By Shane Frederick
The Mankato Free Press
MANKATO — No one wanted to call Saturday night's game a must-win for the Minnesota State men's hockey team.
But it was the next best thing.
“We needed something to go right for us,” said senior captain Johnny McInnis, who scored the lone goal in a 1-0 WCHA overtime victory over Bowling Green before a crowd of 3,657 at Mankato's Verizon Wireless Center. "We needed to get some of our swagger back, maybe."
McInnis scored 71 seconds into overtime to break a scoreless stalemate between a pair of freshman goaltenders.
The Mavericks' Cole Huggins, making his second career start, made 33 saves for his second win in as many Saturdays, out-dueling Tomas Sholl, who stopped 24 shots.
On a play set up by linemates Jean-Paul LaFontaine and Dylan Margonari, the right-handed McInnis skated into the zone against defenseman Jose Delgadillo and fired a shot from the right circle that beat Sholl on the blocker side.
McInnis seems to have a knack for big goals. He now has nine game-winners for his now-100-game career. A week earlier, he broke a 2-2 tie late in the third period in the Mavericks's 4-3 victory at Bemidji State. He said Saturday's goal was a “deja vu” moment, as he scored on the same shot to beat Nebraska Omaha in overtime two seasons ago when Minnesota State coach Mike Hastings was a UNO assistant.
McInnis nearly scored the game-winner in regulation, getting a partial breakaway with 45 seconds to go in the third period. But the defender closed in, and Sholl made the save.
“In overtime, you want to get pucks to the net,” said McInnis. "Everything just came together."
The victory gave Minnesota State a series split against the Falcons, who won Friday night's opener 4-3 and left the Mavericks feeling bitter.
“I can't say it was a must win at this time of the year,” Hastings said, “but it was an incredibly important win.”
The battered Mavericks played a full lineup but had no healthy scratches. Then, less than six minutes in to the game, they lost their second-most experienced defenseman and a top penalty killer, Brett Stern, for the game to a checking-from-behind major and game misconducdt.
The Mavericks killed off Stern's five-minute penalty, allowing just two shots to get to Huggins along the way.
“We've faced some adversity so far,” Hastings said, “and I think we needed to have something positive happen so we could feel good about ourselves. I thought the effort was there tonight. Bowling Green is a good hockey team.”
Huggins stopped 12 shots in the first period and 12 more in the second en route to his first career shutout.
“I wasn't too nervous,” he said. “I just tried to play my game.”
Huggins got the start after sophomore Stephon Williams struggled on Friday. He stopped nine shots in the third period and saw none in overtime, as MSU outshot Bowling Green 3-0 in the extra period.
"I think he enjoys playing the position," Hastings said of Huggins. "He's not too high, and he's not too low. As a freshman and as a goaltender, he goes about things the same was as he does everyday in practice. ... Puck have a tendency to stick to him. We really needed a performance like that."
The Mavericks (4-4-0, 2-2-0 in WCHA) will play Friday and Saturday at Minnesota.