MANKATO — For 10 years, the Minnesota State men’s hockey team has missed out on the WCHA Final Five.
The way it started off the third and decisive game of a first-round conference playoff series on Sunday night, there was no way it was going to miss out on another of the league’s big parties in St. Paul.
“I’ve waited four years for it,” senior defenseman Tyler Ebrecht said. “We’ve put the work in, and it finally paid off.”
Minnesota State dominated the first period and went on to defeat Nebraska Omaha 3-1 before a Verizon Wireless Crowd of just 2,405. The win gave MSU a berth into the Final Five for the first time since 2003.
The Mavericks (24-12-3) will play Wisconsin at 2:07 p.m. Thursday at the Xcel Energy Center.
“It means a lot for the school and the community,” said sophomore center Matt Leitner, who had a third-period goal and an assist. “We might not realize it right now, but it’s big.”
Minnesota State got off to a great start, outshooting Omaha 12-3 in the first period and getting goals from Bryce Gervais and Max Gaede.
“That’s probably the best 20 minutes we’ve had in a good month,” MSU coach Mike Hastings said. “I thought we came out with energy and thought we were committed to what we needed to do.”
And if not for a couple of huge saves by UNO’s John Faulkner (32 saves) on Eriah Hayes, it could have been 4-0.
Gervais started the scoring at 8:23. The winger was moved up to the first line on Saturday and connected on a perfect pass from Chase Grant. Gervais crashed down the middle of the rink as Grant put the puck out front from the wall behind the net.
Gaede made it 2-0 a little more than five minutes later with his first goal of the season. The snakebit sophomore took a pass from freshman Taylor Herndon and made a nifty move going to the net before he backhanded the puck behind Faulkner.