By Shane Frederick
Free Press Staff Writer
MADISON, WIS. — There haven’t been too many seasons that you could say the Minnesota State men’s hockey team had more talent than Wisconsin. But that’s seems to be the case right now.The Mavericks’ playmakers came through again on Saturday in a 4-2 victory to complete MSU’s first-ever Western Collegiate Hockey Association sweep in the Kohl Center.
Senior captain Eriah Hayes scored two power-play goals, and sophomore center Matt Leitner had a goal and two assists for an impressive five-point weekend against the one-win Badgers.
“Coach (Mike Hastings) told us before the weekend that he was going to be hard on the guys who need to be the leaders of the team,” said Hayes, who scored three times in the series. “Matt Leitner was lights out all weekend; he really got us started both nights.”
Leitner came into the series averaging a point per game but said that wasn’t good enough. Those totals included “second assists on power play goals,” he said, not enough to make the impact he needs to make.
“I wasn’t creating offense like I’m capable of doing,” said Leitner, who now has 15 points (three goals, 12 assists) in 12 games. “I wasn’t playing defense. Coach let me know what he expects of me, and I knew it. It’s something I’ve been working on.”
As they did in Friday’s 4-2 victory, Leitner’s line had the game’s first score. On Saturday, Leitner got the goal, with Dylan Margonari and Zach Lehrke assisting at the 4:38 mark of the first period.
“Matt Leitner, I thought, was exceptional all weekend,” Hastings said. “He made an impact on both games. He’s been a little peak and valley for us at times. … I thought he really stepped up as a sophomore tonight and really took it on himself.”
Wisconsin’s Jake McCabe tied the game two minutes later on a 5-on-3 power-play goal, but the Mavericks’ stars took back the lead with their own power-play goal at 13:29.
Hayes parked himself in front of Joel Rumpel and redirected a Leitner shot into the goalie’s chest. The puck fell to the crease, and Hayes fought off two defenders and knocked in the rebound.
Less than two minutes later, the Mavericks’ fourth line got into the act and made it 3-1. Freshman Bryce Gervais took a pretty no-look pass from Max Gaede, who was along the boards behind the net, and blasted it by Rumpel.
“Hopefully one of our strengths is going to be our depth up front,” Hastings said, “and I think you’re always a tougher team to play against as weekends go on if you can play four lines.”
From there goalie Stephon Williams held off a late charge as well as quite a bit of punishment from the Badgers. He ended up with 17 saves in the opening period and took a hard charge from Wisconsin captain John Ramage. No penalty was called on the hit, but two hits more later in the game were.
Williams, who finished with 33 stops, took on jeers from the Wisconsin student section after making a sprawled-out, how’d-he-do-that glove save on Derek Lee early in the third period and then flinging the puck down the rink after the whistle. He also let out some frustration and was called for roughing Wisconsin’s Michael Mersch in the game’s final minute.
“Let’s just put it this way,” Hastings said, “he’s young. …
“Hopefully, he’s matured this weekend. Still got a ways to go. But to win two games on the road as a freshman is a statement.”
Mersch, the Badgers’ top goal score, made it a 3-2 game just 49 seconds into the second period, but the Mavericks held Wisconsin to just four other shots in the period.
Hayes made it a two-goal game again at 3:54 of the third period, firing a perfect goal-mouth feed from Jean-Paul LaFontaine behind goalie Landon Peterson, who had replaced Rumple after the first period.
LaFontaine finished with two assists and had a three-point weekend.
“We need our veteran leadership to step up, which it did,” Hastings said.
The Mavericks (5-5-2, 3-5-0 in WCHA) will host Bemidji State on Friday and Saturday at the Verizon Wireless Center in Mankato.
Minnesota State 3-0-1—4
Scoring: 1. MSU-Leitner 3 (Margonari 3, Lehrke 4) 4:33; 2. UW-McCabe 2 (Simonelli 2, Lee 7) ppg 6:45; 3. MSU-Hayes 6 (Leitner 11, LaFontaine 7) ppg 13:29; 4. MSU-Gervais 2 (Gaede 3, Zuck 2) 15:10
Penalties: Knowles, MSU (boarding) 5:14; Zuck, MSU (interference) 5:20; Woods, UW (hooking) 12:03
Scoring: 5. UW-Mersch 8 (McCabe 4, Lee 8) :49
Penalties: Knowles, MSU (holding) 6:15; McCabe, UW (slashing) 14:19; MSU bench (too many on ice) 15:04; Mersch, UW (interference) 19:25
Scoring: 6. MSU-Hayes 7 (LaFontaine 8, Leitner 12) ppg 3:54
Penalties: R.Little, UW (elbowing) 3:32; Zuck, MSU, double-minor (roughing) 11:25; Mosey, MSU (roughing) 11:25; S.Little, UW (roughing) 11:25; Dahl, UW (roughing) 11:25; Simonelli, UW (goaltender interference) 12:02; Woods, UW (goaltender interference) 13:53; Williams, MSU (roughing) 19:35
Shots on goal: MSU 12-8-9—29. UW 18-5-12—35. Penalties: MSU 8 for 16 minutes; UW 8 for 16 minutes. Power-play opportunities. MSU 2 for 6; UW 1 for 6. Goalie saves: MSU Williams 17-4-12—33 (2 GA); UW Rumpel 9-x-x—9 (3 GA), Peterson x-8-8—16 (1 GA).
MSU used its timeout at 5:54 of the second period. UW used its timeout at 18:40 of the third period.
Referees: Don Adam, Craig Welker. Linesmen: Dan Carey, Ed Moberg..