If Minnesota State was looking for a rival in the new Western Collegiate Hockey Association, it may have found it this weekend.
“It’s a rivalry for sure now,” Mavericks junior Jean-Paul LaFontaine said.
In front of a season-high crowd of 4,363 at the Verizon Wireless Center, the Mavericks defeated No. 2-ranked Ferris State 4-3 in wild game that felt more like a playoff game than a mid-January one.
The intense game between the WCHA’s top two teams had more than 200 minutes worth of penalties and six ejections, including the Bulldogs’ goaltender.
LaFontaine and Johnny McInnis scored power-play goals in the third period, breaking a 2-2 tie, and the Mavericks held on through a multi-player brewhaha and a major penalty kill over the final 12 minutes.
“That was a playoff hockey game,” MSU coach Mike Hastings said. “What wasn’t involved in that game, right?”
LaFontaine finished with two goals and an assist, and McInnis had a goal and an assist. Dylan Margonari scored MSU’s first goal, and Matt Leitner assisted on a pair of goals for a five-point weekend.
Mavericks freshman goaltender Cole Huggins stopped 32 of 35 shots, once again out-dueling C.J. Motte, who stopped 31 of 35 shots before getting tossed after a scrap with Teddy Blueger.
Shortly after McInnis made it 4-2, the rivalry really headed up. Blueger and Ferris’ Justin DeMartino went into the boards together, and punches were thrown. After getting separated, Motte entered the fray in one of the more bizarre sequences in MSU’s Division I history, and several other players got into it too.
When it was all sorted out – and a puddle of buffalo sauce was cleaned off the ice – Blueger and Stepan were disqualified, along with DeMartino, and Motte was also tossed from the game.
By rule, Blueger and Stepan will have to miss MSU’s next game.
“The guys competed,” Hastings said. “You don’t go into a game saying those things are going to happen.”
Before the fireworks, Ferris State had tightened things up from Friday’s 6-2 loss, giving the Mavericks little room to move and keeping the crowd quiet.
The Bulldogs got on the board first. Freshman Seth Adams scored the goal, camping out at the right post and redirecting defenseman Scott Czarnowczan’s shot past Huggins at 10:11.
Margonari tied the game with 2:16 left in the period, wristing a low shot through traffic and between Motte’s legs.
LaFontaine gave the Mavericks a 2-1 lead with 2:25 left in the second period, capitalizing on a major penalty on Czarnowczan.
Czarnowczan was booted from the game for a vicious cross-check to Bryce Gervais’ head following a collision into the Ferris State net. Czarnowczan lifted his arms and egged on the MSU fans as he exited the arena, and suddenly the crowd was into it again.
The Bulldogs tied things up again early in the third period. Andy Huff’s backhanded goal through traffic got under Huggins’ stick at the left post.
After the melee, Kenny Babinski made it 4-3 with 7:02 left in the game, and the Mavericks had to kill off a Chase Grant 5 minute major over the final 6 minutes.
The win moved the Mavericks (14-10-0, 12-6-0 in WCHA) within two points of the first-place Bulldogs in the league standings.
The Mavericks will play in the inaugural North Star College Cup on Friday and Saturday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. They will open the tournament at 4 p.m. Friday against Minnesota Duluth. St. Cloud State and Minnesota will play in the second game.