By Shane Frederick
The Free Press
In the game of inches, Minnesota State was about six inches from making things very interesting Saturday night.
That's about the distance across the knuckles of Johnny McInnis' hockey glove, which, officials ruled, was used to punch in a goal.
After a video review, the goal was waved off, and No. 1 Minnesota maintained a two-goal lead with about 61Ú2 minutes remaining in the third period. The crowd of 5,100-plus got quiet (after requisite booing and other not-fit-for-print chants, of course) and the Gophers went on to win the Western Collegiate Hockey Association game 4-1.
That followed the Mavericks' 2-1 win on Friday at Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis. That night, Mavericks freshman Brett Knowles shushed an audience almost double the size of the Mankato crowd with his last-minute game-winner.
While the Mavericks were disappointed with Saturday's loss, there's no shame in splitting with the Gophers, not only this weekend but the season series.
Minnesota has just four losses, and two of them are to Minnesota State.
In early November, when MSU was still trying to learn the ways of new coach Mike Hastings, and Hastings was still trying to figure out who his players were, the Mavericks lost 3-2 at Mariucci and bounced back with a 5-3 victory at the Verizon Wireless Center.
And the Mavericks, who inexplicably dropped to No. 15 in the national polls and No. 16 in the Pairwise Rankings after the split, are a much better team than they were nearly three months ago.
Senior Phil Cook got the win in goal back on Nov. 3, but the Mavericks' goaltending situation has solidified since then with the emergence of freshman Stephon Williams.
There weren't too many questions about the abilities of sophomore center Matt Leitner, but on Friday he sure looked like someone deserving of All-WCHA consideration.
In November, the defense and discipline still looked like the Mavericks of the previous regime, but now Hastings appears to have changed the culture of those areas, as they've allowed less than 21Ú2 goals per game and given their opponents on fewer power plays.
The Mavericks are a good team, but they still sit near the bubble for home ice in the WCHA playoffs as well as for the NCAA tournament with eight regular-season games to play between now and mid-March.
One might say they're inches away.
Shane Frederick is a Free Press staff writer. Read his blog at mankatofreepresshockey.blogspot.com, and follow him on Twitter @puckato.