ST. PAUL, Minn. — One night after scoring one of its biggest victories of the season, Minnesota State-Mankato suffered a big letdown.
Playing surging WCHA rival Bemidji State in the championship game of the North Star College Cup at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, the top-ranked Mavericks couldn’t get their potent offense going and were upset 3-1 on Saturday.
“They were good tonight,” Mavericks coach Mike Hastings said. “They were better than us. … They did a real good job of creating offense off our mistakes.”
It was the Beavers’ first win against Minnesota State-Mankato in six tries. Bemidji State is now unbeaten in nine of its last 11 games.
The loss, the first for the Mavericks (19-5-1) since Dec. 5, snapped a nine-game unbeaten streak and came in the wake of Friday semifinal victory against Minnesota.
“I don’t want to blame that,” Hastings said when asked about a letdown from the emotional win over the Gophers. “I don’t think that’s the reason we didn’t get it done tonight. But I will tell you I was concerned about that going into tonight’s game. … But you still have to go out and you’re competing for a championship.”
After a large chunk of the day’s crowd of 14,199 left after Minnesota-Duluth’s 2-1 victory against Minnesota in the third-place game, the Mavericks fell behind 3-0 before the second period was over.
The Beavers grabbed an early lead, with Charlie O’Connor finishing off a low 2-on-1 play from linemate Brendan Harms at 5:55 of the first period.
At 2:54 of the second period, BSU freshman center Gerry Fitzgerald made it 2-0. He beat defenseman Zach Palmquist along the wall, avoided a poke-check by goalie Stephon Williams and then scored easily into an open net with a wrap-around shot.
The Beavers, who were the home team and could match lines with the last change, continued to make life miserable for the Mavericks, blocking shots and generally disrupting their offense.
Bemidji State made it 3-0 with 5:12 to play in the second period on freshman Kyle Bauman’s partial breakaway goal. Defenseman Brett Stern tried to knock him off the puck, but Bauman got off the scoring shot and beat Williams as he fell to the ice.
With a little more than five minutes remaining in the second period, the Mavericks had a five-minute power play to work with. It was a miserable experience for the first four-plus minutes, as MSU didn’t get a shot on goal. With 44.2 seconds remaining in the period, however, defenseman Jon Jutzi fired a shot from the right point that deflected past goalie Michael Bitzer.
That was all the Mavericks mustered with the major.
“They did a great job of making us dump pucks, and when we did, they were the first to get to it and they’d get it out,” Jutzi said.
Their next good chance to cut down the deficit came with 12:33 left in the third period when Dylan Margonari was awarded a penalty shot after being tripped on a breakaway chance. But he couldn’t convert, as Bitzer got his right leg pad on the shot to maintain his two-goal lead.
Bitzer finished with 26 saves and was named the tournament’s most outstanding player. He shut out Minnesota Duluth 4-0 on Friday.
Williams stopped 19 shots.
The loss didn’t hurt the Mavericks in the WCHA standings, as it was considered a nonconference game. Minnesota State swept Bemidji State in Mankato Nov. 7-8 and will play a series in Bemidji to close out the regular season March 6-7.
“That team we played, that’s the best team in the country,” Serratore said of the Mavericks. “That’s not just rankings. That team is really good.”
This article was written by Shane Frederick from The Free Press, Mankato, Minn. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.