By Shane Frederick
Free Press Staff Writer
MANKATO — Stephon Williams wanted to skate the length of the Mariucci Arena ice and put his arms around Brett Knowles.The Minnesota State goaltender was in the midst of stopping 20 third-period shots against No. 1-ranked Minnesota and 37 in all when his fellow freshman scored the game-winning goal with just 44 seconds remaining in regulation.
“To be honest, I was celebrating harder than he was,” Williams said after the 14th-ranked Mavericks’ 2-1 WCHA victory. “I’m so happy for him. Growing up, guys dream of goals like that.”
Williams couldn’t go down there, though, as he had to finish off the upset victory, He stopped a Gophers’ flurry in the closing seconds with 10,076 fans screaming. He snatched up a last-second shot and held up his closed glove until the final horn sounded.
“It was a great team effort,” he said, “a great family effort, especially the last 44 seconds.”
On the game-winner, Knowles got to a spot few Minnesota State players were able to find over the course of the game, slipping down to an open spot at the right post.
“It was a big play to get to the paint, which we hadn’t gotten to in the first two periods, and score a five on five goal, which we needed,” Mavericks coach Mike Hastings said.
Gophers goalie Adam Wilcox made two of his 31 saves before Knowles scored. Zach Palmquist fired a shot from the point, and Eli Zuck tried to put back the rebound, which Wilcox kicked right Knowles’ feet.
“(Wilcox is) a heck of a tendy,” said Knowles, who came into the game with just one goal. “We talked about trying to get second and third opportunities against him.”
Wilcox and Williams are both freshmen, and the latter showed why he, too, ranks among the top goalies in the WCHA, especially when the Gophers opened up their offense in the third period. Hastings even used his timeout with just under seven minutes to play to try to calm down his defenders and quell Minnesota’s attack.
“We were playing a little bit on our heels (in the third), and Minnesota showed why they’re No. 1 in the country,” Hastings said. “They put their foot to the floor and came after us in the third period. We handled it OK.
“I thought (Williams) was really good tonight, especially at the end and through the third period.”
The first two periods were pretty even, with MSU outshooting Minnesota 24-18 but neither team was getting many quality shots. The Mavericks blocked eight shots in the first period alone and finished with 16.
“Getting into a rhythm was huge,” Williams said.
Minnesota defenseman Nate Schmidt broke a scoreless tie at 7:48 of the second period, getting deep into the zone behind MSU’s defenders and cashing in on a cross-ice pass from Nate Condon.
The Mavericks (16-8-3, 10-8-1 in WCHA) tied the game on the power play with 3:18 remaining in the second period. Johnny McInnis parked himself in front of Wilcox and tapped in a pretty pass from Matt Leitner, who worked to retrieve the puck behind the net. Chase Grant also assisted on the play.
The series now moves to Mankato, where the two teams will play at 7:07 p.m. tonight.
Minnesota State 0-1-1—2
Penalties: Leitner, MSU (roughing) :30; Bjugstad, UM (roughing) :30
Scoring: 1. UM-Schmidt 5 (Condon 15, Serratore 1) 7:48; 2. MSU-McInnis 11 (Leitner 20, Grant 8) ppg 16:42
Penalties: Bjugstad, UM (interference) :39; Hayes, MSU (elbowing) 9:13; Grant, MSU (roughing) 12:11; Alt, UM (roughing) 12:11; Ambroz, UM (checking from behind) 15:02; Leitner, MSU (tripping) 19:51
Scoring: 3. MSU-Knowles 2 (Zuck 9, Palmquist 14) 19:16
Penalties: Nelson, MSU (holding) 16:38; Rau, UM (diving) 16:38
Shots on goal: MSU 12-12-9—33. UM 8-10-20—38. Penalties: MSU 5 for 10 minutes; UM 5 for 10 minutes. Power-play opportunities. MSU 1 for 3; UM 0 for 2. Goalie saves: MSU Williams 8-9-20—37 (1 GA); UM Wilcox 12-11-8—31 (2 GA)
Referees: Brad Shepherd, C.J. Beaurline. Linesemen: Tony Czech, Sterling Egan.