The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports

January 26, 2013

Mavericks fall to No. 1 Gophers

MANKATO — If Friday’s victory over No. 1-ranked Minnesota marked a significant step for the Minnesota State men’s hockey team, Saturday’s 4-1 loss to the Gophers showed there’s still work for the No. 14 Mavericks to do.

“To get to where we want to go, we have to win games like this on back-to-back nights,” MSU sophomore forward Chase Grant said. “So we have to get better. Our effort, I didn’t think, was poor, but it was not as strong as last night in Minneapolis.”

Before a jam-packed crowd of 5,134 at the Verizon Wireless Center — the arena’s fifth-largest hockey crowd and the first game to reach the 5,000 mark in four years — the Gophers took advantage of a bad turnover and two MSU penalties to shush the building.

Zach Lehrke scored the Mavericks’ lone goal, which didn’t come until six minutes remained in the game.

“You want to try, when you have a building full of your home fans, to get them involved in the game right away, and we didn’t do that tonight,” Mavericks coach Mike Hastings said. “But I’m not disappointed in our group whatsoever.”

The weekend split against the top-ranked Gophers left the Mavericks (16-9-3, 10-9-1) in fourth place in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association standings going into a bye weekend.

The game began as a more physical version of Friday’s game and went back-and-forth until 12 1/2 minutes in when an errant pass by Lehrke turned into a breakaway for Gophers winger Justin Holl.

Goalie Stephon Williams (25 saves) made an initial stop and it was called no goal on the ice after the net came loose. However, officials called it good after checking the video replay.

“I knew (the Gophers would) make a pretty hard push,” Hasting said. “They did. And I thought we were kind of weathering the storm. Then we turned the puck over, created the breakaway … And I thought they smelled a little blood in the water.”

An interference penalty on Zach Palmquist led to a Minnesota’s power-play goal by defenseman Nate Schmidt and a 2-0 lead with 1:49 remaining in the first period. Schmidt scored into a gaping net after Williams stopped an initial shot.

After a scoreless second period, the Gophers’ Zach Budish scored a power-play goal at 9:46 of the third after an Eriah Hayes boarding penalty.

The goal marked the first time since MSU’s loss at Minnesota on Nov. 2 that it allowed more than one power-play goal in a game. The Mavericks gave up three that night.

“I think (the power play) was the swing point for us,” Hastings said. “We didn’t kill ’em, and we didn’t score ’em. So that’s really the difference in the game.”

Lehrke finally put MSU on the board with 6:01 to play in the third period, firing back the rebound of a Bryce Gervais shot. And that lit a fire for the next shift.

Twenty-seven seconds later, the Mavericks appeared to make it a one-goal game again on a play from Matt Leitner to Johnny McInnis, and the crowd went into a frenzy. But after the night’s third video review, the officials ruled that the puck went in off McInnis’ hand and disallowed it.

“I think that one should count, but my vote didn’t matter,” Hastings said.

The booing crowd didn’t get its complaint heard either.

Minnesota added an empty-net goal by Erik Haula with 3:32 to play. Gophers goalie Adam Wilcox stopped 26 shots.

“We were much better tonight,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said. “We were willing to block shots, box out in front of Adam and get our sticks up. We were much sharper.”

Minnseota State next plays Feb. 8-9 at Minnesota Duluth.

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