MANKATO — The Minnesota State men’s hockey team wanted to make sure it was going into the postseason with some momentum.
So even with a lineup shuffled a bit for Senior Night and a goaltender getting his first start in goal in 2 ½ months, the No. 4 Mavericks kept things rolling on Saturday.
Before a Verizon Center crowd of 4,378, Minnesota State closed out the regular season with a 3-1 victory over Bemidji State and a series sweep against its in-state WCHA rival.
“We’re taking steps,” defenseman Connor Mackey said. “We’re playing OK and definitely moving in the right direction. We’re doing a lot of good things.”
The victory was the 27th of the season for the Mavericks, a regular-season team record. The conference champions have lost just once in their last 10 games and finished the season 16-1-0 at home where they will be for the duration of the league playoffs.
“There’s a good vibe here,” said Mackey, who had two assists in Saturday’s game.
Forwards Charlie Gerard, Nick Rivera and Walker Duehr scored goals for the Mavericks. Goaltender Mathias Israelsson, getting his first game action since a Dec. 15 start at Bowling Green, made 22 saves for his eighth win of the season.
“It was a good weekend for us,” coach Mike Hastings said, “a really good weekend for us.”
Unlike Friday’s 4-1 victory, the Mavericks got on the board first when Marc Michaelis, working hard behind the net, found Gerard coming down the slot, and Gerard buried it at 4:22 of the first period.
Minnesota State opened up its lead early in the second period, scoring a pair of goals 2:02 apart.
Rivera scored short-handed, sliding a backhander between goalie Zach Driscoll’s pads at 3:44 after a nice feed from Josh French. Mackey also assisted on the play.
Then Duehr made it 3-0, blasting a Mackey pass behind Driscoll from below the left circle.
Driscoll got the hook after that, finishing the night with 11 saves. Henry Johnson finished up and stopped five shots the rest of the way.
“When you play Bemidji as often as we have over the years, the formula is not letting them get a lead because they’re so good with it,” Hastings said. “The thing I liked was we extended it.”
Israelsson helped the Mavericks do that, stopping all 10 shots he faced in the second period. The Beavers outshot the Mavericks 23-19.
“His practice habits haven’t changed; he’s always preparing,” Hastings said of Israelsson.
The goalie was spelling Dryden McKay, who had started 15 games in a row and played in 22 straight.
“You never know what’s going to happen going down the road in the playoffs,” Hastings said. “He had not played since Dec. 15. And I wanted to give him a game so that he’s not real rusty if we need him in the playoffs.”
There were a couple of other lineup tweaks, too.
Before the game, the Mavericks honored three seniors: captain Max Coatta and little-used Alec Vanko and Ryan Schwalbe, both of whom played in the game. It was Vanko’s fifth appearance of the season and Schwalbe’s first. One of the regulars they replaced was forward Dallas Gerads, the team's third-leading goal scorer, who was injured on a check from behind during Friday’s game.
The Mavericks (27-7-2, 22-5-1 in WCHA) will begin WCHA tournament play on Friday in Mankato when they start a best-of-three quarterfinal series against eighth-place Alabama Huntsville.
Bemidji State finished fifth in the WCHA and will travel to fourth-place Lake Superior State for the first round. The other matchups next week will pit seventh-place Alaska at second-place Northern Michigan and sixth-place Michigan Tech at third-place Bowling Green.