The Free Press, Mankato, MN

March 11, 2014

Frederick column: To pull or not to pull (the goalie) — that is the question


The Mankato Free Press

---- — When it comes to risk management, Mike Hastings and Mel Pearson put on their actuary hats on Saturday night as Minnesota State and Michigan Tech played into overtime.

Both teams had big incentives to win the game.

The Mavericks needed a victory to clinch a share of the MacNaughton Cup as WCHA champions and get the No. 1 seed for the first round of the conference tournament. The Huskies needed a win to get home ice for the playoffs, something they haven’t had in more than 20 years.

The teams ended up in a 1-1 tie, each falling a point short of its task.

Both coaches had a reason and a few chances to pull his goaltender for an extra attacker and try to win the game, whether that was at the end of regulation or in overtime. Each coach said the strategy was considered but, in the end, felt the risk outweighed the reward.

Pearson probably had the most incentive to play 6 on 5 with a home series on the line.

“We talked about it as a staff, but had we given up an empty-net goal … we would have been traveling to Fairbanks (Alaska),” Pearson said. “Plus, it would have been tough walking out of here without at least a point with how well we played.

The Huskies instead will go to Bowling Green for the best-of-three playoff series that starts Friday. A series against a better Alaska team not only would have required extensive travel from Houghton, Mich., it would have started on Thursday.For Minnesota State, a win would have sparked a celebration at the Verizon Wireless Center, one more than 4,000 people who attended the game hope to be part of. The Mavericks would get to (eventually) raise a trophy as well as a banner.

With 13 seconds left in overtime, Hastings used his timeout, drew up a play on his whiteboard and sent five forwards out for an offensive-zone faceoff. He left goalie Cole Huggins in his net, however.

If all that was on the line was a championship, there’s little doubt that Huggins would have been on the bench for the final moments.

But Hastings, too, was concerned about the implications of an empty-net goal against his team. The Mavericks are a bubble team in the Pairwise Rankings, which determine the NCAA tournament field. While the tie kept them at 17th and a win would have bumped them up to 15th, a loss would have dropped them to 19th.

“It’s important not to lose hockey games this time of year,” Hastings said.

One could argue that such a tenuous position means MSU’s only realistic chance to get to nationals is to win the WCHA tournament, so forget the Pairwise and go for the win.

I’d say that it’s too bad that the heavy weight of the Pairwise Rankings put the Mavericks into that position to consider some quick calculations during a minute-long timeout.

The rankings were created to give a transparent view at the selection process, and it’s very black and white. A win is a win, a loss is a loss and a tie is a tie. For the most part, that’s a good thing.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a voice of reason on a committee who could say, “That loss should be looked at as a tie because that team was trying to win a conference title.”?

The Mavericks controlled the pace in overtime Saturday and outshot the Huskies 3-1.

Hastings and Pearson didn’t necessarily play not to lose. But they weren’t going to lose that way.

Perhaps both of them should have pulled their goalies.

Shane Frederick is a Free Press staff writer. Read his blog at mankatofreepresshockey.blogspot.com and follow him on Twitter @puckato.