Back in the fall, Matt Leitner was picked to be the best player in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, but he got off to a slower start than expected.
Perhaps Northern Michigan forgot all about that preseason prediction because Leitner caught the Wildcats off-guard Friday night.
During a power play midway through the third period, Leitner breezed over the blue line and past three defenders to score what would be the game-winning goal in the Mavericks' 3-2 victory before a crowd of 3,233 at Verizon Wireless Center.
“He's a dynamic hockey player,” Mavericks coach Mike Hastings said. “You need guys to make a play at that time of the game, and he did.”
The win was the fourth in a row for Minnesota State (8-7-0, 6-3-0 in WCHA).
The Mavericks controlled the tempo of the game throughout, outshooting the Wildcats 41-16 in the first-ever meeting between the two teams.
Zach Stepan and Dylan Margoniari scored first-period goals off assists from the other to give MSU an early 2-0 lead, but the Mavericks couldn't pull away.
“We knew if we kept coming and kept playing our game, we'd get a break,” said Leitner, who now has 10 points in 12 games. “We played with speed, and that's the way we like to play, no matter what the score is.”
Northern Michigan goaltender Mathias Dahlstrom proved tough to beat, making 38 saves.
The Mavericks' Cole Huggins finished with 14 stops, allowing a breakaway goal by Reed Seckel late in the first period and a power-play goal to Shane Sooth just 29 seconds into the third.
“We stayed with it,” Hastings said, “and stayed together.”
The Mavericks were dominant for the first 17 minutes of the first period, especially the line of Stepan, Margonari and Johnny McInnis.
Stepan opened the scoring at 6:11. Margonari had the puck in the slot but saw Stepan crashing down the left side all alone and slid it to the freshman for an easy tap-in. Defenseman Brett Stern also assisted on the goal.