Minnesota State returns to the NCAA tournament after beating Ferris State for WCHA title

From left, Minnesota State’s Brett Stern, Brett Knowles, Jon Jutzi and Max Gaede celebrate after beating Ferris State in the WCHA Final Five championship game (photo: Adelle Whitefoot).

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Minnesota State junior Brett Stern’s first goal of the season became perhaps the biggest of his career.

Scored at 13:50 in the first period, the goal that put the Mavericks ahead 2-0 over Ferris State held up to be the game winner as the Mavericks defeated the Bulldogs 4-1 on Saturday to secure Minnesota State’s first WCHA playoff championship.

WCHA playoffs

See the tournament bracket and get links to schedules and stories at WCHA Playoff Central.

“This WCHA is a very difficult league to be successful in,” said Minnesota State coach Mike Hastings, in his second season behind the Mankato bench. “To go through the regular season trying to chase Ferris, and seeing how tight the league was all the way up until last weekend, we’re very proud as a group to be representing the WCHA as far as its champion in the playoffs.”

The Mavericks finished the regular season in second place behind the Bulldogs, missing a share of the season title by just a single point — in spite of a two-game sweep of Ferris State in January. Each team had 20 wins and the difference between their records was a single tie.

“They’re good,” said Ferris State coach Bob Daniels, who said that he thinks that the Mavericks can go far in the NCAA tournament.

“I thought they played very well,” said Daniels. “We went into the game confident, but certainly with a healthy dose of respect for Minnesota State. They’re a really good team and they played really well.”

The Mavericks found offense in surprising places in Saturday’s game, with two players netting their first goals of the season, another his second and another just his fourth of the year.

Minnesota State led 2-0 after the first period on goals by Michael Huntebrinker — his second — and Stern. At 9:13,

[youtube_sc url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2k_SHKEAyM4]

Huntebrinker sniped one past Ferris State goalie CJ Motte from inside the slot near the right circle, and at 13:50, Stern’s first goal of the year was a one-timer on an odd-man rush.

Gerald Mayhew scored the only Bulldogs goal at 19:14 in the second, a scramble play in front of Mavericks netminder Cole Huggins. It was Mayhew’s third goal of the tournament.

“We get up 2-0, but they’re a championship-caliber team and they put a push on and Cole made some saves that he shouldn’t have,” said Hastings. “You need that.”

At 8:38 in the third, Brett Knowles’ first goal of the year made it 3-1 and killed any realistic chance of a Ferris State comeback.

Teddy Blueger added an empty-net goal with four seconds left.

[youtube_sc url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OODPXPsY5uY]

“Overall, I thought maybe off to a bit of a slow start today,” said Daniels. “I thought we were back on our heels. I thought throughout the second, we started to carry the play and then in the third, we needed to find a way to score a goal.

“If you had to look at maybe one moment or … a turning point, it would have been the third goal that they scored. You could see that goals were going to be tough to come by.”

While Hastings was quick to credit his players for Saturday’s win, one player — senior captain Johnny McInnis — was just as quick to refocus the attention back to the second-year coach.

“When I got here, it was pretty much a fantasy to maybe lift this trophy some day, especially for the direction of where the program was at that time,” McInnis said. “I can’t say how thankful I am for the guy [Hastings] to our far left here.

“Coming on board and turning us around, it’s been a blessing. He’s been a blessing to our university and our community, and we’re starting to get results. It just goes to show what hard work can do.”

Both the Bulldogs (28-10-3) and the Mavericks (26-13-1) will play in the NCAA tournament. Daniels said that while this loss stings a lot, knowing that the Bulldogs’ season will continue helps a bit.

“Really proud of our players, though,” Daniels said. “As always, very appreciative of their efforts. I feel for them. We came up short tonight. The good news is that we’ll have an opportunity to move forward and kind of erase this one from our memory bank.”

This will be the second consecutive NCAA appearance for the Mavericks.

“It’s crazy, this game of hockey,” said Hastings. “It’s amazing. When you put in what you should put in, more often than not, the hockey gods pay you back.”

All-tournament team

F Teddy Blueger, Minnesota State
F Gerald Mayhew, Ferris State
F Bryce Gervais, Minnesota State
D Austin Coldwell, Alaska-Anchorage
D Brett Stern, Minnesota State
G Cole Huggins, Minnesota State