By Shane Frederick
Free Press Staff Writer
MANKATO — To win six games in a row — to sweep three Western Collegiate Hockey Association series, rather — is no easy task.“WCHA league play is such a grind,” Minnesota State coach Mike Hastings said. “It’s a mental grind, it’s a physical grind.”
Alaska Anchorage may be in last place in the league, but it had yet to be swept in a series this season. But Minnesota State took care of that stat with a 3-0 win on Saturday night before an announced crowd of 3,348 at the Verizon Wireless Center.
The Mavericks made it look easy at times, controlling the puck for a majority of the game and outshooting the Seawolves 35-16.
“Hard work is paying off for us,” said senior co-captain Eriah Hayes, who scored his 10th goal of the season. “We’ve put in a lot of time and a lot of hard work, and good things are going our way.”
After Saturday night’s WCHA games had all concluded, the Mavericks were tied for third place in the conference standings and just two points from the top.
Chase Grant and Zach Lehrke scored MSU’s other goals, and rookie goaltender Stephon Williams recorded his second shutout in as many weekends.
Williams has been in goal throughout the streak and has allowed just six goals in that timeframe.
“I think the guys are playing hard for him, and he’s making timely saves for us,” Hastings said.
Despite dominating the time of possession, the game was scoreless after the first period. Seawolves junior goalie Chris Kamal made 13 of his 35 saves in the frame.
“We wanted to come out and make sure that we didn’t give them a lot of energy and play at our pace, and I thought we did a good job of that,” Hastings said. “We still didn’t have anything to show for it. I thought Kamal played very well. … We didn’t get a lot of second and third opportunities in that first period, and that’s why I thought it was big for us to get that first goal.”
Less than two minutes into the second period, Grant beat Kamal on a shot from the slot, getting assists from Josh Nelson and Teddy Blueger.
And just to prove that things are going the Mavericks’ way these days, Hayes made it 2-0 on what was intended to be a set-up for freshman Brett Knowles.
Hayes made a centering pass from the left wing, and the puck pinballed off a couple of Anchorage defenders before sliding into the net at 7:26 of the second.
Knowles ended up with an assist on the play, along with Jean-Paul LaFontaine.
“A little puck luck there,” Hayes said.
The crushing blow to Anchorage came in the third period when Lehrke scored on the power play at 7:06 of the third period. It was an easy score for the junior as the rebound of a Zach Palmquist shot came right to him standing all along a the left post. Matt Leitner had an assist; it was the only point of the series for the team’s leading scorer.
“I think we’re playing with confidence and sticking together,” senior defenseman and co-captain Tyler Elbrecht said.
The Mavericks (9-5-2, 7-5-0 in WCHA) will close out the first half of their conference schedule Friday and Saturday at Nebraska Omaha.
Alaska Anchorage 0-0-0—0
Minnesota State 0-2-1—3
Penalties: Williams, UAA (cross checking) 10:03
Scoring: 1. MSU-Grant 5 (Nelson 3, Blueger 7) 1:51; 2. MSU-Hayes 10 (LaFontaine 11, Knowles 6) 7:26
Penalties: Margonari, MSU (holding the stick) 7:42
Scoring: 3. MSU-Lehrke 3 (Palmquist 8, Leitner 15) ppg 7:06
Penalties: Roy, UAA (slashing) 6:11; Allen, UAA (tripping) 10:10; Currier, UAA (tripping) 13:31; LaFontaine, MSU (slashing) 13:57
Shots on goal: UAA 4-5-7—16. MSU 13-14-8—35. Penalties: UAA 4 for 8 minutes; MSU 2 for 4 minutes. Power-play opportunities. UAA 0 for 2; MSU 1 for 4. Goalie saves: UAA Kamal 13-12-7—32 (3 GA); MSU Williams 4-5-7—16 (0 GA).
UAA used its timeout at 19:49 of the first period.
Referees: Craig Welker, Brett Klosowski. Linesmen: Nick Bradshaw, Sam Shikowsky.