Little by little, Minnesota State freshman Sean Flanagan is seeing his responsibilities increase.
“It was hard going into the season, knowing there were 10 defensemen, and everyone’s a good player,” he said. “I’ve stepped in and just tried to do my job. It’s nice getting a little more time. Coach is relying on me more and more.”
When the Mavericks were down a defenseman in the third period Saturday night, Flanagan’s minutes went up, and at 9:07 of the frame, he scored what would stand as the game-winning goal in the 3-2 victory and WCHA series sweep over Bemidji State.
“It’s hard to sweep in this league,” MSU coach Mike Hastings said, “and you’re going to have to have someone make a play and do some special things to get a sweep.”
Flanagan’s goal was a low laser from the right point that zipped through traffic and beat goalie Jesse Wilkins at the left post. Zach Lehrke and Jon Jutzi assisted on the play.
Flanagan has played in 21 of the Mavericks’ 30 games but is the second-leading scorer among defensemen with four goals and 11 points. He also leads the Mavericks in plus-minus at plus-8.
“He’s the old throwback from Saskatchewan,” Hastings said. “He just likes playing the game. Smart. Puts himself in good spots. There’s nothing that really rattles him.”
Before a crowd of 4,089 at the Verizon Wireless Center, the Mavericks were outshot 29-25 but scored two goals during a major penalty in the second period and then kept the Beavers off the board off its own major.
Johnny McInnis and Jean-Paul LaFontaine scored the Mavericks’ goals. Each assisted on the other, and Matt Leitner assisted on both goals as well.
Goaltender Cole Huggins stopped 27 shots for his 13th win of the season. The Mavericks have won three straight.
“They’re a tough team to play,” Hastings said of the Beavers. “They’re well coached, and they came out and dominated the first period. Penalty killers, goaltending — those were the difference in the game.”
For the second night in a row, Bemidji State scored the first goal and led 1-0 after one period. Defenseman Graeme McCormack scored the goal on a wraparound shot after scooping up the rebound of a Brendan Harms shot.
The Mavericks came back in the second period with two goals during a major penalty on Ruslan Pedan for checking from behind.
McInnis fired a shot from the slot that hit the right post, caromed off the back of Wilkins and dribbled back into the net, tying the game 1-1 at 3:38.
Less than two minutes later, LaFontaine finished off a scramble in front of the net, skating in late and flipping a backhanded shot over the goalie.
Later in the period, however, the Mavericks found themselves killing off a similar predicament, as Carter Foguth was tossed from the game for checking from behind.
With additional minors at each end of Foguth’s major, the Mavericks killed off 7 ½ minutes of penalty time that included more than 90 seconds of 5-on-3 time.
“Guys were blocking shots; everybody was buying in,” said Matt Leitner, who “took a couple of bullets,” blocking shots during the penalty kill, Hastings said.
The Mavericks had another power play to work with early in the third period, but the Beavers ended up scoring short-handed to tie the game. Charlie O’Connor jumped a pass at his own blue line and was free on a breakaway with only Huggins to beat. The tying goal at 1:50 of the period was the seventh short-handed goal given up by the Mavericks this season.
A little more than seven minutes later, Flanagan gave MSU the lead again.
“It was a great pass by Lehrke off the wall,” Flanagan said. “(Bryce) Gervais went to the net to get a screen. I just threw it on net, and it found a way in.”
Said Hastings: “If you look, he had his head up and had some traffic. It’s hard to score goals 5 on 5, and we needed to find one.”
The Mavericks (17-13-0, 15-7-0 in WCHA) will host Alabama Huntsville Friday and Saturday.