It took a while, and for a long time, it looked like it wouldn't happen, but 1:11 into overtime, Minnesota State captain Johnny McInnis scored the game's first goal to give Minnesota State a 1-0 win over Bowling Green on Saturday night.
The game was a tight defensive battle all throughout regulation, with neither team generating many quality scoring chances. The two teams traded shots off the goal post in the second period. Bowling Green held a 33-22 shot advantage through regulation, but Minnesota State tallied all three shots on goal in overtime, including McInnis' game winner. Minnesota State goalie Cole Huggins earned his second career victory and first career shutout.
The victory was a much-needed two points for Minnesota State, after losing on their home ice to Bowling Green on Friday night. The Mavericks now move to 4-4-0 overall and 2-2-0 in WCHA league play. Bowling Green falls to 5-3-2 overall and 3-1-0 in the WCHA.
Some final notes from the game:
-There's really not too much you can say about a game that didn't have any goals until the very end. Minnesota State really seemed to open things up in the overtime, breaking some forwards out of the zone early to try and get a break. Just before McInnis' winner, the Mavericks had an even better chance when Chase Grant had a mini-breakaway that Sholl made an excellent save off of.
-Bowling Green arguably deserved a better fate tonight for how well they played on the road. Shots on goal finished pretty close at 33-25 Falcons, but Bowling Green had the better of the play at even strength. Bowling Green had a 61-41 even strength shot attempt advantage over Minnesota State, which correlates to about a 60-40 zone advantage. Caveats about quality of shots always apply, but tonight I think it's a wash because none of the shots tonight were of much quality.
-A big part of that Bowling Green advantage was the strong play of their top forward line of Adam Berkle-Cam Wojtala-Matt Pohlkamp. There were many times tonight where it felt like Minnesota State would have two or three strong shifts in the Bowling Green end, then that line would come out on the ice and have a strong shift in the Minnesota State end. Then they'd go off the ice and the puck would be back down in the Bowling Green end.
Those three players combined for 18 of Bowling Green's shot attempts at even strength, just under 30% of all Falcon shot attempts, and 14 out of the team's 33 shots on goal. Add in that there were almost undoubtedly some shots from defensemen when they were on the ice, and they played a pretty big part in tilting the game in Bowling Green's favor.
Of course, they weren't rewarded for their efforts, but they had a lot of quality chances and near misses, including a Cam Wojtala rebound chance that was just barely stopped late in regulation, and a pass that just missed Wojtala standing all alone in front of the net in overtime.
-This was a much-needed win for Minnesota State. For the second straight week, it was senior captain Johnny McInnis stepping up to make a big play when his team really needed a goal. The Mavericks haven't lived up to expectations early on this year, but it's hard to find fault with the leadership he's provided.
-The Mavericks also may have found a new goaltender. Cole Huggins looked good in his first two appearances for the Mavericks, and was outstanding again here. He wasn't asked to make any five-star saves, but played steady positional hockey, and got the benefit of a lot of shot blocks from the defense in front of him. At the very least, he's probably earned the right to start Minnesota State's next game against Minnesota.
-Outside of the overtime, if there's one place Bowling Green can say they lost the game, it was probably on the power play. The Falcons only had three opportunities on the night, but their first was a five-minute major power play early in the game that could have allowed them to put the game away early. They were only able to generate one quality chance on that power play, however, and never seriously threatened on their next two power plays.
Minnesota State's power play continues to struggle as well, going 0-for-3 on the night to drop them back below 10% on the season. That continues to be a huge concern for the Mavericks.
-Minnesota State junior Matt Leitner continues to struggle offensively. The preseason WCHA player of the year went scoreless again, and now has just three assists in six games this year. It doesn't seem to be for lack of effort, however. Leitner still seems to be forcing things a little bit offensively, trying to get himself on track, and his frustration was visible a few times tonight. He is, however, playing really well in the defensive zone. He blocked three shots, which was best among forwards in the game
-There were some complaints about the officiating crew in St. Cloud on Friday night, but that officiating crew looked head and shoulders above the WCHA crew that worked this game tonight. The losses the league suffered due to realignment seemed pretty evident. The five-minute major penalty called on Minnesota State's Brett Stern to start the game probably shouldn't have even been called a minor penalty. During one stretch of play in the second period, the same official blew the whistle too early on pucks that weren't covered, including one that would have been an easy MSU goal. A minute later, after the Bowling Green goalie covered a shot, he let the play drag on way too long as a sort of correction, which inevitably led to a skirmish and some penalties. Even the linesmen were shaky at times.
The officials did let both teams play in the third period, letting some close plays go uncalled, which I think was a good decision.