In an game that was evenly matched at Mariucci Arena, Minnesota State led for a grand total of 44 seconds. Normally that wouldn't bode well for the Mavericks against top-ranked Minnesota but that wasn't the case Friday night.
They led for the final 44 seconds.
Mavericks freshman Brett Knowles buried the rebound from a Zach Palmquist shot past Minnesota goaltender Adam Wilcox to give visiting Minnesota State (16-8-3, 10-8-1 WCHA) a 2-1 win to snap the Gophers' ten-game unbeaten streak. Johnny McInnis also scored for the Mavericks while Stephon Williams made 37 saves - including 20 in the third period - in a winning effort.
"He was good tonight," Gopher head coach Don Lucia said of Williams. "I thought both goalies played very well tonight. They kind of settled in where it was going to be a ‘low-scoring, one play was going to make the game'."
Minnesota (17-4-4, 9-4-4 WCHA) once again got off to a slow start in the first period of a Friday game. The Gophers were out-shot 12-8 in the first period by Minnesota State, however, the Mavericks were unable to get shots and bodies in front of the net. Only two of their shot attempts below the face-off circle.
"They have a couple of trees back there with Helgeson and Alt and their defensive corp," said Mavericks head coach Mike Hastings. "They make it difficult for you to get there."
Following a scoreless first, the Gophers gained momentum and it looked like Minnesota State more and more needed the first goal. They didn't as Minnesota defenseman Nate Schmidt pinched in towards the net, simultaneously settled down a Nate Condon (Colorado Avalanche) pass and shot the puck over Williams for a 1-0 Gopher lead 7:48 into the second period.
While other teams would have faded, Minnesota State responded to Schmidt's goal by playing their best hockey of the game. They began getting better shot opportunities and testing Gopher goaltender Adam Wilcox (Tampa Bay Lightning) more than in the first. While Wilcox, who made 31 saves, was able to easily be in position to make saves in the first, that wasn't the case in the second period.
By the time sophomore Matt Leitner caught the Minnesota defense napping in front of the net to set up McInnis' 11th goal, it was the culmination of almost 9 solid minutes of offense by the Mavericks.
The Gophers, who had scored four or more goals in every game since the holiday break, found their footing in the third period and more than doubled their shots on goal from the first 40 minutes.
"We fought through a lot in the third period," Hastings said. "I thought the guys played well."
Despite quality chances from Tom Serratore and Condon to re-take the lead, Williams stood tall. Both teams had chances in the final three minutes during a stretch of 4x4 play from simultaneous holding and diving penalties to win the game Friday and eventually Knowles emerged the hero.
"You're happy for a guy who puts in the amount of work (Knowles) puts in," the Minnesota State head coach said about the junior, who scored only his second goal of the season. "He's done a good job at elevating his physical stature and making sure he had legs to finish that."
Minnesota State moves up to fourth place in the WCHA with the win while Minnesota falls into a tie for second.
For as even as the game was with both teams having a better period (and even splitting the second), it wouldn't have been surprising to see either team win. The Mavericks showed resiliency by becoming the first team to defeat the Gophers trailing 1-0 (Minnesota was 13-0-3 prior to Friday's game) and were only the second to beat them at Mariucci Arena this season.
Based on the last three Fridays it felt like Minnesota would eventually get burned by playing to close to the fire. Sooner or later a team is going to lose if they are behind or in a close game and that was the case against Minnesota State; a point that Schmidt talked about following the Gophers' loss.
"There's no weekends off in the WCHA. There really isn't. With how good the league is this year a team like Mankato is going to come in here and if we have a lackluster first period that is what is going to happen. First, second period we were sloppy and never had a chance to pull away in the game"
Minnesota and Minnesota State travel to Mankato to play Saturday at 7:00 p.m. CT. The game will be broadcast on Fox Sports North Plus.
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