MANKATO, Minn. — With less than a minute left in the second period, it appeared Minnesota State was primed to tie the game at three against Michigan Tech.
In the midst of the Mavericks offensive onslaught, Minnesota State’s Riese Zmolek had the puck on his stick with Huskies goaltender Patrick Munson leaving a sizeable gap in the net for Zmolek to hit. Unfortunately for the Mavericks, Zmolek’s shot went directly into the chest of a Michigan Tech defenseman.
With their season on the line on Saturday, the Huskies pulled out all the stops to keep their opponent from scoring Saturday. After cashing in on some of its own chances, Michigan Tech did enough defensively and defeated Minnesota State, 4-2, to keep its season alive at Verizon Center in Mankato, Minnesota, and force a decisive Game 3 in this WCHA semifinal series.
For the Huskies, the strategy looked similar to the one they had in Friday’s 2-1 loss, but this time, Michigan Tech had a bit more puck luck in the second game of the weekend. The Huskies struck first after Mavericks goaltender Connor LaCouvee just missed covering up a loose puck. LaCouvee’s miss resulted in Justin Misiak scoring his eighth goal of the season.
“They did a good job of taking advantage of our mistakes,” said Minnesota State coach Mike Hastings. “We talked a long time about not creating other teams’ offenses. We have to do a better job of doing that and managing their pressure.”
After scoring just one goal on Friday, Michigan Tech was able to beat LaCouvee with more frequency on Saturday. The Huskies jumped out to a 3-1 in the second period. After their second goal came on a long shot from the blue line, Michigan Tech’s third tally of the night came on another loose puck in front of the net.
“On the third one they just worked,” Hastings said. “Any time you see those things happen, you just have to find a way to work through it, and we didn’t tonight.”
With the Huskies’ offense holding up their end of the bargain, it was up to Michigan Tech to defend one of the nation’s best scoring teams.
For the most part, the Huskies held off the powerful Minnesota State offense. The Mavericks’ first goal came from Jake Jaremko as the freshman forward scored his second goal of the weekend.
Minnesota State’s second goal of the night came on a power play as Dallas Gerads scored the Mavericks’ nation-best 50th goal of the season with the man advantage. Unfortunately for Minnesota State, there were just three penalties called Saturday — two on Michigan Tech and one on the Mavericks.
In the third period, Minnesota State came looking to tie the game, but could not break Huskies netminder Patrick Munson. He made 31 saves in the win and stonewalled every Maverick chance down the stretch.
“They’re fighting for their lives,” said Minnesota State center C.J. Suess. “They’re always going to be a little tougher than they were last night. We’ve just got to battle more tomorrow night.”
After a furious Minnesota State attack late in the third, Michigan Tech got a chance to breathe and/or celebrate as Dylan Steman tallied an empty-net goal to give the Huskies a chance to breathe.
The win by Michigan Tech means there will be a third game on Sunday at 7:07 p.m. at Verizon Center between these two teams. The Mavericks will look to rebound from their first loss in their past 14 games.
“I got a lot of belief in these guys,” Hastings said. “This is the first time they’ve walked away in 15 games where they weren’t winners in 13 of them. They’ve been a resilient group. We’re going to have to refocus.”
This scenario is one both teams are familiar with. They faced off in the tournament semifinals a season ago and went to a decisive third game. In that scenario, the Huskies won Game 3, 4-1.