The Minnesota State men’s hockey team couldn’t avoid the big mistakes on Friday night.
Playing former WCHA foe Minnesota Duluth in the first game of the North Star College Cup at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center, the Mavericks lost 5-4 in a wild overtime game that came down to a couple of blunders that led to the game-tying and game-winning goals.
Minnesota State goaltender Cole Huggins fumbled a puck he appeared to have frozen against his body, and Kyle Osterberg was on the spot to tie the game at 4-4 with 9:48 remaining in the third period.
In overtime, a boarding penalty by MSU defenseman Brett Stern led to freshman Alex Iafallo’s power-play winner with 26.5 seconds remaining.
Stern went to the box with 1:16 remaining in overtime. As the final seconds ticked down and the potential of a shootout loomed, the puck squirted out of scramble in front of Huggins and to an open Iafallo at the left post for the goal.
“It ended up this way: the last one with the puck won,” MSU coach Mike Hastings said. “They can make a play and move the puck on our stick in front of the net, and we didn’t get it cleared. A good hockey player, it goes on his stick and he didn’t make a mistake.”
The game went back and forth with each team scoring two power-play goals and a short-hander.
“We were OK,” Mavericks captain Johnny McInnis said. “But at this time of the year, OK’s not going to get it done. That’s something we are learning.”
The game was tied 3-3 after two periods. The Mavericks took a lead at 6:53 on Zach Lehrke’s short-handed breakaway out of the penalty box. It was the Mavericks’ first short-handed goal of the season.
As a UMD 5-on-3 situation ended, Lehrke exited the box just in time to get a pass from Zach Palmquist. With not a defender in sight, Lehrke walked in a put a soft touch on the puck to slip it between goalie Aaron Crandall’s feet.
A little more than three minutes later, however, Osterberg scored short-handed. He fired a shot into Huggins’ chest and the goalie dropped the puck likely a fraction of a second before a whistle would have stopped play. Osterberg swooped in, scooped up the puck and tucked it in behind the Huggins.
“That’s a tough one,” Hastings said. “Cole Huggins has pulled our bacon out of the fire multiple times this year. He thought he had it, it coughed out, they scored. I thought that was a bit of a momentum-changer.”
The Mavericks have allowed five short-handed goals this season, although that was the first given up since Nov. 22.
Bulldogs Scott Sandelin called Osterberg, a freshman, “a tenacious player.”
“That’s a great lesson for players,” Sandelin said. “We harp on it all the time. Shoot the puck and go to the net. Good things can happen. Obviously, that was a huge goal.”
Playing without regular forwards Teddy Blueger and Zach Stepan, who had to sit out one due to fighting penalties from the previous weekend, the Mavericks started slowly, getting outshot 11-5 in the first period. Still, they were able to come out of it with a 2-1 lead.
The Bulldogs opened the scoring on Andy Welinski’s shot from the blue line at 7:28 of the first period. The defenseman intercepted a clearing attempt by Bryce Gervais along the wall, and his shot appeared to deflect in off an MSU player’s leg.
McInnis tied the game midway through the period from an almost impossible angle. His shot out of the corner got through traffic and snuck behind Crandall (23 saves) at the right post at 10:24.
Four minutes later, Matt Leitner scored on the power play to put MSU ahead.
“That was not the start we wanted, but we did a good job fighting back,” McInnis said. “We did a good job getting the lead.”
Duluth came back in the second period, scoring a pair of goals.
Austin Farley and Adam Krause deflected shots past Huggins at 3:49 and 10:27, respectively. Farley’s goal came on a power play.
The Mavericks tied the game again on a late power-play goal by Jean-Paul LaFontaine. The play was not called a goal in real time. A shot by Lehrke hit the post and fell to the ice behind Crandall, there was a big scramble in the crease. Amid the mess, the puck flirted with the the goal line before being cleared away.
At the next whistle, referees went to video review and determined that the puck indeed went over the line. It was LaFontaine’s team-leading 14th goal and 12th on the power play.
LaFontaine, Lehrke and McInnis each finished with a goal and an assist.
For the Bulldogs, Iafallo had a goal and two assists. Welinski and Farley each had a goal and an assist.
Minnesota Duluth outshot MSU 35-27.
The Mavericks (14-11-0) will play in the tournament’s third-place game at 4 p.m. today.