MANKATO — Don’t call the first three weekends of Western Collegiate Hockey Association play Minnesota State’s rough patch because coach Mike Hastings won’t have it.After their 3-2 loss Saturday and series sweep to third-ranked Denver at the Verizon Wireless Center, the Mavericks know they missed a good chance to make a move in the league standings.
“At the end of the day, tonight’s not acceptable because we’re playing at home, in front of our crowds, on our ice,” Hastings said. “We have to put points in the bank when we’re in our building.”
The Mavericks erased a two-goal deficit, but Denver got the last word when senior Chris Knowlton broke a 2-2 tie with just 3:12 remaining in the game.
The game-winner, Knowlton’s second goal of the game, was a one-timer from the high slot above the circles that beat freshman goalie Stephon Williams cleanly below his glove.
Williams stopped 20 of 23 shots, while Denver got a second solid goaltending performance. On Friday, it was from Sam Brittain; on Saturday it was sophomore Juho Olkinuora of Finland, who finished with 30 saves.
Williams fell to 0-3-1. He also took the 4-3 loss on Friday despite replacing Phil Cook with a 3-0 deficit.
“You look at Minnesota, you look at St. Cloud, you look at Denver and here’s the thing it’s not going to get any easier,” Hastings said, naming MSU’s first three WCHA opponents. “When Anchorage comes here, when Bemidji come here, those guys aren’t easy to play against. So we’ve got to find a way to get 90 (save percentage) every night to give us a chance to win hockey games.”
Knowlton scored the game’s first goal just 74 seconds into the first period. He had an easy tap-in of a rebound after Williams overplayed Nick Shore’s initial shot and left the net wide open behind him.