The Minnesota State Mavericks ended the season with a tough road challenge, as they faced off against the top team in the WCHA in the Bemidji State Beavers over the weekend and split the series to finish the regular season 19-11-4.
The games took a change of pace for the Mavs, as the weekend only saw six goals scored and rested heavily on the defense. It was the perfect change of pace series to ramp up for playoff hockey.
Coming off of a solid performance against Northern Michigan, Cole Huggins received the start in game one on Friday night. However, the Beavers were undaunted by the MNSU defense and Jordan Heller marched down to score the opening goal midway through the first period.
“I thought they had the majority of the play in the first period and we didn’t generate a lot offensively,” said Mavericks head coach Mike Hastings after the game. “We did move the puck very well and our possession time in their zone was often nil.”
The second period started out with a Mavericks power play that helped Marc Michaelis fire a shot that ricocheted off of a Beaver stick and through the five hole of Michael Bitzer. Yet another period would see only one goal scored as the game was evened at 1-1.
The Beavers stormed back midway through the third period as Myles Fitzgerald took back the lead for BSU on a power play goal that was sent rocketing past Huggins from outside the face-off circle, continuing the goal-a-period trend and getting the Beavers a 2-1 lead. The Mavericks stayed behind on the board despite outshooting BSU 27-25 in the defensive battle, as Beavers goaltender Bitzer was able to hold down the net for the victory and ended the Mavericks win streak at three.
“We have to score more than one goal,” said Hastings when talking improvements for game two. “We’ve seen that that formula doesn’t work right now, we just have to beige in what we’re doing. This time of year you need to go out and earn everything and tonight was that kind of game.”
The next night, the Mavericks and Beavers went back to war for the final game of the 2016-2017 regular season. The goaltender carousel continued to turn, a fitting way for the Mavericks season to end, as this go-around saw Jason Pawloski in the net, making his first start since December 17. In the first period, MNSU failed to help out the goaltender with back-to-back penalties, which led to a five-on-three goal from the Beavers’ Gerry Fitzgerald as he hit the net over Pawloski’s shoulder late in the period to give BSU the early lead once again. Despite the goal, Pawloski still had 11 saves to start out the game.
“I thought we showed a lot of fortitude tonight, with the caption getting thrown out for finishing a block,” said Hastings after Saturday nights game. “That’s kinda tough to swallow when you have to deal with a five-on-three but they did a good job and stayed in it.”
But the Mavs had fireworks in store for the second period. This time the Mavs found themselves on the good side of a five-on-three power play with Zeb Knutson wasting no time in netting his 13th goal of the season, grabbing a goal quickly to even the game at 1-1. It only took a minute and a half for Zach Stepan to add a wrap-around goal to take the 2-1 advantage late in the second period.
“You get down to this time of year and there are many things that can happen in front of you; you wanna give guys a chance to prepare for potentially reaping what’s ahead,” said Hastings when Pawloski’s play came up. “We’ve been looking for someone to be a catalyst between our posts, thought tonight he definitely was and he’s the reason we went on.”
The third period was a solid cap to a great performance from Pawloski, who had 27 saves on the night and made a case for playing time in the playoffs with an outstanding finish to this game against the top team in the WCHA.
The Mavs will now be back home to take on Alaska in the first round of the playoffs this weekend, March 3rd-5th.