BEMIDJI — Through more than 5 1/2 games, Johnny McInnis was struggling to score goals for the Minnesota State men's hockey team.
It wasn't for a lack of shots or other opportunities, either.
"I've had chances," the senior captain said. "Early on last year, they were going in. It's natural to try to compare, but I know I shouldn't. It's a brand new season."
During the third period Saturday at the Sanford Center, McInnis finally broke out of his scoring slump. His goal broke a tie game and helped the Mavericks defeat Bemidji State 4-3 to get a Western Collegiate Hockey Association series split.
"There was a little moment of, 'finally,' " said McInnis, who had a team-high five shots on goal in Friday's 4-1 loss.
McInnis skated down the left wing around defenseman James Hansen, powering his way to the net. Goalie Andrew Walsh stopped the initial shot, but McInnis jammed in the rebound to give the Mavericks a 3-2 lead.
"We needed our captain to make a play," coach Mike Hastings said.
That's because the Mavericks saw a 2-0 lead midway through the second period wither into a tie game before the second intermission.
Zach Stepan and Bryce Gervais scored Minnesota State's first two goals — Stepan on the power play in the first period for his first collegiate goal, and Gervais off a nice feed from Jean-Paul LaFontaine in the second — and the Mavericks looked to be in control of the game.
But Bemidji came back on goals by Mitch Cain and Graeme McCormack.
Cain's goal marked the third goal of the series by Bemidji State's fourth line. The group also sparked a second-period charge on Friday, giving the Beavers a 2-0 lead.
Minnesota State responded well on the next shift, but defenseman Jon Jutzi and Gervais hit posts with back-to-back shots.
It appeared the Mavericks would take a slim lead into the third period, but a late tripping penalty by Chase Grant gave the Beavers a power play, and McCormack tied the game with 18.1 seconds remaining in the period.
"To split on the road, it's not perfect," Hastings said, "but to have a two-goal lead, and give it up and get it back again says a lot. ... That was a real gut-check and character-check for us."
"The important thing is: We didn't let it get the best of us like (Friday night)," he said, of the series-opening loss. "And we found a way to win on the road."
Hastings opted to start freshman Cole Huggins in goal over Stephon Williams, and Huggins stopped 28 of 31 shots, including 14 of 15 in the third period, for the win. He saw just four shots in the first period.
"Huggins was solid," Hastings said. "He looked in control."
McInnis has scored eight career game-winning goals, but his goals Saturday didn't end up falling in that category. It was simply the game's most-important goal.
Teddy Blueger scored an empty-net goal with 10 seconds left in the game to put Minnesota State up 4-2, but Bemidji State's Sam Rendle fired a puck past Huggins with 1 second remaining.
The Mavericks (3-3-0, 1-1-0 in WCHA) will host Bowling Green on Friday and Saturday at the Verizon Wireless Center.
"We've got some growing up to do as an entire team, but I think we grew up a lot tonight," Hastings said.