The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports

December 29, 2012

Mavericks open UConn tournament with win

STORRS, CONN — The Minnesota State men’s hockey team got back to its winning ways on Saturday afternoon.

Jean-Paul LaFontaine scored two third-period goals as the 18th-ranked Mavericks defeated Brown 3-1 on the first day of the UConn Hockey Classic.

“J.P. LaFontaine played a really good game,” coach Mike Hastings said in a phone interview afterward. “He hit a crossbar and could have ended up with three (goals) tonight.”

The Mavericks, who saw a seven-game winning streak come to an end in their final game before Christmas break, led the Bears 1-0 after two periods.

“Coming back after that game in Omaha, we talked about being a little more responsible in our own end, and we did that tonight,” Hastings said.

Defenseman Zach Palmquist scored the first-period goal, getting assists from Taylor Herndon and Max Gaede.

Herndon, a freshman from Oklahoma City, was playing for the first time this season. With rookie center Teddy Blueger playing for Latvia at the World Junior Championships in Russia, senior Eli Zuck moved up to the third line and Herndon played center on the fourth line.

“I thought Taylor didn’t miss a beat,” Hastings said. “There wasn’t a penalty for the first half of the game, so we were rolling four lines. It’s a testament to what he did over break. He showed me he respected the idea of what this opportunity might be.”

At 9:02 of the third period, LaFontaine made it 2-0 on a power-play goal, getting assists from Matt Leitner and Zach Lehrke.

Brown got on the board with 6:44 left in the game on Mark Naclerio’s short-handed goal.

But the Mavericks controlled play in the third, outshooting the Bears 9-4 in the final frame. LaFontaine sealed the victory with rink-length empty-net goal with four seconds to play.

Minnesota State outshot Brown 27-19. Freshman goalie Stephon Williams won his eighth game of the season, stopping 18 shots, including all 11 he faced in the first period.

“Steph got back to being Steph,” Hastings said.

The Mavericks (11-6-2) will play UConn, a 7-2 winner over American International, in Sunday’s championship game at 6:15 p.m.

Notes

Blueger scored Latvia’s lone goal in a 5-1 loss to Sweden at the World Junior Championships on Saturday.  Latvia is 0-3 in the tournament and plays the Czech Republic today. ... Leitner extended his point streak to four games and has at least one point in 12 of the last 13 games. ... MSU is 3-0-2 in nonconference play.

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