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College Hockey:
Bestland is difference maker as Mercyhurst salvages split at Minnesota State

— After suffering an upset loss in Mankato at the hands of Minnesota State in the season opener on Friday night, Saturday’s rematch was crucial for No. 7 Mercyhurst. Thanks in large part to the efforts of senior captain Christine Bestland, the Lakers were able to build a three-goal lead and hold on for a 3-2 victory.

“Our kids were challenged to play with a lot more pride and character,” Mercyhurst coach Mike Sisti said. “In my 22 years of coaching, I’ve never had a team when its back was against the wall not respond. We’re young, but I was really proud of our players. I like how Mankato played all weekend. Every win is going to be a fight, and that’s the way it should be. But our kids played with a lot of passion and pride and found a way to win the road game that we felt we had to win.”

Mercyhurst (1-1) came out the hungrier team early, jumping on the hosts with a pair of first-period tallies by Jenna Dingeldein.

“They were desperate,” Minnesota State (1-1) coach Eric Means said. “You knew that they were going to come; we tried to tell our girls it’s going to be a different hockey game in the first five minutes. Unfortunately, they caught us taking a couple of shifts off and jumped out to a quick lead.”

On a power play, Christine Bestland put a low shot on goaltender Danielle Butters and Dingeldein buried the rebound at 7:03. Rookie defenseman Jillian Skinner had the other assist.

“A couple of times yesterday, we noticed that the goalie was giving up some rebounds, so we decided to shoot far pad and see what she would give us,” Bestland said. “That goal was a momentum-changer for us and it kept us going.”

Less than two minutes later, Shelby Bram sent Dingeldein in on a rush and the sophomore from Toronto snapped off a shot to the far side to beat Butters, with Bestland adding another helper.

“We were pretty excited that Dingeldein put two in the net right away and got us going,” Bestland said.

On a roster that has fewer proven scorers than found on some of his past teams, Sisti looks for that type of production from Dingeldein.

“Since we don’t have a lot of players that were go-to players last year on our roster, we have to lean on the few we have,” he said. “We really challenged her from yesterday to today that she has to be a difference maker. She handled that responsibility and was a night-and-day different player today, and was a huge part of the win. We need that type of effort out of her every night.”

Mercyhurst got a goal from its third line in the latter stages of the second period to up the lead to 3-0. Maggie Rothgery poked in a loose puck, with linemates Jaclyn Arbour and Taylor Accursi helping out.

“Our third line came out hard; they were battling hard in their end,” Bestland said. “The goal was a garbage goal, but hey, we’ll take the goal; it was the game-winning goal.”

Kathleen Rogan got the Mavericks on the board during a four-on-three power play in the final period at 8:38. Rogan one-timed a pass from Shelby Moteyunas into the net before goaltender Amanda Makela could slide across.

Nicole Germaine extended MSU’s rally with another goal just 40 seconds later, and the hosts were back in the game at 3-2 with more than 10 minutes to play.

“We were proud of our team that we found a way to get back into the hockey game with a chance to tie it up in the end,” Means said.

However, the Mercyhurst defense and Makela combined to hold off the Mavericks the rest of the way, including killing off a pair of penalties.

“The third period, Mankato came out hard and we were diving, blocking shots, doing whatever we could to keep it out of the net,” Bestland said.

Throughout the contest, Bestland was willing to do whatever it took to earn her team the win.

“When someone like that is on the ice, they have a tendency to make little plays that keep the momentum going,” Means said. “She’s a really good hockey player.”

“Obviously Christine, the captain of our team, set a good example, led by example, and won a lot of races for pucks, a lot of battles,” Sisti said. “I think that was the key today. We had good jump, good passion, and that’s how you’ve got to play to win hockey games.”

Mercyhurst’s win was made all the sweeter by the Lakers having to survive the Mavericks’ late challenge.

“I just told the players that as a coach, you’d love to win by a lot, but it’s just not reality,” Sisti said. “The more battles you’re in, they’re going to make you a better, stronger, more confident team late in the season, so that was key.”

MSU had to settle for its comeback win on Friday, but the willingness to battle to the finish has to be encouraging.

“We have to be a meat-and-potatoes hockey team that will play 60 minutes,” Means said.

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