By Shane Frederick
MANKATO — The Minnesota State men's hockey team rediscovered its scoring touch on Friday night.
Apparently, it had left it back in Mankato where it was preserved and waiting for the top team in the WCHA.
The Mavericks, who mustered just two goals in their last series at Alaska Anchorage, scored them early and often against No. 2-ranked Ferris State and the conference's best goaltender, winning 6-2 before an energetic crowd of 3,635 at the Verizon Wireless Center.
Matt Leitner had two goals and an assist, and Johnny McInnis also scored twice. Zach Lehrke had a goal and two assists, and Jean-Paul LaFontaine finished with a goal and an assist.
"They started going in, and it became contagious," Leitner said.
MSU freshman goaltender Cole Huggins out-dueled C.J. Motte, stopping 29 shots in the first meeting of the top two teams in the WCHA's preseason polls.
Minnesota State was the consensus pick to win the conference back in October, but Ferris State started running way with the league title. Friday's loss was the Bulldogs' first in league play. It was also the first time they had allowed more than four goals in a game this year.
"We've stuck together as a family," Leitner said. "We're as good as anybody, and we know that. We can hang with anybody and do all the things we need to do to be successful in this league."
The win moved the Mavericks (13-10-0, 11-6-0) back into second place in the WCHA standings, although they remain four points behind Ferris State (17-4-3, 12-1-2) going into Saturday night's series finale.
"I think it's important to understand we want to play well at home. We have to play well at home," MSU coach Mike Hastings said. "Tonight was a step in the right direction."
The Mavericks outshot the Bulldogs 38-31, and Motte, with 20 saves, was pulled shortly after giving up the fifth goal — McInnis' second — early in the third period.
The Mavericks made plays throughout the night, finishing off timely passes and odd-man rushes.
The goals came quickly as MSU scored a pair just 17 seconds apart early in the first period.
Leitner put the Mavericks on the board, firing in a perfect shot on a perfect pass from Bryce Gervais who was along the wall below the goal line.
The Bulldogs were called for a penalty before the goal, and the Mavericks' power-play unit made a similar play. This time, LaFontaine set up Lehrke, and it was 2-0 just 3:45 in.
"We got a lead," Hastings said. "We've had trouble getting a lead and have been playing from behind quite consistently. In college hockey, that's a tough place to be."
Ferris State didn't wither in the hard-hitting, back-and-forth first two periods. Shots were 22-22 through two periods, and twice, Ferris State cut MSU's lead to one goal — 2-1 and 3-2— before the Mavericks broke the game open in the third period.
T.J. Schlueter and Brandon Anselmini scored the Bulldogs' goals.
"They're a good hockey team," Hastings said. "They're on you and in your face all the time. Once they're in the offensive zone ... they have ability to possess and protect the puck. It was a good hockey game. I don't think it was a 6-2 hockey game."
The Mavericks scored a pair of hard-charging 2-on-1 goals to take a 4-2 lead into the second intermission.
At 5:50 of the second period, McInnis tipped in a cross-ice pass from Margonari, who had power-rushed the puck down the ice on the left wing. The two linemates would team up for a goal again 95 seconds into the third period, with Margonari setting up McInnis for a partial breakaway that put the Mavericks up 5-2 and chased Motte from the game.
Before the third period was out, however, Leitner scored his second goal after Teddy Blueger won a race with two Bulldogs to a loose puck and sent it across to an open Leitner. Motte stopped the first shot. But the puck went right back to Leitner's tape, and he shot it in for a 4-2 lead with 2:04 left in the period.
"Late goals and early goals are impactful to the game," Hastings said. "With us having the struggles we've had scoring guys lately, you need some guys to make some individual efforts that are special. Teddy took a significant check to deliver that puck over to Matt."
LaFontaine scored MSU's final goal, his team-leading 11th of the season. He also had an assist for a two-point game.