The situation Minnesota State and Wisconsin faced Saturday night looked very familiar. With the score tied at four goals each, the Badgers and the Mavericks headed into overtime, much like the previous night’s two-goal tie at the end of regulation. But this time, the outcome was different, as the result was a 4-4 tie.
In overtime, Wisconsin acted on the man advantage it had after Maverick sophomore center Rick Kisskeys received a minor penalty for tripping, but none of the shots fired at junior goaltender Jason Jensen crossed the goal line and the teams settled for a tie.
The tie is a first for the Badgers this season and somewhat of a relief for both head coach Mike Eaves and the Badger players, who sit at the bottom of the WCHA standings at 1-8-1 and 7-12-1 overall. Mankato received its sixth tie of the season and now is 5-5-4 in the WCHA and 7-7-6 overall.
“I think [the players] put their hearts on the ice tonight. It wasn’t easy for them, from a physical standpoint … where they’re not used to it coming off of break,” Eaves said. “The thing that we were pleased with as a coaching staff is we told them, ‘You can walk out with your head high, you can put your hearts on the ice,’ and they got one point and it was a difficult point and we’ve got to move on from here.”
Just like the evening before, the Badgers took a 2-0 lead in the first period Saturday, only to see the Mavericks cut the lead in half late in the period.
Seemingly, the only difference between the first periods of Friday’s game and Saturday’s was that an ejection occurred in the first period instead of the third as it did Friday. Like the previous night, Wisconsin led off the scoring early in the game, as freshman left wing John Funk took a shot from the top of the crease that made its way past Jensen. The goal, which occurred less than two minutes into the game, was Funk’s second this season.
UW did not stop at one. Midway through the period, freshman left wing Brent Gibson earned his first goal as a Badger. He took a pass from freshman center Adam Burish and shot from the low slot near the circle over Jensen’s left shoulder to put the Badgers up by two.
Less than a minute later, the Mavericks suffered another setback when junior right wing Cole Bassett received a five-minute penalty for kicking and a game disqualification. Wisconsin sophomore center Alex Leavitt also received a minor holding penalty. However, the Badgers took only one shot on goal during their three-minute power play.
Mankato came back from its deficit late in the first period in odd fashion as freshman left wing Brock Becker shot the puck from behind the net, intending it as a centering pass. But the puck bounced off a skate and into the goal, putting Mankato on the board.
The Mavericks kicked off the second-period scoring when Mankato junior defender Matt Paluczak fired a long shot from just short of the blue line that freshman left wing Jeff Marler tipped in five minutes into the period.
The feisty Mavericks served Wisconsin keeper Bernd Bruckler another puck he could not stop during a Mankato power play. Sophomore center Grant Stevenson fired a shot from the high shot that went past Bruckler’s left side and through the five-hole for the advantage. Junior left wing Shane Joseph and senior left wing B.J. Abel had the assists.
But the Mavericks did not hold the edge for long, as freshman defender Tom Gilbert fired a shot from the high slot past Jensen’s arm into the net for the equalizer late in the second period.
The Badgers and the Mavericks entered the third period knotted at three goals apiece. That changed as junior left wing Rene Bourque approached the net from the side boards and slipped the puck past Jensen for the go-ahead goal. The lead lasted less than 10 minutes, as Maverick junior right wing Dana Sorensen shot the puck from the center of the crease past Bruckler for the final goal of the night. Joseph and Stevenson had the assists.
“[Joseph] made a great play to keep it alive,” Mankato head coach Troy Jutting said. “[Sorensen] did a nice job of not panicking and just firing it right away. He got his head up and made a nice shot on the goal.”
For Wisconsin, the season has been a period of growth and learning. The team has introduced not only a new coach to the program but a class of freshmen that has provided a wealth of talent but are still adjusting to the system. But now the team must utilize the lessons and the talent to move up in the standings.
“We need to start climbing the standings here,” Funk said. “We’re running out of time and we need to start getting some ‘W’s.”