The nation's top-ranked team, Minnesota State knocked off #17 Minnesota 4-2 in the semifinals of the North Star College Cup. It's not exactly a surprising end result, but the path there, especially in the game's final minutes, was as crazy as you're going to see.
The Mavericks were desperately clinging to their 4-2 lead with Minnesota pressuring for a goal. Teddy Blueger took a holding penalty with 2:22 remaining to put the Gophers on the man advantage--really a two-man advantage with goalie Adam Wilcox out of the net for an extra attacker.
On the ensuing power play, Minnesota State defenseman Casey Nelson blocked a shot and immediately went down on the ice injured. Minnesota controlled the puck for the next 15-20 seconds and almost scored with Minnesota State goalie Stephon Williams making a sprawling save. Minnesota continued to control the puck with Nelson laying on the ice, so Williams turned around and intentionally knocked the net off its' moorings to stop play. After deliberation, Minnesota was awarded a penalty shot with 1:13 to play and a golden chance to cut Minnesota State's lead in half. Ambroz made a move to his backhand but Williams moved with him and denied the attempt to maintain the lead and ultimatally, secure the victory.
Bryce Gervais was the player of the game for Minnesota State with Minnesota State's first two goals and an assist on the fourth goal. Williams finished the evening with 20 saves on 22 shots for the win.
The Mavericks advance to tomorrow's championship game against Bemidji State at 7pm in an all-WCHA final. Minnesota will meet Minnesota Duluth for the fourth time this season in tomorrow's consolation game at 4pm.
Shots on Goal: MSU: 13-5-4-22 UM: 7-9-5-21
Corsi(even strength shot attempts): MSU: 14-11-6-31-47.6% UM: 11-14-9-34-52.3%
Prime Scoring Area attempts: MSU: 11-5-4-20 UM: 3-5-6-14
What do the numbers tell us?
An excellent overall defensive effort from Minnesota State, especially in the third period when they were trying to protect a two-goal lead. In that situation, one would expect Minnesota to come with everything they've got, but they managed relatively few attempts, and were only able to get five shots through to Williams(including the penalty shot).
The Mavericks weren't over-powering offensively, but generated some really high-quality chances that they took advantage of.
--We pretty much have to start at the end, eh? What a crazy situation with Stephon Williams intentionally knocking his own net off to stop play, and forcing a penalty shot. I've seen it happen before, but I've never quite seen it under such critical circumstances. Minnesota was down two goals, but there was definitely a feeling, I think on both sides, that if the Gophers got one goal, they had a pretty good chance of carrying that momentum to get a second.
Williams, by his own admission, wasn't even quite sure of the rule when he chose to knock the net off:
"I saw Casey down, and it was already a 6-on-4 penalty kill. With him down that makes it a 6-on-3. I was willing to take a delay of game to get fresh guys on the ice. I wasn't really aware of the penalty shot rule. It was just one of those things where, when you have a guy hurt out there, things are a bit chaotic at the time, the puck was bouncing everywhere, guys were getting exhausted. It was just an impulse reaction, it's not something I'm going to make a habit out of, obviously."
It was either greatest play or the stupidest play I've ever seen a goalie make. Maybe both. In the end, it worked. Williams made the save on the breakaway and after that, Minnesota never really pressured again.
-If there was a key to this game, it was Bryce Gervais' late first period goal to tie the game at 1-1. Minnesota State had a fairly strong first period, including Brett Knowles putting a shot off the pipe early in the first. But Minnesota jumped on the board with a Seth Ambroz rebound goal--really Minnesota's only high-quality chance of the first period.
It would have been a huge blow for the Mavericks to head into the locker room down a goal. Instead, they went in tied and never trailed after that.
Minnesota State may be at the top of the rankings for the first time ever, but this is a group that knows how to win in tough situations. Multiple players after the game talked about how the bench stayed positive even after the Ambroz goal. "We're a veteran group," said Matt Leitner after the game. "We're comfortable in every situation, because we've been in every situation."
Leitner was the one that made the play on that first goal. He said he briefly made eye contact with Gervais, who was streaking down the slot as Leitner received a pass, and Leitner made a pretty move to spin and pass the puck to Gervais for the easy goal.
-Minnesota State was credited was credited with 15 shot blocks on the evening, but it felt like a lot more. Their defensemen did an incredible job of making sure shots didn't make their way through to Williams.
-Casey Nelson had a number of those shot blocks, including the bullet he took late in the game(Mike Hastings described Nelson as "sore" and that he'd be evaluated later). Nelson also had an assist on the game-winning and generally played a solid all-around game. Quite the turnaround from last year at the North Star College Cup when Nelson played two of the worst periods imaginable in the Friday game before sitting the rest of the weekend. There might not be a more improved player in college hockey in the last 365 days.
-The atmosphere here, especially at the end of the game, was pretty incredible, and gives some hope that this tournament really takes off. There was not a single person in the arena sitting as Ambroz took his penalty shot in the game's closing moments. It was an especially impressive performance from the Minnesota State faithful that got to see their team win at the XCel Center for the first time in eight tries.
Attendance was pretty good. The official number given was 14,516. I'd guess probably 75% of that number only saw the second game, but still ,it's a better number than last year's first day, which is particularly impressive given this year's tournament traded out St. Cloud State for Bemidji State, which is farther away and has a smaller fanbase.d
17:58 Seth Ambroz from Steve Johnson and Leon Bristedt 1-0 Minneota
Johnson took a shot from the right point that was tipped by an MSU defenseman and Williams could not control the rebound. Ambroz won a battle in front of the net and was able to muscle a back-hand shot into the net.
19:26 Bryce Gervais from Matt Leitner and Jon Jutzi 1-1 tie
Jutzi passed on taking a shot from the point to work the puck down to Leitner on the goal line to the right side of Wilcox. Leitner spun to his backhand and fired a blind backhand pass to a streaking Gervais who re-directed the puck into the net.
2:26 Bryce Gervais from Matt Leitner and Casey Nelson 2-1 Minnesota State
Gervais picked up a pass from Leitner in the high slot and fired a snap shot high over the blocker of Wilcox.
6:50 Michael Brodzinski from Ryan Reilly and Brady Skjei 2-2 tie
During a delayed penalty, Reilly took a shot from the high slot that was blocked, but bounced back to Reilly. He gave the puck to Brodzinski at the top of the point and he took a wrist shot that snuck through a screened Stephon Williams
10:13 CJ Franklin from Dylan Margonari and Casey Nelson 3-2 Minnesota State
Franklin came off the bench on a Minnesota State line change and got behind the Minnesota defense. Margonari found him with a perfect long outlet pass from the Minnesota State end of the ice and Franklin went in on an uncontested breakaway. Franklin took a wrist shot that beat Wilcox to the blocker side for the goal.
15:51 Jon Jutzi from Brad McClure and Bryce Gervais (power play) 4-2 Minnesota State
McClure fired a wrist shot just wide of the net, but Jutzi picked the rebound up off the back boards and tapped it into the net.