Top-ranked Mavericks flex muscle, double up Gophers
ST. PAUL, Minn. — One was the top-ranked team in the nation and had the bragging rights of the state of Minnesota entering the North Star College Cup.
The other team was the Gophers, the team which started the season ranked No. 1.
Friday at the Xcel Energy Center in the evening contest between Minnesota teams, Minnesota State proved why it’s No. 1 and Minnesota continued reeling.
The Mavericks (19-4-1, 15-2-1 WCHA) scored three times in the second period and goaltender Stephon Williams stopped a Gophers’ penalty shot with 1 minute, 13 seconds remaining in the third to beat Minnesota, 4-2. The Gophers have sunk to 17th in the nation by losing seven of their past 13 games, going 4-7-2 during the stretch.
"Again, same old mistakes for us," Minnesota forward Travis Boyd said. "We’re giving up goals the same way. We’re making the same mistakes over and over again. Eventually we got to learn from it, otherwise it’s just going to be the same thing every weekend."
The Gophers (11-8-2, 2-2-2-0 Big Ten) will face Minnesota-Duluth (13-9-1, 8-5-1 NCHC) in the consolation game Saturday. The Bulldogs swept Minnesota in November, starting the Gophers’ slide.
Minnesota State, which is 14-1-1 in its past 16 games, will play Bemidji State (8-12-3, 5-8-3 WCHA) in the championship game of the tournament Saturday. Bemidji State beat Minnesota-Duluth 4-0 in the early game Friday.
Instead of being the big dogs at the Minnesota-only tournament, which the Gophers won last year, Minnesota was the underdog trying to prove itself against the nation’s best team.
"It was important," Boyd said. "We know where we were in the rankings. Obviously they’re No. 1. It would have helped us in Pairwise (rankings). End of the day, it’s just another game.
"On top of that, state team. You always want to beat state teams. We’re the Gophers. Every year we come in we say we want to win the state. It’s one of our first goals. Obviously we didn’t do that, but we got another big game tomorrow against Duluth and the last time we played them it didn’t go very well, either. End of the day, we wanted to win this pretty bad, but we got to learn from it and move on."
Minnesota State is the confident team and Williams’ confidence in net oozed in the third period.
The Gophers had pulled goaltender Adam Wilcox — who made 20 saves — for an extra skater and were pressuring late in the game when Mavericks defenseman Casey Nelson blocked a shot and was injured. Nelson writhed on the ice, but play continued with Minnesota controlling the puck during a power-play.
After a few moments, Williams simply turned around and pushed the net off its moorings, stopping play and drawing a penalty. Being in the final 2 minutes, Gophers coach Don Lucia had his choice of a penalty shot or a 6-on-3 power play.
Lucia sent Seth Ambroz, who had scored earlier in the game, out for the penalty shot.
"Yeah, we could have had the power play and you’re 6-on-3, but with only a minute, 13 you don’t have a lot of time," Lucia said. "So, I don’t know if you’re going to get a better look than coming in all alone."
Williams stayed with Ambroz and stopped his backhand shot. Williams pumped his arm after the save.
"’What are you doing?’" Mavericks coach Mike Hastings said of his thoughts when Williams pushed the net back. "We had it under control. It’s one of those things where you don’t plan for that stuff and it made for some good drama. We just don’t see that very often and penalty shot is feast or famine, so glad it went our way."
The North Star College Cup tournament was designed after Minnesota left to join the new Big Ten hockey conference and the state’s teams were split into separate conferences. Friday was the only time the Gophers and Minnesota State are scheduled to play this season.
"I think it’s an important win," Hastings said. "Yeah, I really do. I think this tournament’s special. I think it’s great for the people in the state . . . We’re happy for it, definitely."
Minnesota has a different feeling right now.
Ambroz started the scoring in the first with his third goal of the year. But, the Mavericks answered just over a minute later, scoring with 34 seconds left in the first on a goal by Bryce Gervais, who scored twice in the game.
Any momentum the Gophers had was erased quickly by Minnesota State. Minnesota scored on a delayed penalty in the second to tie the game 2-all on a goal from the point by Michael Brodzinski. But the Mavericks killed the ensuing penalty.
"We sat with two," Lucia said. "That’s been kind of a common denominator, not scoring a lot and then we made a couple mistakes."
C.J. Franklin’s game-winning goal was on a clear breakaway. Dylan Margonari split two defenders and Franklin went in alone on Wilcox, scoring over Wilcox’s left shoulder for the freshman forward’s seventh goal of the season.
For one game, Minnesota State proved its standing as the best team in the state and the nation, while the Gophers are trying to reverse course.
Follow Brian Hall on Twitter