The brooms received work through the first weekend, as the third-seeded Minnesota State Mavericks took on the sixth-seeded Alaska Fairbanks Nanooks at the Verizon Wireless Center that resulted in 3-0 and 4-1 victories for the Mavericks, as Jason Pawloski continued to receive the nod on the net for great play.
“I thought he was good tonight when he needed to be; when pucks did get to him they stuck to him and when they didn’t he put them out in good spots where there couldn’t be second and third chances,” said Mavericks head coach Mike Hastings on Pawloski’s play.
Early on in game one, a goal from Sean Flanagan deep from the point put the Mavs up 1-0. The Mavs doubled up with a beautiful put-back from Parker Tuomie while on a power play to make it a 2-0 score. Both teams continually received solid looks on offense, however, only the Alaska defense flinched early.
The Mavericks were able to survive a momentary three-on-five in route to back-to-back penalty kills late in the second period, keeping the momentum on their side of the ice. Tuomie netted his second goal of the night and eighth of the year on a shot right down the middle, just behind the face-off circles. MSU staved off a late push by the Nanooks, as they had nine shots on goal in the second for their most in the game, to keep the 3-0 lead headed into the third.
“I think it was a big help to kill that off, the penalty kill did a great job,” said Pawloski of the three-on-five after he recorded a shutout in the post season. “I think it is important for us to put together some games here and get feeling confident, and it’s nice to have that [shutout] but the win is obviously much more important.”
In the third period, both teams found plenty of penalties to start out, as things progressively got more chippy. MSU’s penalty kill remained strong late into the third period and was the real difference in the game. The Maverick defense stood stout through a scoreless third period to seal a 3-0 lead for MSU and put the Mavs up 1-0 to start out the playoff series.
“They are not going away,” said Hastings of game two against Alaska after the shutout. “You don’t want your season to end, and so we will discuss that but it is that time of the year and hard to [sweep].”
But MSU was headed into the second game against a team that had given them problems on Saturday’s throughout the season.
Out of the gate, both sides played very physical, picking up the tone from the previous night. MSU was able to slip past Jones on a fast drive down the ice from the Mavericks, as Jordan Nelson snagged his fourth goal on the year to open up the scoring and put MSU up 1-0. The high-paced offense continued late into the period as both sides were able to move the puck down the ice quickly in transition.
“I thought we just continued from last Saturday… I thought Pawloski was really good tonight,” said Hastings after the sweep. “It was a track meet, both teams went out and tried to make plays on the net I think there was 25 combined shots in the first period, just good hockey. They couldn’t get the second, and thank goodness for that, and we got the third one.”
Pawloski stayed stout in the second period, weathering an Alaska power play to help hold the lead. Then, Zeb Knuston made it a 2-0 Mavericks lead on a power play goal right in front of the net for his 15th score of the season.
However, Alaska would not go away in the third period in this game, scoring in the first three minutes off the stick of Ross Heidt right before a penalty was enforced to give them the power play as well. MSU maintained their lead on a great penalty kill, which was a strength for them all weekend long. Despite the push from the Nanooks, MSU’s offense stayed reliable as Max Coatta netted his fifth goal of the season, going top shelf out of a face off in Alaska territory to make the lead two scores for the second time late in the third. Coatta later netted his second of the night with under a minute to play on an empty net as Alaska tried to get back in the game to seal the game with a 4-1 victory.
It took all weekend, but Michigan Tech Huskies downed the Minnesota State Mavericks in the three games series to decide who would move on to the WCHA Championship, outscoring MSU 9-3 over the weekend.
“I think the guys were committed, it is always hard coming up here,” said Minnesota State head coach Mike Hastings. “We have been talking about this for a couple weeks, there is no easy ice.”
The weekend started poorly for Minnesota State, as they were smoked 5-1 on March 10 to open up against the Huskies. The shots on both goaltenders were low in game one, as Michigan Tech outshot MSU 27-23, but Jason Pawloski was harassed on a five-goal night from the Huskies. Mark Auk started off the Huskies with a deep strike from the blue line that went top shelf. MSU answered with a redirect goal from freshman Charlie Gerard to make it a 1-1 game.
Defense stood tall throughout the second period for both teams, however a scoreless second period would not set the tone for the Huskies. In the opening five minutes, Reid Sturos showcased his speed down the right side to beat the defense and slap a goal past Pawloski to take the advantage again. Just three short minutes later, Jake Jackson cleaned up the crease off of a Pawloski deflection to put the Huskies up 3-1. Midway through the period Gavin Gould found pay dirt with a goal after collecting a loose puck at the blue line. The fifth goal was added in garbage time on an empty-netter, to give the Huskies a 5-1 win and the series lead as they showed their offensive versatility as well as their stout defense down the stretch.
In game two the Maverick defense came back with a vengeance, as Pawloski only saw 15 shots in route to his second playoff shutout. The entire team stepped up defensively to help eliminate the Huskies offense that had just put up five goals. The one goal scored in the game came midway through the second period as Clint Lewis snagged the puck and delivered it to Zeb Knutson on the breakaway for his seventh career game winning goal. The best offensive push for the Huskies came late in the third period when Joel L’Esperance had a breakaway chance that was beautifully controlled by Pawloski to maintain the lead, winning 1-0 to tie the series at 1-1.
“Thought we scored a goal and then defended well and Pawloski was good when he needed to be,” said Hastings after the low-scoring, bounce-back win. “Like I said, there’s not a lot of easy ice out there and what I mean about that is there is not a lot of room so once somebody gets a puck, someone is on top of them so it’s hard to get the puck from your end to the other end.”
Pawloski and the defense stepping up in a big way to win a low-scoring affair set the stage for a big game three, in which the style of hockey would clash. The Mavericks needed to keep the game tight while MTU needed a high-scoring shootout.
Game three started out with a 1-1 battle. Gould started the action with a goal seven minutes in to grab an early lead. The Mavs came back 49 seconds later on the power play that helped Ian Scheid snag a goal from the red line over the shoulder of Angus Redmond to tie the game.
The second period opened up the lead for Michigan Tech, with Gould finding the net after nine minutes of play when he scooped up a loose puck in the crease for his second of the game, this one on a power play. Gould would record the hat trick minutes later on a put-back goal to give the Huskies a 3-1 lead.
“They defended hard, but in a game three it’s going to be really hard,” said Hastings after the season-ending loss. “They get an out-numbered rush on our goaltender but we answer with that fluke that goes in but we’ll take it. From that point on, I thought we were okay, but then it got away from us.”
While the offenses both stayed high intensity, and shots on goal were almost identical (22-21) with a slight advantage to MTU, MSU could not find the back of the net again and were put away late in the third with an empty-netter to go down 4-1.
“We are going to miss them,” said Hastings of the seniors in reflection on the season. “And I told them that right now, we all do with missing the NCAA tournament and it stings, but I thanked them for moving the needle for the program.”
MSU finished with a 22-13-4 record while Michigan Tech will go on to play in the championship round against Bowling Green.