Two early goals the difference as Minnesota State advances past Bowling Green


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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Sometimes a hockey game can be won in a matter of a couple of minutes. The No. 15 Minnesota State Mavericks scored two goals in less than two minutes to come away from the Van Andel Arena Friday afternoon with a 2-1 victory over the Bowling Green Falcons.

For the Falcons, it was their third straight loss in the WCHA Final Five semifinals.

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“I am really proud of our guys to a man,” said Falcons coach Chris Bergeron. “I didn’t love the way we started, but I thought we finished really hard.”

The Falcons came out fast and attempted to establish a physical presence early on. The strategy worked as the Mavericks appeared to reel in the early minutes.

During their first shift of sustained offense, the Mavericks opened the scoring when sophomore Brad McClure picked up the puck in the left circle, skated around to the high slot and wired a wrister home at 5:18. Daniel Brinkley picked up the assist.

The Mavericks struck a second time less than two minutes later when junior Casey Nelson got the puck at the right point off a pass from sophomore C.J. Franklin and fired a shot through traffic that beat Chris Nell at 7:00.

“Ever since we’ve gotten into the league together, it doesn’t matter if it is at their place or our place, it’s always a battle,” said Mavericks coach Mike Hastings. “We held on their at the end. We got off to a good start and we hung on there at the end. That’s what you have to do..”

During the Falcons’ first power play of the night, sophomore Brandon Hawkins had a chance to cut the Mavericks’ lead in half, but his one-timer off a cross-ice pass hit Cole Huggins in the face mask.

The game remained a physical affair for much of the rest of the period as the Mavericks picked up their physicality to match the Falcons. Huggins made 23 saves to earn the victory.

The Mavericks (21-12-7) started the second period on the power play and senior Bryce Gervais had a quality scoring chance early as he tipped a shot from senior Teddy Blueger in the left circle. Shortly after the advantage ended, junior Zach Stepan was set up in front of Nell, but his tip was also stopped.

During their second power play of the night, the Falcons nearly surrendered the game’s third goal about seven minutes into the middle frame when a turnover at center ice saw Blueger emerge on a breakaway. Nell tracked him well, however, and made the stop. Gervais snuck in, looking for the rebound, but again Nell was there to make the stop.

Huggins made a good save a on a point-blank shot from the Falcons off a quick pass into the slot.

The Falcons had another good chance to score about 12 1/2 minutes into the period when sophomore Mitch McLain attempted a wraparound, but Huggins was there to make the stop at the left post.

Huggins was called upon to make a couple of great saves after a Mavericks timeout when senior Mark Cooper got a step on a Mavericks defender and got in alone. Cooper made a deke to his backhand, but Huggins made the save. The rebound made its way out to sophomore Mark Friedman at the right point, and he cut into the slot before firing a shot while Huggins was down, but somehow the junior came up with the stop.

Late in the period, just after their third power play ended, the Mavericks had a nice scoring chance when Franklin got loose and took a lead pass. His wrister was stopped by Nell.

The Falcons (22-14-6) needed five minutes in the third period to get pucks through to Huggins, but he came up big on one of two good chances. The first came off the stick off captain Sean Walker, who had cut across the slot before wiring a wrister past Huggins. His shot hit the far post instead of netting, however, leading to a rebound chance for junior Pierre-Luc Mercier. Mercier fired a quick shot trying to catch Huggins coming back across the crease, but the Mavericks goalie got there to make the save.

Nell had to make a tough save on a shot just after a Mavericks’ power play when a shot from the left boards hit freshman Adam Smith in the slot and caromed at Nell.

On their second power play of the third period, and with Nell off the ice for a sixth attacker, the Falcons finally broke through when McLain took a pass in the slot from Matt Pohlkamp below the goal line and one-timed a shot past Huggins at 16:05.

With Nell pulled again, the Falcons struggled to establish their offense deep in Mavericks’ territory. A strong effort defensively by sophomore Zeb Knutson forced the Falcons to take a penalty in the last minute, effectively ending any chance Bowling Green had of evening the game.