Minnesota State won their fourth game in a row, and earned their second consecutive four-point sweep in WCHA play with a dominating 6-1 win over Bemidji State on Saturday evening. Beyond the scoreboard, this looked like a much different Minnesota State team than the one swept by St. Cloud and Denver early in the season. They looked much more comfortable and poised, their passes were connecting better, and they were much stingier on defense.
As easy as the Mavericks made the game look, head coach Mike Hastings pointed to a key moment in the game's first shift as the turning point of the evening. He felt like Bemidji State came out with more jump than his team, controlling the play for the first few minutes of the game, but a quality save by goalie Stephon Williams, coupled with the fact that Minnesota State scored their first goal shortly after turned the tide in the Mavericks' favor. "They buzzed us, but came out of it down 1-0," said Hastings. Hastings also felt the goal settled his team down and helped them play more poised hockey.
It seems strange to highlight Minnesota State's goal tending on a night where Bemidji State's third shot on goal didn't come until the 14-minute mark of the second period. But the first thing Hastings pointed to in the turnaround for his team in the past two weeks was getting timely saves from goalie Stephon Williams, who only allowed one goal on the weekend.
Minnesota State's defense is also improving, highlighted by a career-game for sophomore Brett Stern. Stern opened the scoring with his first career goal, and added an assist later in the game en route to being named the game's number one star. "I thought that was the best game Stern has played since I've been here," said Hastings. The solid play of Stern, who regularly plays on MSU's third pairing, allows MSU to distribute their minutes a little more evenly between defensemen and not have rely so heavily on their top pairing.
The Mavericks moved into a tie for 5th place in the WCHA, pending Saturday's other results, and have a good opportunity to continue their momentum next weekend when last place Alaska-Anchorage comes to Mankato.