The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports Columns

November 13, 2012

Frederick: Mavericks need to find way to win close games

— If there was a sore subject for the Minnesota State men’s hockey team last season, it was its record in one-goal games.

Counting games in which the winning team added an empty-net goal in the final minute or two, the Mavericks went 6-13-2 in games decided by one goal or less last year.

Finding ways to win any game was difficult enough. But when it came to close ones, the Mavericks just couldn’t reach down and find what was necessary to finish off an opponent.

It’s been like that around these parts for awhile. In fact, the Mavericks haven’t had a winning record in one-goal games since the 2008-09 season, when they went 8-6-6.

Over the next three years, they compiled a record of 22-35-11 in games that came down to the wire. In that same stretch, 24 games went to overtime, and the Mavericks managed to win just three of those games, while losing 10.

This past weekend, Minnesota State lost twice at home to now-second-ranked Denver, a team it hasn’t beaten in five seasons.

The scores were 4-3 and 3-2. Sure enough, a couple of one-goal losses.

“That’s been the theme so far,” senior captain Eriah Hayes said following Saturday’s series finale. “Close but not enough.”

It wasn’t hard to pinpoint how the Mavericks lost those games.

Slow starts. Penalty problems on Friday. No even-strength scores on Saturday. A couple of soft goals given up both nights.

“We have a tendency to make it difficult on ourselves,” coach Mike Hastings said on Friday. “We’re just not a deep enough hockey team to be able to do that. Nobody is in the WCHA.

“It doesn’t matter (if it’s) the first-place team, which is Denver, all the way down to the bottom, the game’s too difficult. It’s such a fine line between winning hockey games and losing hockey games. Tonight, in my opinion, that cost us two points.”

And two more on Saturday.

That’s Hastings’ charge, though: trying to turn Minnesota State into a consistent winner. And that has to start with finding ways to pull out the close games.

The Mavericks are 3-5-2 so far this season, with seven of those games falling into the one-goal-or-less category.

They’re 2-3-2 in those close games. They showed some come-from-behind spunk in all of those games, fighting back in ties against Alabama Huntsville and Rensselaer and doing the same in an overtime win over the latter.

They lost a good game to then-No. 2-ranked Minnesota at Mariucci Arena before bouncing back to beat the Gophers the next night in Mankato.

Despite their troubles against an excellent Denver team — they kept things close in the third period both nights, evening it up at 2-2 on Saturday, but it was the Pioneers who found ways to score big goals on the road.

A tough penalty kill. A goal by a senior leader. A key save.

In the WCHA, that’s what the good teams do when the game’s on the line. They find ways to win.

Shane Frederick is a Free Press staff writer. Read his blog at mankatofreepresshockey.blogspot.com, and follow him on Twitter @puckato.

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