MANKATO — In hockey, games often tighten up in the playoffs. And in the WCHA, with its bunched-up standings this season, the playoffs started a week early.
Playing for a shot at its first league championship, Minnesota State found itself in a tight game with Michigan Tech on Friday night before a crowd of 3,484 at the Verizon Wireless Center.
The game was scoreless until the final 3:42 of the third period when the Mavericks scored three times in the 3-0 win.
“It was a playoff-type atmosphere, playoff-type-hockey,” Mavericks coach Mike Hastings said. “I don’t think either team gave up a lot of scoring opportunities.”
On one of the few clean plays of the night, Dylan Margonari broke the stalemate, redirecting defenseman Brett Stern’s slap pass behind goalie Pheonix Copley.
“That was a tremendous pass,” said Margonari, who scored his eighth goal. “We work on stuff like that all the time, going low to high. I was just coming across from the back side and he found me.”
From there, Chase Grant and Bryce Gervais (empty-netter) added to the lead, and freshman goaltender Cole Huggins finished off a 26-save shutout.
It was the eighth straight victory for the Mavericks (22-13-0, 20-7-0 in WCHA), and they will go into tonight’s regular-season finale with a chance to win the MacNaughton Cup. Minnesota State is tied for first place with Ferris State, a 2-1 winner over Lake Superior State on Friday.
“Obviously, it’s pretty special,” Stern said. “The biggest thing is just playing our game.”
Michigan Tech, which was trying to clinch home ice for the league playoffs, took the Mavericks out of their game, bottling them up and keeping their high-octane power play scoreless on five chances. Copley finished with 29 saves, including 12 in the second period.
“Tech is one of the best teams in our league,” Hastings said, “and I thought that showed throughout the game.”