By Shane Frederick
Free Press Staff Writer
MADISON, WIS. —
Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said he didn’t see a much different Minnesota State team on the ice, even though the Mavericks swept his team at the Kohl Center for the first time in the history of the series.
Asked on Friday night what the difference was between first-year coach Mike Hastings’ team and previous MSU teams, Eaves said not much, at least on first blush.
“Their identity has always been as a hard-working group,” Eaves said. “They’ve always had an older team. They compete hard, and their goaltending has always been pretty good against us. That young man (Stephon Williams) was pretty good tonight. It’s a good formula. It works.”
That night, Williams, the freshman from Fairbanks, Alaska, stopped 32 of 34 shots to join just a handful of MSU goalies who have won games in Madison.
Others were Mike Zacharias (2007, 2008), Jon Volp (2003) and Eric Pateman (1999).
On Saturday, he made program history by stopping 33 of 35 and securing the series sweep. His stretched-out glove save on Tyler Barnes while flopped down in the crease maintained the Mavericks’ one-goal lead early in the third period.
“Willie was lights out,” said MSU senior captain Eriah Hayes, who gave his team an insurance goal a few minutes later. “He was incredible all weekend. He really kept us in it. We really needed a good game from our goaltender to win the game.”
The Mavericks have also gotten good goaltending against Wisconsin in Mankato, where the Badgers have never swept Minnesota State. (They’ll get another shot at it when the two teams meet there on Jan. 11-12.)
Those performances included Phil Cook’s 32-save shutout last January and three more wins by Zacharias.
Cook served as Williams’ backup over the weekend.
With his play, Williams improved his save percentage to .910 and his goals-against average to 2.46.
In the balance
A sweep was almost a must for the Mavericks after they dropped two games to Denver at home on Nov. 9-10, although it didn’t necessarily make up for coming away empty that weekend.
“Nothing will make up for those two at home,” Hayes said. “But we’re on the right track now. We got two on the road, and that’s huge.”
Hastings agreed. Asked what the sweep meant to his team, the coach said: “Just banking some points. We haven’t had a lot of those in the WCHA, and I think they’re incredibly difficult to come by. It’s a big weekend for us because we didn’t get any points at home last weekend, and that’s tough.”
Nelson sits out
Junior defenseman Josh Nelson missed Saturday’s game with what Hastings called an upper-body injury. It was the first time he’d been scratched from the lineup this season.
“He’ll be fine,” Hastings said.
Nelson actually skated in pregame warmups, but it was determined he could not go, and senior Evan Mosey, who also warmed up, took his place, and played for the first time in six games.
“Evan played well,” Hastings said. “As a senior, not paying for awhile, to step in and play the amount of minutes he played, (he was) reliable, trustworthy.”
Hastings also said defensemen Zach Palmquist and freshman Jon Jutzi, along with Brett Stern, also elevated their games.
“They ate a lot of minutes,” he said.
The Mavericks will host Bemidji State on Friday and Saturday at the Verizon Wireless Center. The Beavers (3-5-2, 2-4-2 in WCHA) took three points at home against Alaska Anchorage over the weekend, tying 2-2 on Friday and winning 5-4 on Saturday.
Rookie Bryce Gervais’ goal on Saturday was his second of the season and first game-winner as a Maverick. … With an assist on Eli Zuck’s empty-net goal on Friday, MSU captain Tyler Elbrecht picked up his first point of the season. The defenseman has 20 points for his career. … Hayes’ game-winning goal on Friday was the third of his career. … On Friday, the Badgers announced that they hired alum Matt Walsh as an interim assistant coach to replace Bill Butters, who resigned unexpectedly on Nov. 7.
Freep stars of the series
1. Matt Leitner, F, MSU — With five points, including two goals, the center had the look of a top-flight WCHA center all weekend.
2. Stephon Williams, G, MSU — The rookie wasn’t intimidated by the road or the Kohl Center and stopped 65 of 69 shots.
3. Eriah Hayes, F, MSU — The senior scored a huge third-period goal, including Friday’s game-winner, in each game.