/American International game tomorrow at 7:15 p.m. in the tournament championship, while Brown plays the loser in the consolation game at 4:05.
“Anytime you can come out and not play your best and still get a ‘W,’ it’s a positive for your team,” Palmquist said. “We’ve just got to go out tomorrow and prove that we are a better team than we were tonight.”
NOTES: The Atlantic Hockey crew of James Troup, Ryan Sweeney, Peter Catalano and Steve Meyer were the officials. Mavericks freshman Taylor Herndon made his collegiate debut centering the fourth line, while sophomore Greg Tang made his collegiate debut for Brown in the third defensive pairing with Jake Goldberg, a forward converted to defense due the injuries that have depleted the Bears’ defensive group.
“I’ve been doing this for 20 years and I’ve never seen the injuries on the blue line that we have,” Whittet said.
Despite having the flu, Borelli started in net for the Bears because junior Marco De Filippo is dealing with a nagging knee injury.