By Shane Frederick
Free Press Staff Writer
No. 2-ranked Minnesota entered Friday night’s WCHA series opener against Minnesota State with just three power play goals in five games.
Anyone who’s followed the history of the Gophers knew that wasn’t going to last very long. And against a struggling MSU penalty kill, it surely didn’t.
“Gotta find a way to kill a penalty,” Mavericks coach Mike Hastings said after his team’s 3-2 loss before a crowd of 9,989 at Mariucci Arena.
All three Gophers goals came with an MSU player in the penalty box. Zach Budish’s rebound goal on the power play at 5:40 of the third period ended up as the game-winner.
“Like coach said, we have to man up,” Mavericks defenseman Zach Palmquist said. “(Minnesota) can’t win every battle in front of the net. We have to bear down to loose pucks.”
Minnesota State (2-3-2, 0-3-0 in WCHA) is still seeking its first conference win of the Hastings era. With the exception of the penalty kill, which currently sits at a paltry 67.6 percent for the season, there were improvements from a week ago at St. Cloud State.
The Mavericks had leads of 1-0 and 2-1 thanks to goals by Palmquist and freshman Teddy Blueger, and Palmquist’s goal came on the power play, which snapped a three-game streak without one.
“Thought the compete was better tonight; I thought we were better in the first period,” Hastings said. “That’s a step, and we’ve got to continue to make steps. Tonight was a step in the compete end. But at the end of the day, it’s about wins and losses. We have to find a way to get that first win in the WCHA.”
Palmquist scored at 4:50 of the first period, slipping down low on the weak side to tap in Jean-Paul LaFontaine’s pass across the goalmouth.
“It seems like we had a little more chemistry moving and passing between all five guys,” Palmquist said. “It seemed like we were on the same page there.”
The Gophers tied it with their own power-play goal at 10:31 when Travis Boyd’s shot through a screen beat goalie Phil Cook low.
Blueger put the Mavericks ahead 2-1 at 9:33 of the second period by tapping in a puck sent through the crease by Zach Lehrke. The play finished off a scramble in front of goalie Adam Wilcox by the Mavericks’ fourth line. Max Gaede also assisted on the play.
"I thought (Blueger) was good tonight, not only offensive but defensively,” Hastings said. “I think I’ve got to find a way to get him more ice. I thought he was a good hockey player tonight, and (he’ll get) a little more ice tomorrow.”
Five and a half minutes later, the Gophers were back on the power play and tied the game. The Mavericks couldn’t get the puck out of the zone, and defenseman Nate Schmidt took advantage of the weary killers late in the penalty. He walked around Lehrke’s block attempt and took advantage of another screen, this one by the 6-foot-3 Budish, and ripped a high shot over Cook’s shoulder.
The Mavericks were called for two penalties early in the third period, a cross-check on Eli Zuck and an interference on Brett Knowles. On the latter, Budish got to the rebound of a Kyle Rau shot and tapped it behind Cook.
Again, though, the play started when the Mavericks failed to clear the puck when they had a chance to get it out to neutral ice.
“Too many little turnovers,” said Palmquist, who took a swipe at the puck before it landed on Budish’s stick. “We rushed ourselves a little bit. We need to settle down.”
Cook finished with 29 saves. Wilcox stopped 23 shots.
The Mavericks and the Gophers (4-1-0, 1-1-0) will play again at 7:07 p.m. today in Mankato.
Minnesota State 1-1-0—2
Scoring: 1. MSU-Palmquist 1 (LaFontaine 2, Leitner 6) ppg 4:50; 2. UM-Boyd 3 (Reilly 4, Ambroz 3) ppg 10:31
Penalties: Budish, UM (tripping) 4:00; Buchanan, MSU (tripping) 9:51; Isackson, UM (tripping) 17:02
Scoring: 3. MSU-Blueger 2 (Lehrke 2, Gaede 1) 9:03; 4. UM-Schmidt 2 (Rau 4, Haula 2) ppg 15:07
Penalties: Hayes, MSU (cross-checking) 3:57; Stern, MSU (holding) 13:10; Hayes, MSU (roughing) 16:50; Leitner, MSU (roughing) 16:50; Grant, MSU (roughing) 16:50; Ambroz, UM (roughing) 16:50; Helgeson, UM (roughing) 16:50; Haula, UM (roughing) 16:50
Scoring: 5. UM-Budish 1 (Rau 5, Schmidt 2) ppg 5:40
Penalties: Zuck, MSU (cross-checking) :27; Knowles, MSU (interference) 4:49; Boyd, UM (tripping) 8:54; Hayes, MSU (charging) 19:51
Shots on goal: MSU 8-10-7—25. UM 9-14-9—32. Penalties: MSU 9 for 18 minutes; UM 6 for 12 minutes. Power-play opportunities. MSU 1 of 3; UM 3 of 6. Goalie saves: MSU Cook 8-13-8—29 (3 GA); UM Wilcox 7-9-7—23 (2 GA).
Referees: Don Adam, Timm Walsh. Linesemen: Nick Bradshaw, Sam Shikowsky.
UM used its timeout at 19:11 of third period. MSU used its timeout at 19:51 of third period.