It was a casual Sunday afternoon atmosphere at the XCel Energy Center to watch Minnesota State defeat Minnesota 3-2 to take third place in the consolation game of the North Star College Cup, in front of a crowd that could definitely be described as "some".
The Mavericks struck early for the second straight afternoon when Teddy Blueger's backhand ricocheted off a Minnesota defender for a goal. But the Mavericks penalty kill struggles would continue later in the period when Justin Kloos tied the game with a one-time blast.
Minnesota State jumped back out in front late in the second period with a 5-on-3 power play by CJ Franklin, but early in the third period, Minnesota got an extended 5-on-3 of their own and capitalized with a Connor Reilly.
But during the second half of that power play, Minnesota took a tripping penalty negating the rest of the man advantage, and after Minnesota State killed off the remainder of their penalty, Teddy Blueger skated the puck into the Minnesota zone and beat Schierhorn high to give the Mavericks a 3-2 lead.
Minnesota State would survive two late penalties to hold off the Gophers and take third place. This marks the second consecutive season that Minnesota has finished in last place in their own tournament.
Notes and Thoughts
-It was such a strange situation in this game. The atmosphere could not have been worse with a sparse and mostly disinterested crowd, even though there was actually quite a bit at stake for both teams nationally in terms of the Pairwise Rankings. Minnesota State jumped from 24th to 18th in the Pairwise with the win, and with Penn State followed by a glut of four ECAC teams, some of whom are going to have to lose some games down the stretch, between them and an at-large berth, there's still a chance, provided they have a good weekend next week against Bowling Green.
Minnesota now sits at 21st in the PWR when they could have moved to 15th and just fractions of a fraction out of 14th with a win. They're still not out of the at-large picture, but are leaving themselves with fewer outs heading down the stretch.
I don't know what it says that nobody cared about a game on the day it was played, when somebody will likely point to this day as a make-or-break moment on March 19th.
-Yesterday, I wrote about Dylan Margonari finally starting to look like the Dylan Margonari of last year. He showed that again today. Minnesota State's first goal came off an extended stretch in the Minnesota zone where Margonari showed his elite speed and quickness to retrieve a couple loose pucks and help Minnesota State keep possession in the offensive zone and extend that shift. It's one of those little things where you say it's bad luck that the Minnesota defender knocks the puck in his own net, but that doesn't happen if the puck is at the other end of the ice.
The whole line with Margonari, Blueger, and Zeb Knutson was buzzing all night, and midway through the game, was on the ice for over half of Minnesota State's shot attempts.
-Minnesota State came into the weekend having killed 41 straight penalties. They struggled against St. Cloud State's amazing power play on Saturday and didn't do much better against Minnesota allowing two goals on six attempts. It's quite a step up in talent and ability to punish mistakes from what they usually see in the WCHA.
But the Maverick penalty kill did come up big when they needed it most, killing two penalties in the final 7:15 of the game to preserve a 3-2 lead and earn the victory. They survived the first with a few "that's-gotta-get-out-of-the-zone" failed clears, but were rock solid on the final one, not allowing Minnesota a quality look.
-A great game for Minnesota State goalie Cole Huggins, who earned the start after coming on in relief of Jason Pawloski on Saturday. Goaltending has been a nightmare for the Mavericks in the X over the course of their history. Their goalies had a life-time .854 save percentage in this building(which drops down .838 if you exlude the new WCHA Final Five). So Huggins 21 saves on 23 shots may look like a great game, but relatively speaking, was one of the better games by a Maverick goalie in this building.
None of his 21 saves were bigger than a third period save he made on Tyler Sheehy. During the 4-on-4 right after Minnesota had tied the game, a Maverick defender made a terrible turnover at his own blue line, springing Sheehy on a 2-on-1 and giving him a wide open shot. Huggins made a great glove save to keep the game tied, and shortly after, Blueger notched the game-winning goal on the power play. Situations don't get much more high-leverage on a game result than that.
-There weren't very many bright spots for Minnesota, other than that this game eventually ended. It was not a shining effort for much of the game. But one standout was the guy who wasn't even expected to play this weekend after taking a vicious shot to the head last weekend: Tommy Novak. Novak keeps getting better and better every time I see him as it seems the light is starting to come on for him.
Shots on Goal: Minn: 12-5-6-23 MSU: 5-14-7-26
Even strength shot attempts: Minn: 14-12-7-33 MSU: 8-16-11-35
Prime scoring area attempts: Minn: 5-5-5-15 MSU: 6-12-3-21
What do the numbers tell us?
Minnesota had the edge five-on-five, especially in the first period, but the Mavericks did a great job of limiting quality scoring chances by keeping the Gophers to the perimeter.
4:04 Teddy Blueger from Sean Flanagan and Dylan Margonari 1-0 Minnesota State
Flanagan took a shot from the left point that was stopped by Schierhorn. Blueger backhanded a rebound that was going wide, but a Minnesota defender deflected the shot into his own net.
14:48 Justin Kloos from Tommy Novak and Michael Brodzinski (power play) 1-1 tie
Novak fed Kloos at the left point, who one-timed a slap shot that beat Huggins high.
17:23 CJ Franklin from Teddy Blueger (power play) 2-1 Minnesota State
With a two-man advantage, Franklin controlled the puck at the right face-off dot. He took a high wrist shot that beat Schierhorn over the shoulder.
5:27 Connor Reilly from Justin Kloos and Michael Brodzinski (power play) 2-2 tie
On a five-on-three man advantage, the Gophers capitalized after heavy pressure when Reilly's one-timer from the top of the slot beat Huggins.
7:29 Teddy Blueger from CJ Franklin and Casey Nelson (power play) 3-2 Minnesota State
Blueger gained the blue line on the man advantage and fired a high wrist shot from the top of the circle that beat Schierhorn.