Men’s hockey splits eighth series

The Minnesota State Mavericks took two leads over the Bowling Green Falcons on Friday night in the Verizon Wireless Center, but could not shake them and ended up losing in the overtime period by the score of 3-2.

“Our season has kind of been one day black, the next day white, and it’s been an effort thing and we have tried to be known for our effort at the very least. I liked our effort tonight,” said Falcons head coach Chris Bergeron. “I was happy with Chris [Nell] and I wasn’t happy with the rebound on the second goal, but our guys found a way to pick him up and I thought he had a good game.”

The Mavericks jumped out to a 1-0 lead on an Ian Scheid goal late in the period, which was the highlight of a big offensive period for the Mavericks. They outshot the Falcons 15-6 in the period, while looking faster and sharper than Bowling Green. Both teams locked down on the penalty kill with one kill apiece in the period.

“Opportunity missed; we had a couple upperclassmen that you’d like to maybe carry a little more of the load, but for the most part I don’t have an issue with our effort for the most part,” said Minnesota State head coach Mike Hastings after the game. “I thought a real turning point too was when we got out 2-1 with just a little left in the second period and we don’t ice that lead… and get that going into the third period.”

Despite a slow start, the defense for Bowling Green closed out far better in the second period, only letting nine shots get to the net and fighting up their transition defense. The goal from Kevin Dufour midway through the period evened out the score at 1-1.

Then the Mavs came back to take a 2-1 lead with under three minutes to play, off a Zach Stepan goal. However, that was answered almost immediately with a break-away goal from Dufour to net his second and tie the game at two.

“Minnesota State started better than we did, but we were not, not competing, we were competitive. We just were not as good as them and we weathered that storm, going down in the first period and I really liked our second period,” said Bergeron of the comeback efforts. “We got more into our game and were more competitive in the second and third and I really liked our penalty-kill in the game.”

Both defenses grounded the offensive production to a halt in the third period, as four more penalties failed to get either offense going. Both teams ended 0-4 on the power play in regulation. MSU would miss yet another opportunity, as the Falcons committed their fifth penalty in overtime, but the offense could only grab one shot on goal on the power play. Soon after, Bowling Green took the game on a game-winning break-away from Mitch McLain to lift the Falcons past the Mavericks, 3-2.

“I think it shows a bunch of mental toughness, our guys know and respect Minnesota State and I’ve said this before: they’re a program we are trying to be like,” said the Falcons head coach of the OT period. “So, to come into a situation where we are tied in the standings and to have a first period where they seemed to be sharp, it was a good test for us, to hang in there and just keep playing.”

Once more, the Bowling Green Falcons and Minnesota State Mavericks faced off in a nail-biter that featured a late comeback, great goaltending performances and eight goals. The combination of the three is what it took to get MSU a 5-3 win to end the weekend Saturday night.

“I think we let up a bit; yes, we weren’t moving our feet in the [offensive zone] and it all started from our [defensive zone],” said forward C.J. Franklin, who spear-headed the big comeback. “We weren’t sticking to our system and playing our game, and once we started attacking in the [offensive zone], moving our feet and cutting it back, it really turned around for us.”

The first period started much like Friday’s game, with a quick start to seemingly spark the offense, as Daniel Brickley had a nice power play goal from the outside-right to take the 1-0 lead. Bowling Green was quick to snuff that out with goals from Sean Walker and Matt Pohlkamp to end the period up 2-1.

“I really liked the first two periods and the start to the third. We just had a couple passengers tonight; would have liked to see a few guys more involved,” said Bowling Green head coach Chris Bergeron after the tight loss. “But this was not the black and white team from earlier in the year. That was a good effort – that was a team that had a mindset to win and it just didn’t go our way.”

A major penalty charged to MSU finished out the first period and kept the Falcons up a man for the first five minutes of the second period, which helped them pad their lead as Walker added another goal to give himself two on the day. The offense for the Mavericks looked sluggish, and goaltender Aaron Nelson seemed to be cracking.

“There wasn’t much said in the locker room, [Hastings] just said ‘you know what we need to do’ and left it up to us,” said Franklin when asked about the mindset it took to comeback. “When we feel challenged we really like to respond, and we just have to get to a point where we can do that consistently.”

Then C.J. happened. Franklin nabbed a late, second period goal to make it a one-score game and jumpstarted the offense. In the third period, Zeb Knutson netted a power play goal followed quickly by a Franklin break-away goal through the five hole on Falcons’ goaltender Ryan Bednard.

“The third period featured the leadership group,” said Mavericks head coach Mike Hastings of the spark for MSU. “C.J. really exerted his will in the third period. Obviously not our best effort through two [however], as we faced some adversity. I thought our leadership group really stepped up in the third period, which we really needed them to do.”

On the other end, the defense tightened up and Nelson found his groove. The final goal came in the final minute on an empty-netter from Marc Michaelis to finish off the game and cement the 5-3 win after going down 3-1 early. The phenomenal turnaround on offense and defense was spurred by the Franklin goal late in the second to get the team back on track. It was a crucial win to keep them around the top of the conference on points for playoff seeding. The Mavericks currently stand at 14-8-2 overall and 10-6-2 in the WCHA.

Next weekend, the Mavericks face off against the Michigan Tech Huskies on the road for yet another WCHA conference head-to-head that will help them build on their point total. The first game will be Jan. 20 and the second will be the day after. Puck drops at 6:07 p.m. for each game.

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