ST. PAUL — Minnesota State came out of its first WCHA Final Five game in 10 years bruised, battered and beaten.
Not exactly the experience it had been waiting for a decade.
“Part of this is the maturation for the future of our program,” Mavericks coach Mike Hastings said. “We learned from winning in the first round, being excited about it, and we’ll learn from our first game here. If you don’t take something out of it, it’s a lost experience.”
The eighth-ranked Mavericks had a disastrous start, allowing three goals to No. 14 Wisconsin before the first period was half over and lost 7-2 in the tournament’s first game Thursday afternoon at Xcel Energy Center.
Now they hope their season isn’t over.
After dropping to a still-comfortable but nervewracking 12th place in the Pairwise Rankings, Minnesota State (24-13-3) will await the announcement of the NCAA tournament field on Sunday night as the rest of the Final Five plays out.
“It’s not in our hands anymore,” senior and co-captain Eriah Hayes said. “We hope we get selected on Sunday.”
If their season continues, the Mavericks hope to get healthy and get a better start to that tournament’s opening game.
Goalie Stephon Williams and forwards Chase Grant and Eli Zuck did not finish the game due to injuries. Hastings said all three will be re-evaulated today.
Williams appeared to be kicked in the head on Wisconsin’s fifth goal, the second of the game for junior Tyler Barnes. Hastings was set to pull the WCHA Rookie of the Year after that score anyway.
It just wasn’t Williams’ night, as he stopped 14 of 19 shots.
Barnes jumped on a turnover and scored a breakaway goal just 63 seconds into the game, and Jefferson Dahl scored two short-handed goals.
“That’s a tough island to put your goaltender on in his first WCHA Final Five game,” Hastings said.
Dahl’s first goal, scored from a bad angle along the goal line at 6:11, and Nic Kerdiles fired a clean shot from the right circle through Williams’ legs two minutes later.
“You don’t want to give them a head start, and we gave them a head start tonight,” Hastings said.
It was 3-0 after one period, and Dahl made it 4-0 at 8:50 of the second. The third-line center, who nearly had a short-handed hat trick after ringing another shot off the post, has seven goals this season, four against the Mavericks.
A John Ramage major penalty for charging MSU’s Teddy Blueger gave MSU a chance to get back in the game.
Zach Palmquist and Eriah Hayes scored goals for MSU. Jean-Paul LaFontaine and Matt Leitner had assists on both goals.
However, those scored sandwiched Barnes’ second goal, which game in a 4-on-4 situation after Grant negated two minutes of the major with a hitting-after-the-whistle penalty.
“At no point did we not believe we weren’t getting back in this game,” Hayes said.
Senior Phil Cook replaced Williams at the 12:24 mark of the second period and stopped six of eight shots the rest of the way. Both Wisconsin goals against him came in the third period, one each by Frankie Simonelli and Joseph LaBate, despite the Mavericks outshooting the Badgers 16-4.
For Cook, it was his first extended action since Williams’ five-minute major against Wisconsin on Jan. 11 in Mankato. He hadn’t finished a game since Nov. 3 when he beat Minnesota.
It was also a rough night for the MSU defensemen. Rookie Nick Buchanan couldn’t corral the puck leading to the game’s first score, and Palmquist finished with a minus-5 rating.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin goaltender Joel Rumpel was rock-solid throughout the game, making 38 saves and holding MSU to just two goals on nine power-play opportunities. The Badgers had 27 shots on goal.
Wisconsin’s seven goals were the most the Badgers scored this year and the most the Mavericks allowed this season. MSU hadn’t allowed more than five in a game until Thursday.
“Knock on wood, we’ll have the opportunity to play in the NCAA tournament,” Hastings said.
Minnesota State 0-2-0—2
Scoring: 1. UW-Barnes 12 (unassisted) 1:03; 2. UW-Dahl 6 (R.Little 6) shg 6:11; 3. UW-Kerdiles 8 (Zengerle 22, Ramage 9) 8:11
Penalties: LaBate, UW (tripping) 5:12; Zuck, MSU (boarding) 11:19; Schulze, UW (hooking) 16:56; Grant, MSU (interference) 18:59.
Scoring: 4. UW-Dahl 7 (McCabe 16) shg 8:50; 5. MSU-Palmquist 7 (LaFontaine 25, Leitner 29) ppg 10:53; 6. UW-Barnes 13 (unassisted) 12:24; 7. MSU-Hayes 20 (LaFontaine 26, Leitner 30) ppg 13:51
Penalties: McCabe, UW (hooking) :48; Woods, UW (hooking) 7:08; Ramage, UW, major (charging) 9:37; Grant, MSU (hitting after the whistle) 11:09; Hayes, MSU (cross-checking) 17:26; McCabe, UW (embellishment) 17:26
Scoring: 8. UW-Simonelli 3 (Barnes 15, Kerdiles 20) 11:05. 9. UW-LaBate 8 (Woods 5, Mersch 13) 17:16
Penalties: LaBate, UW (hooking) 1:47; Ramage, UW (interference) 8:09
Shots on goal: MSU 7-17-16—40. UW 12-10-4—27. Penalties: MSU 4 for 08 minutes; UW 8 for 19 minutes. Power-play opportunities. MSU 2 for 9; UW 0 for 2. Goalie saves: MSU Williams 10-4-x—14 (5 GA), Cook x-4-2—6 (2 GA); UW Rumpel 7-15-16—38 (2 GA)
MSU timeout at 8:11 of first period
Referees: Todd Anderson, Brad Shepherd. Linesmen: Andy Dokken, Justin Hills