By Shane Frederick
Free Press Staff Writer
Matt Leitner’s line. Eriah Hayes. Stephon Williams.
Sensing a pattern with the Minnesota State men’s hockey team?
The Mavericks won their third straight Western Collegiate Hockey Association game, — something they haven’t done in three years — with a 3-0 victory over Bemidji State on Friday night before a Verizon Wireless Center crowd of 3,437.
Williams, the freshman goalie who has been in the nets in each of the last three games, earned his first career shutout, making 20 saves.
Meanwhile, Leitner assisted on goals to linemates Dylan Margonari and Zach Lehrke, while Hayes, the senior captain, had the play of the game with a backwards, between-the-legs pass to set up Lehrke’s goal.
“Winning in this league is the hardest thing,” Williams said. “The fact that we’ve strung together three in a row is huge. We want to keep it going. We want to make a statement as a team.”
Williams credited his defense for allowing just 20 pucks to get to him. But he had to stay sharp — the Beavers’ Mathiew Dugas was tough to beat at the other end as he tried to fend off 40 shots. The Mavericks (6-5-2, 4-5-0 in WCHA) scored one goal in each period, as Dugas stopped 16 in the opening 20 minutes and 12 in the second.
“I felt the pressure,” Williams said. “Their guy was playing lights out, so I needed to keep it up and stay focused. Any goalie who says he doesn’t feel pressure in the third period is lying to you.”
Bemidji State didn’t have an answer for the line of Leitner, Margonari and Lehrke and the group scored the game’s first goal at 4:22 of the first period. The group was also responsible for the first goal each night of MSU’s series sweep a week ago at Wisconsin.
Margonari scored the goal, jamming his stick at a loose puck in the crease from the left post.
“That line’s been carrying us a little bit, and it was nice to see them give us a start again. …” Mavericks coach Mike Hastings said. “I think when things work out for you, you tend to grow with confidence, and they’ve been rewarded for their hard work.”
On the ice with Hayes during an extended shift late in the second period, Lehrke made it 2-0 with 4 minutes remaining.
Lehrke finished off Hayes’ highlight-reel pass with a backhanded shot at the left post. Hayes, with his back to Dugas at the right post, got a pass from Leitner and sent the puck through his legs and across the goal mouth to Lehrke.
“It did catch me by surprise,” Lehrke said. “It was a great pass.”
The tired group got a couple of fortunate bounces, as Lehrke kicked the puck to prevent a breakout pass, and Leitner fought off some fresh BSU forwards desperate to tie the game before getting the puck deep to Hayes.
“It was feast or famine,” Hastings said. “It was either going to come out in a positive or it was coming the other way because we were gassed. Small turning points in games.”
In the third period, freshman forward Bryce Gervais delivered the dagger by making it 3-0 with 4:15 remaining. It was a just reward for a strong effort by the fourth line, as Max Gaede and Eli Zuck assisted.
The Mavericks and the Beavers (3-6-2, 2-5-2) play again at 7:07 p.m. today.
Bemidji State 0-0-0—0
Minnesota State 1-1-1—3
Scoring: 1. MSU-Margonari 4 (Leitner 13, Lehrke 5) 4:22
Penalties: Hansen, BSU (hooking) 10:07; Illo, BSU (interference) 18:20
Scoring: 2. MSU-Lehrke 2 (Hayes 3, Leitner 14) 16:00
Penalties: Hansen, BSU (elbowing) 13:40; Areshenko, BSU (tripping) 16:43
Scoring: 3. MSU-Gervais 3 (Gaede 4, Zuck 3) 15:45
Penalties: Gaede, MSU (interference) 2:04; Illo, BSU (hooking) 10:30
Shots on goal: BSU 9-8-3—20. MSU 17-13-10—40. Penalties: BSU 5 for 10 minutes; MSU 1 for 2 minutes. Power-play opportunities. BSU 0 for 1; MSU 0 for 5. Goalie saves: BSU Dugas 16-12-9—37 (3 GA); MSU Williams 9-8-3—20 (0 GA).
BSU used its timeout at 7:35 of the second period.
Referees: Tom Sterns, Chris Perrault. Linesmen: Matt Tyree, Rick Nelson.