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Minnesota State Tops Lake Superior State to Take Game One of WCHA Semi

mike hastings mankato (matt Christians) Matt Christians

Minnesota State earned a 2-1 victory over Lake Superior State on Friday evening in Mankato to take game one of their WCHA playoff semifinal best-of-three series.

The game got off to a fast start with three goals scored on the game’s first five shots. Lake Superior State’s Diego Cuglietta got the scoring when he took advantage of a sloppy line change by the Minnesota State defense to break in on goalie Dryden McKay and bury a shot in the upper corner of the net. It was the 25th goal of the season for Cuglietta, who leads the nation in goal-scoring, and also a career milestone 50th goal and 100th career point.

But Minnesota State had a quick answer. A beautiful pass off the boards in the neutral zone from linemate Parker Tuomie allowed Charlie Gerard to break in on net and he buried a backhand high over LSSU goalie Nick Kossoff. Walker Duehr would put the Mavericks ahead 1:02 later when he took a feed by Josh French from behind the net and popped a quick one-timer over the shoulder of Kossoff before Kossoff had a chance to react.

The remaining 52 minutes and change would see some excellent scoring chances from both sides, but sharp goaltending kept the score at 2-1 until the final buzzer.

Minnesota State now leads the playoff series 1-0, and will look to secure a spot in the WCHA championship game with a win tomorrow night, while Lake Superior State will need a win tomorrow to extend their season.

Notes and Thoughts:

-I generally despise 2-1 college hockey games because I sit through them far too often, but this was a pretty enjoyable game between two teams that wanted to attack offensively, and were pretty skilled, but ran into some good goaltending.

Three years ago, Lake Superior came to Mankato for a regular season series and got absolutely hammered, losing 8-0 and 5-1. But here is what I wrote after that weekend:

1. I didn’t write about it over the weekend, but on Friday, I watched Lake Superior State lose 8-0 to Minnesota State. The Lakers tried to skate with the Mavericks and.....it went poorly. However, tip of the cap to the Lakers for at least trying to play that way. They could have played the style of pack-it-in garbage hockey many teams, especially in the WCHA, opt for, and lost by a lesser margin. They’d probably have more short-term success playing that way too. But they’re a young team with a really good freshman class, and should improve as they continue to add to that base of talent. They’re a bad team right now that could be a pretty good team in the future, which to me, is a lot better than being a middling team that is always going to be a middling team because of the style they play.

The core group of that team three years ago—Diego Cuglietta, Anthony Nellis, and Gage Torrel—are now seniors now and they’ve led what has been an excellent year for the Lakers. They have 23 wins, which is the most in a season since Jeff Jackson’s final year in the Soo in 1995-96. They’re a really skilled group that is always looking to push the puck up the ice and attack, which makes for a very fun team to watch. It’s great to see that style of play be rewarded.

-The thing that stood out the most to me about Minnesota State’s win Friday night was the way in which they won. As much as I’ve liked MSU’s forward group throughout the year, I’ve been very skeptical of their ability to keep the puck out of their own net in key situations late against quality teams.

Part of the problem may be lack of data points. As it stands now, Minnesota State will finish the regular season having only played four games against the top 16 teams in the country. Two of those were losses to Bowling Green in which they never led past the midway point of the game. The other two were at the Desert Hockey Classic over Christmas break in Arizona. In the first game against Minnesota Duluth, they gave up a goal late in the third period with a one goal lead and then lost quickly in overtime(sound familiar?). In the second against Arizona State, they gave up an extra attacker goal with less than a minute left to settle for a tie.

Even if we extend that out to the top half of the country, that only adds four games in the second half of their schedule(series vs. Northern Michigan and Lake Superior) and their close wins in those games came after Minnesota State had big leads in the third period and gave up some goals to make it closer. They just haven’t been tested all that much when it comes to protecting tight leads, and the little we’ve seen hasn’t looked promising.

So it’s possibly worth noting that the Mavericks were able to show some real defensive toughness in the third period of Friday’s game and lock things down to come away with the 2-1 win. They took some penalties late, which is not ideal, and Lake Superior State got some decent looks, but nothing major. If Minnesota State can continue to do that, they’ll be a really dangerous team in the national tournament.

-Some controversy early in the third period of this game when Minnesota State’s Charlie Gerard was hauled down on a breakaway, and after being hauled down, slid into Kossoff and the puck ended up in the net.

The call on the ice was no goal and a penalty shot. It was reviewed and the call on the ice stood. Minnesota State head coach Mike Hastings had a very long talk with the officials after the game ended, and post-game, was apparently so upset that he used the word ‘fruition’ when he probably meant to say ‘volition’.

I’m the guy that wants to count just about anything as long as the puck crosses the goal line, but I think the officials probably got this one right by not allowing the goal.

Hastings said the referee’s explanation was that the puck went off Gerard’s hip and into the net. Shane Frederick of the Mankato Free Press cites what seems to be the pertinent rule here, with the key phrasing being that the player can’t propel the puck into the net with any part of his body. It seems like the intent of that rule is to keep plays like that from being good goals.