By Drew Lyon
Special to The Free Press
Penalties loomed large in Mankato West’s Big Nine Conference boys hockey game against Rochester John Marshall Thursday.
Each team committed four penalties, but a critical five-minute major for boarding against the Scarlets in the third period proved critical, as the Rockets avenged an earlier home loss to West with a 4-3 victory at All Seasons Arena.
“With the way the game is nowadays, you’ve got tobe very good in your special teams,” Mankato West coach Curtis Doell said. “You can’t take penalties, especially the five-minute ones. It’s going to kill your momentum, and that’s what happened to us.”
With the score tied 3-3 early in the third period, West’s Zachary Erickson was assessed the major. Midway through the penalty, John Marshall broke the tie, when Alex Lovett’s shot bounced off the chest of West goalie Conor Wollenzien and Nick Paulson was waiting to put back the rebound.
After the Scarlets failed to convert on their own power play, another West penalty left the Scarlets short-handed in the closing minutes, leaving scant time for a rally. West center Derek Frentz nearly tied the game with two minutes remaining, but Rockets goalie Jake Garvey made a glove save to preserve the lead.
“We relied too much on our big guys to get it done,” Doell said. “And (the Rockets) were much better than when we beat them. They had something to prove. They skated a lot better; both teams battled hard, but they just played better than us.”
A power play was beneficial to the Scarlets early in the first period, when Dylan Leivermann scored on a rebound from Austin Langworthy to put Mankato ahead 1-0 at the 2:12 mark. At 10:08, the Rockets’ Cole Donahue tied the game. With 58 seconds left in the period, the Rockets went up 2-1 lead on a Hunter Heightland goal.
“We gave up a goal in the last minute of a period, and that’s been a problem for us lately,” Doell said. “That was very disappointing.”
West evened the score four minutes into the second period, when Frentz lifted a wrist shot over Garvey’s left shoulder. Two JM penalties followed with no further damage to the Rockets before West committed two penalties in a one-minute span. In the final seconds of a 5-on-3 advantage, Paulson found Heightland wide open in front of the net for a 3-2 lead.
“We didn’t play our (defensive) zone,” Doell said. “Conor gave us every opportunity to win the game. You can’t fault the goaltender for this one.”
Thirty seconds later, Erickson answered with a goal to send both teams into the locker room tied 3-3.
“It was a good high school hockey game,” Doell said. “Jay (Ness) is a great coach, and they play an aggressive style of hockey.”
After the game, Doell said he couldn't find many positives to take away from his team losing a conference game at home.
"I don't know if a whole lot of good good can come from this," he said. "But it lets us know where we're weak at right now, and what we need to work on to get deep in the playoffs. We're getting to crunch time where we need to bear down and work on the little things."
Mankato West (13-4-0) will host Owatonna on Saturday.