MANKATO — Nineteen times last season the Minnesota State men’s hockey team trailed after two periods of play. Not once did the Mavericks come back to win a game.
Three of those games went into overtime, but two landed among the 18 losses, with one ending in a tie.
Already this season, Minnesota State has come back three times in the third period, tying two games and winning in overtime on Saturday night against Rensselaer.
“I really like that we’re a third-period team,” captain Tyler Elbrecht said. “Even when we’re down going into the third period, this team has that fight. We’ve shown that we’re not going to give up.”
That’s the good news for the Mavericks. The bad news is about how they ended up behind in the first place.
When their Western Collegiate Hockey Association schedule begins tonight at St. Cloud State, they can ill afford to go through the kind of second-period slumps they went through a week ago.
“We’re learning,” coach Mike Hastings said. “At this point, it hasn’t cost us a game yet ... but we’re about out of bullets.”
Nine of MSU’s 13 goals this season have been scored after the second intermission. They have allowed just two goals in that time.
Elbrecht, a senior defenseman, said that Minnesota State is better prepared to be able to play strong third periods than previous teams. Much of that has to do with the way Hastings is running things in his first year as coach.
“I think we’re one of the best in-shape teams in the country,” Elbrecht said.
There have been
conditioning drills in practices almost daily, and they have been designed to better replicate the flow of a game. Elbrecht said the idea is that games should actually be easier than practices.
“I feel like we’re in better shape throughout the whole game,” Elbrecht said. “Recovery after each shift is faster, and at the end of the game, I feel like we still have that speed we started with.”
Hastings said the Mavericks have to avoid some of the penalty problems that slowed down his team last weekend. On Friday, two second-period power plays were cut short on Chase Grant penalties, and on Saturday, Elbrecht received a five-minute major in the second. The Engineers outshot the Mavericks 30-13 in those two periods.
“You can’t afford to go to sleep in this league for five minutes, let alone a whole period,” Hastings said.
As much as Hastings wants to correct the middle periods, he’s not ignoring the thirds.
“You gotta look at the big picture,” he said. “We found ways to win a hockey game. That’s what our job is to do as a team.”