Minnesota State and Michigan Tech showed why they are among the nation's elite, playing a fast, entertaining game, but 65 minutes was not enough to decide a winner, as the two teams played to a 1-1 draw in the first game of their two-game weekend series.
The Mavericks got on the board first at 12:12 of the first period when Jean-Paul LaFontaine wired a one-timer into the upper corner of the net off a feed from Matt Leitner. Minnesota State would carry that lead into the second period until Reid Sturos evened the score with a wrist shot on a break down the right wing at 11:18 of the second frame.
That set the stage for a wild third period where Minnesota State outshot the Huskies 18-5, but could not find a way to get a puck past Michigan Tech goalie Jamie Phillips, who ended the night with 43 saves. Not to be outdone, Stephon Williams made a game-saving stop of his own in the final five minutes when he slid across his crease to stop a Michigan Tech two-on-one.
Minnesota State pressed hard in the game's final minute, but despite the urging of the 5172 in attendance, could not find the game-winning goal. In overtime, both teams had chances, the best of which was Minnesota State's Dylan Margonari beating a defender one-on-one, but just missing the top corner on a semi-breakaway.
The tie keeps Minnesota State one point ahead of Michigan Tech in the WCHA standings, and sets up an even bigger game tomorrow night, where the winner of the game will take a lead in the MacNaughton Cup race into the final weekend of the regular season.
Shots on goal: MSU: 10-14-18-2-44 MTU: 7-6-5-5-23
Even strength shot attempts: MSU: 17-23- 30-4-74-58.7%` MTU: 25-17-10-52-41.3%
Prime scoring area attempts: MSU: 9-9-15-1-34 MTU: 10-5-3-2-20
What do the numbers tell us?
This was a close game for the first two periods, with each team having stretches where they controlled possession before Minnesota State completely dominated the third period. Jamie Phillips stole a point for his team with a sensational third period.
-This was such a fun game to watch. Both teams have so much skill that when they establish possession in the offensive zone, they can really threaten, which makes for a very good up-and-down game with lots of good chances both ways.
-Injuries were a big concern for Minnesota State coming into the weekend after missing four good forwards in their last series against Alaska-Fairbanks. The Mavericks got Dylan Margonari and Brett Knowles back(and both were difference-makers for MSU tonight), but had to play without two very good forwards in CJ Franklin and Teddy Blueger.
It's a bit of an interesting parallel to last year when Minnesota State hosted Michigan Tech on the last weekend of the season. The Mavericks had an opportunity to win a share of the MacNaughton Cup with a victory over Michigan Tech. In a tie game late, Minnesota State opted not to pull their goalie for a chance at the title, so as not to risk giving up an empty-net goal and making their path to the NCAA tournament more difficult. That sounds like a similar situation with Franklin and Blueger. It would have been great to have them in the line-up and potentially clinch the MacNaughton Cup, but having those two available for the important postseason games coming up trumps regular season concerns.
-Minnesota State is a team that relies on their forward depth to grind teams down, and even without Franklin and Blueger, they were able to do that against Michigan Tech. I can't say enough about how well Jamie Phillips played in the third period to steal a point for the Huskies.
-A good showing by fans on both sides tonight. The announced attendance was 5,172, and it was hard to find an empty seat in the arena. Michigan Tech brought a decent little contingent of fans that were loud throughout the game, and the home Minnesota State was quite loud, especially in the latter half of the third period as Minnesota State pushed for the game-winning goal. It the fifth-largest crowd here for a Minnesota State game, and tomorrow's crowd which should be a little bigger could push for the biggest in arena history.
-The usual suspects showed up with big games for Michigan Tech. Blake Pietila used his big body, Alex Petan used his speed, and Tanner Kero used his hockey smarts to all be effective in the offensive zone. I was also really impressed with Joel L'Esperance who has come on strong in the second half of the season for Michigan Tech.
It took a strong defensive effort from Minnesota State to keep them off the scoresheet. The Mavericks made life a little easier for Stephon Williams by blocking just over one out of every three shots the Huskies attempted, however(21 of 61 total).
-The one puck Minnesota State managed to get past Phillips was a pretty one. Matt Leitner was able to get the puck off the wall and walk into the slot where he is so dangerous. He made a nice pass to J-P LaFontaine--who was only in the line-up because CJ Franklin was unable to go--and LaFontaine absolutely wired a one-timer into the upper corner.
-I'm excited to come back tomorrow and see these two teams play again. Both are as good as any team I've seen this season, and both are playing strong hockey right now.
12:12- Jean-Paul LaFontaine from Matt Leitner and Casey Nelson (power play) 1-0 Minnesota State
Leitner carried the puck off the right wall at the top of the circle towards the slot. He slid a pass back to his right to LaFontaine who one-timed a shot into the upper corner of the net.
11:18- Reid Sturos from Matt Roy 1-1 tie
Off a face-off in the Minnesota State end, Sturos poked a loose puck past an MSU defenseman and raced down the right wing. He fired a wrist shot high over the blocker of Williams.