By Shane Frederick
Free Press Staff Writer
MANKATO — Chase Grant hadn’t scored a goal since early January, but the Minnesota State men’s hockey sophomore hasn’t been deterred.In overtime of Friday’s Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoff game against Nebraska Omaha, Grant was a little gassed and considered going off the ice for a change. But he saw a play developing.
“I saw the 3 on 2, and I wanted it,” he said.
And he got it, giving MSU a 4-3 victory and a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series.
Jean-Paul LaFontaine set up Grant, who joined the play late, with his third point of the game, and Tyler Elbrecht also assisted. Grant fired from the high slot, beating goalie John Faulkner at 7:04 of overtime.
“It was a great pass from Jean-Paul,” Grant said. “He drew the (defenseman), and I had all the time and space I needed. I was fortunate to put it past (Faulkner).”
It was Grant’s first goal since an overtime score against Providence on Jan. 4 and certainly the biggest of his college career.
“He’s been playing really well over the last three or four weeks,” MSU coach Mike Hastings said. “And if you’re doing all the right things, good things are going to follow you. … He has never stopped pushing, and it was great to see him finish.”
The goal made up for a tentative start for No. 10 Minnesota State (23-11-2), which was playing its first home playoff game since 2008.
Before a surprisingly small crowd of just 2,855 at Verizon Wireless Center, Omaha took advantage with an early 1-0 lead and a 3-2 advantage after two periods.
“I didn’t think that we played with the same edge that we had last weekend, and I blame myself for that,” Hastings said. “Coming off a big weekend like we did, Human nature is you’re going to be a little satisfied, and I should have done a better job of making sure we were aware of that.”
Brent Gwidt scored the early one for UNO (18-17-2) at 5:16 of the first period, and Matt White and Ryan Walters erased a 2-1 MSU lead with the latter coming with 1:36 remaining in the second.
“You gotta give (Omaha) credit,” Hastings said. “I thought they came out and went after us.”
Minnesota State kept itself in the game with power-play goals from Zach Palmquist and LaFontaine to take its 2-1 lead early in the second period.
“We came out flat,” said Palmquist, who assisted on LaFontaine’s goal. “It was huge that our power play was on tonight. We took advantage of that, and that was a game-changer for us.”
Freshmen were the other game-changers for MSU.
Bryce Gervais’ pinpoint, low-angle goal from LaFontaine at 9:39 of the third period tied the game at 3-3, and goaltender Stephon Williams continued his sparking play in goal with 32 saves, including nine in the third period and three in overtime. White had a chance to win the game early in overtime with a shot right at the doorstep that Williams blocked into the netting behind him.
“He was the difference,” Hastings said of his goalie.
Faulkner stopped 30 shots for Omaha.
Game 2 of the series is at 7:07 p.m. tonight. If Minnesota State wins, it will earn a berth in to the WCHA Final Five in St. Paul for the first time since 2003. If Omaha wins, a third game will be played at 7:07 p.m. Sunday.
Nebraska Omaha 1-2-0-0—3
Minnesota State 1-1-1-1—4
Scoring: 1. UNO-Gwidt 8 (Raubenheimer 7, Sustr 15) 5:16; 2. MSU-Palmquist 6 (Leitner 27, Nelson 9) ppg 17:06
Penalties: Archibald, UNO (hooking) 1:35; Seeler, UNO (hooking) 15:49; Sustr, UNO (high-sticking) 15:58; Nelson, MSU (interference) 17:35
Scoring: 3. MSU-LaFontaine 9 (Palmquist 18, Lehrke 16) ppg 3:47; 4. UNO-White 16 (unassisted) 5:53; 5. UNO-Walters 22 (Sustr 16, Zombo 23) ppg 18:24
Penalties: Montpetit, UNO (cross-checking) 3:05; Sustr, UNO (hooking) 3:47; Stern, MSU (interference) 6:42; Mosey, MSU (roughing) 18:24
Scoring: 6. MSU-Gervais 7 (LaFontaine 22, Jutzi 8)
Scoring: 7. MSU-Grant 7 (LaFontaine 23, Elbrecht 7) 7:04
Shots on goal: UNO 12-11-9-3—35. MSU 11-10-6-7—34. Penalties: UNO 5 for 10 minutes; MSU 3 for 6 minutes. Power-play opportunities. UNO 1 for 3; MSU 2 for 4. Goalie saves: UNO Faulkner 10-9-5-6—30 (3 GA); MSU Williams 11-9-9-3—32 (3 GA)
UNO called its timeout at 7:18 of the third period.
Referees: Brian Thul, Tom Sterns. Linesmen: Nick Bradshaw, Sam Shikowsky