By Shane Frederick
---- — Michael Huntebrinker, Brett Stern and Brett Knowles. Not exactly Minnesota State’s murderer’s row when it comes to goal scoring.
But the unlikely trio came up big in the WCHA Final Five title game on Saturday night at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Mich., leading the Mavericks to a 4-1 victory over Ferris State and their first Broadmoor Trophy championship.
The group, fourth-liners Huntebrinker and Knowles and junior defenseman Stern, came into the game with a combined one goal, by Huntebrinker.
“Sometimes it isn’t about who tucks it behind the goal line, it’s about who allows us to be in a situation like we were tonight,” coach Mike Hastings said, “and those guys have done a tremendous amount of the work.”
The victory improved Minnesota State’s unbeaten streak to 13 games and kept the season alive by clinching the WCHA’s automatic berth into the NCAA tournament, which begins next week.
Goaltender Cole Huggins stopped 25 of 26 shots and was named the Final Five’s Most Outstanding Player. He allowed just one goal in the two-game tournament. Huggins, Stern and forwards Bryce Gervais and Teddy Blueger were named to the all-tournament team.
Blueger, who entered the weekend with just three goals, scored an empty-netter and assisted on two goals.
Playing the conference’s regular-season champion, the Mavericks jumped out to a 2-0 lead with Huntebrinker and Stern scoring first-period goals.
Huntebrinker slipped behind the defense and got a perfect pass from Zach Lehrke to deflect past goaltender C.J. Motte, the WCHA's only Hobey Baker Award finalist, at 9:13. Jean-Paul LaFontaine also assisted on the goal.
At 13:50, Stern scored the third goal of his career. Blueger set him up on a rush, waiting for the defenseman to enter the zone, and Stern fired it over Motte's shoulder, grazing the crossbar and dropping in the net.
"The puck had eyes," Stern said.
Ferris State’s Gerald Mayhew, another all-tournament selection, made it 2-1 on a scramble in front of Huggins with 46 seconds remaining in the second period.
But Knowles’ first goal of the season, at 8:38 of the third period, was the cushion the Mavericks needed to put the game away.
Senior captain Johnny McInnis was the first to congratulate Knowles, who fired in the rebound of a Blueger wrap-around try, and said Knowles told him he “could have started crying" right then.
Knowles, a sophomore, scored five goals as a freshman — big ones, Hastings pointed out, game-winners against North Dakota and Minnesota — but had been held off the board in 36 games this year.
“I see every day — day in and day out — guys like Huntebrinker and Knowles, who's worked as hard as anybody,” McInnis said. “It's obviously frustrating when you don't score sometimes. As a hockey player that's what you want to do. ... That just goes to show the emotion we play with and how much it means to (Knowles) and our family for him to score a goal — as big as that was.”
Huggins held things together in net, making eight stops during Bulldogs power plays and stopping a very dangerous Cory Kane from close range late in the game.
“Go and check any level, whether it’s high school hockey, midget hockey, junior hockey, college hockey or the National Hockey League, you cannot get it done without outstanding goaltending,” Hastings said. “You look at the push (Ferris State) made. We get up 2-nothing. They’re a championship-caliber hockey team, and they put a push on.”
The Mavericks (26-13-1) outshot the Bulldogs 32-26. Both teams will play in the national tournament. They will find out their fate during the Selection Show, which will be broadcast on ESPNU at 11 a.m. today.
Minnesota State will hold a viewing party for the show at Mankato’s downtown Buffalo Wild Wings, starting at 10:30 a.m.