MANKATO — What a way to get home ice.
Brett Knowles with an overtime winner. Stephon Williams with a plethora of highlight-reel saves. A standing-room-only crowd of 5,088.
“I’m assuming that resembles a playoff game,” Minnesota State coach Mike Hastings deadpanned after his team’s 2-1 overtime victory over No. 5 North Dakota at the Verizon Wireless Center.
For the 10th-ranked Mavericks, the win clinched their first WCHA upper-division finish in five years and the fourth since joining the league fulltime in 1999-2000.
The victory also snapped a 10-game losing streak to UND and came in the two teams’ final regular-season meeting as conference foes.
“That was two good teams playing a good hockey game,” said Knowles, a freshman winger who slammed in Jean-Paul LaFontaine’s pass behind goalie Zane Gothberg at 3:22 of the extra period. “That was one of the funnest games I’ve played in in my life. The crowd was unreal.”
The Mavericks (22-11-3, 16-11-1 in WCHA) finished the regular season in a tie for fourth place in the WCHA after back-to-back 11th-place finishes. They also set a Division I-era record for wins.
“It’s great for our community, great for our team, great for our school,” senior defenseman Tyler Elbrecht said. “It’s great for everybody. We’re where we want to be. But there’s still a lot to accomplish.”
Minnesota State will be either the fourth or sixth seed in the first round of the conference tournament, depending on the outcome of today’s game between Denver and Alaska Anchorage, and will host either Minnesota Duluth or Nebraska Omaha.
“It’s huge for us,” said Williams, who all but locked up the WCHA’s goaltending title with a 1.93 goals-against average in league play. “We accomplished one of the goals we set at the beginning of the season. But we’re not satisfied. We’ve still got the playoffs.”