By Shane Frederick
Free Press Staff Writer
MANKATO — Don’t call the first three weekends of Western Collegiate Hockey Association play Minnesota State’s rough patch because coach Mike Hastings won’t have it.After their 3-2 loss Saturday and series sweep to third-ranked Denver at the Verizon Wireless Center, the Mavericks know they missed a good chance to make a move in the league standings.
“At the end of the day, tonight’s not acceptable because we’re playing at home, in front of our crowds, on our ice,” Hastings said. “We have to put points in the bank when we’re in our building.”
The Mavericks erased a two-goal deficit, but Denver got the last word when senior Chris Knowlton broke a 2-2 tie with just 3:12 remaining in the game.
The game-winner, Knowlton’s second goal of the game, was a one-timer from the high slot above the circles that beat freshman goalie Stephon Williams cleanly below his glove.
Williams stopped 20 of 23 shots, while Denver got a second solid goaltending performance. On Friday, it was from Sam Brittain; on Saturday it was sophomore Juho Olkinuora of Finland, who finished with 30 saves.
Williams fell to 0-3-1. He also took the 4-3 loss on Friday despite replacing Phil Cook with a 3-0 deficit.
“You look at Minnesota, you look at St. Cloud, you look at Denver and here’s the thing it’s not going to get any easier,” Hastings said, naming MSU’s first three WCHA opponents. “When Anchorage comes here, when Bemidji come here, those guys aren’t easy to play against. So we’ve got to find a way to get 90 (save percentage) every night to give us a chance to win hockey games.”
Knowlton scored the game’s first goal just 74 seconds into the first period. He had an easy tap-in of a rebound after Williams overplayed Nick Shore’s initial shot and left the net wide open behind him.
“That’s been the theme so far. … We get ourselves in a hole early,” Mavericks captain Eriah Hayes said. “I don’t know why we do that. We seem to do it every game. We make things hard on ourselves.”
At 9:40, the Pioneers went up 2-0 when Daniel Doremus, appeared to hook MSU’s Josh Nelson, spinning the defenseman around as he stole the puck. With no penalty called, Doremus quickly turned and fired past Williams from low in the left circle.
“I’m not quite sure how that happened,” Hastings said, choosing his words carefully. “There must have been a big rut in that ice that spun that young man around. I’m not sure.”
The Mavericks got on the board with 4:53 left in the period on a Hayes power play goal. Hayes was camped in front of Olkinuora and shelved a perfect pass from behind the net by Jean-Paul LaFontaine.
In the second period, Minnesota State had three power plays to work with, including 33 seconds of 5-on-3 play, but couldn’t square the game until the 2:42 mark of the third when Josh Nelson fired a shot through traffic on another power play.
The Mavericks finished 2 for 9 on the power play and gave Denver just two opportunities with the man advantage, killing off both penalties.
Minnesota State (3-5-2, 1-5-0 in WCHA) is idle next weekend and will travel to Wisconsin for a series Nov. 23-24.
“I don’t think our focus going forward is on tonight, last night or the last two weekends,” Hastings said. “It has to be about what we’ve got in front of us if we’re going to make any noise in this league. That’s our job as a staff, to make sure the focus is on that.”
Minnesota State 1-0-1—2
Scoring: 1. DU-Knowlton 4 (N.Shore 7, Loney 2) 1:14; 2. DU-Doremus 5 (unassisted) 9:40; 3. MSU-Hayes 4 (LaFontaine 5, Leitner 9) ppg 15:07
Penalties: Makowski, DU (roughing) 5:59; Elbrecht, MSU (interference) 10:07; Loney, DU (hooking) 10:12; Loney, DU (cross-checking) 14:29
Penalties: Mayfield, DU (hooking) 4:46; Mermis, DU (hooking) 6:13; Didier, DU (roughing) 8:40
Scoring: 4. MSU-Nelson 2 (Blueger 3, Margonari 1) ppg 2:42; 5. DU-Knowlton 5 (N.Shore 7, Levin 2) 16:48
Penalties: Loney, DU (slashing) :55; Loney, DU (tripping) 7:25; Grant, MSU (holding) 11:27; DU bench (too many on ice) 19:11
Shots on goal: DU 9-5-9—23. MSU 12-9-11—32. Penalties: DU 9 for 18 minutes; MSU 2 for 4 minutes. Power-play opportunities. DU 0 for 2; MSU 2 for 9. Goalie saves: DU Olkinuora 11-9-10—30 (2 GA); MSU Williams 7-5-8—20 (3 GA).
MSU used its timeout at 19:11 of third period. DU used its timeout at 19:34 of third period.
Referees: Scott Bokal, Jerod Moen. Linesmen: Matt Anderson, Dan Dineen.