Nathan Smith’s debut for the Minnesota State men’s hockey team had to wait a couple of games due to an ankle injury.
But the freshman forward from Florida, now healthy, certainly came to play on Friday night.
In his first collegiate game Smith, a Winnipeg Jets draft pick from Hudson, Florida, had a goal and three assists in the No. 2 Mavericks’ fast-paced, entertaining 4-4 overtime tie with an old rival, No. 16 North Dakota.
“For a first game, you couldn’t ask for it to go any better — besides getting a win,” Smith said.
Smith had a hand in all four of MSU’s goals, scoring the Mavericks’ third goal and assisting on junior defenseman Connor Mackey’s game-tying goal at 6:15 of the third period. The Mavericks trailed 4-2 with 6 1/2 minutes remaining in the second period.
“He’s a really skilled player,” Mackey said of Smith. “If you get open, he’s going to find you. He’s a smart, intelligent player, and he got rewarded for it tonight.”
The game, played before a Mankato Civic Center crowd of 4,575, marked the first time the Fighting Hawks had played in Mankato since the 2012-13 season, the last year of the old WCHA.
Freshman Lucas Sowder, who is also from the Tampa, Florida, area and had an impressive, three-point series a week ago against Arizona State, continued his good start to the season with a goal and two assists. Edwin Hookenson also scored for the Mavericks.
The Mavericks’ Florida connection got things started, scoring at 2:38 of the first period, with Sowder finishing off a set-up from Smith with a backhander at the right post. Junior Walker Duehr, who was also on that line, had the other assist.
“I thought that line was our most effective line all night. ... ” coach Mike Hastings said. “You like that they can play with pace together.”
The Fighting Hawks came back and scored three consecutive goals to take a two-goal lead by the 2:44 mark of the second period.
Westin Michaud tied the game on a power-play goal with 21 seconds remaining in the first period, and Harrison Blaisdell put UND up 2-1 just 16 seconds into the second after MSU’s Julian Napravnik was checked off the puck in the MSU zone.
About 2 1/2 minutes later, the Fighting Hawks scored again, as Jackson Keane went to the net all alone and tipped in Andre Peski’s pass, making it 3-1.
That goal prompted Hastings to use his timeout.
“I actually thought they were harder than we were,” Hastings said of the Fighting Hawks’ second-period burst. “You can make the game harder if you’re making guys go through you all night. And I thought we started getting off checks and we were getting beat off walls. And I thought they gained energy and momentum from it, and they scored a couple of goals because of it.”
Things evened out after that, though, and Minnesota State pulled within a goal at 5:18 when Hookenson’s innocent shot from the point deflected into the goal off a UND defender’s stick. Sowder and Smith assisted.
North Dakota went ahead by two goals again at 13:27, when Dixon Bowen took advantage of some tired MSU legs on an extended shift.
But 88 seconds later, Smith made a nifty move around a defender and then ripped a wrist shot past goalie Adam Scheel from the hash marks.
“Good hockey player,” Hastings said of Smith. “Comes to the rink every day with a smile on his face. ... That goal that he scored was a pretty special goal. Great individual effort and a great finish.”
Mackey capped the comeback in the third period, taking the puck down to the goal line where he fired a short-side shot into a puck-sized space over Scheel’s right shoulder.
“One thing I liked about Connor is he kept his feet moving,” Hastings said. “He didn’t just throw a puck; he made a play. You want guys to be comfortable trying to make a play even if they’re at the blue line. … Connor’s comfortable with the puck, and we’re comfortable with him having it.”
North Dakota outshot Minnesota State 27-24. Mavericks goalie Dryden McKay made 23 saves, one in overtime. Each team had a power play in overtime.
Hastings said he and North Dakota coach Brad Berry were interested in playing an extra 3-on-3 overtime, but NCAA rules prohibit it outside of conference play.
Minnesota State (2-0-1) and North Dakota play again at 6:07 p.m. Saturday.