Gophers hold on to beat Mankato

Zach Budish scored the game-winner as Minnesota won 3-2.

by Drew Claussen

Minnesota State-Mankato showed the Gophers just how hard conference games are going to be this year.

The Gophers defeated the Mavericks 3-2 at Mariucci Arena in the first stanza of a home-and-home series. Tomorrow’s game will be played at Verizon Wireless Center in downtown Mankato, Minn.

“It’s always going to be like this,” head coach Don Lucia said, referencing the teams’ close games last year. “They’re amped up to play us and we understand that.”

Minnesota won the MacNaughton Cup last season. As the Mavericks displayed Friday, it will likely get every opponent’s best effort this season.

Zach Budish scored the game-winner on a rebound early in the third period and completed a team hat trick of sorts. Minnesota scored three power play goals, one in each period.

“It was just a rebound in front, I think Kyle [Rau] wacked at it too,” Budish said. “I just found the back of the net, I didn’t even know it went in at first.”

Budish was on the first line Friday with Rau and Nick Bjugstad for the first time this season. The trio spent much of last year in that same position.

“We felt we had to get [Budish] going,” Lucia said. “He ended up getting the game-winning goal, so from that point it worked.”

The Mavericks had struggled on the penalty kill early this season, so both teams knew special teams would play a big role in their series.

That held true in the first period for both teams and throughout the game for Minnesota.

“We spent a little extra time this week on the power play,” Nate Schmidt said. “I don’t think the head coaching staff was too happy with our output as a pair of units, so we spent a lot of time shooting and making sure we got pucks to the net.”

Mankato got the party started with a power play goal by Zach Palmquist less than five minutes into the game. The goal was set up by a nifty one-time pass by Jean-Paul Lafontaine.

Palmquist beat his former high school teammate Adam Wilcox for the goal. Both players are from South St. Paul, Minn. The replay showed Wilcox cracking a smile after the goal.

Minnesota retaliated with its own power play goal just after the halfway point of the first period. Travis Boyd let a wrist shot fly from the top of the circle that found its way through traffic and past Mavericks goalie Phil Cook.

The game’s even play held through the second period.

The Mavericks regained the lead when Zach Lehrke slid a puck into the crease from behind the goal line. Wilcox never saw the puck, and freshman Teddy Blueger hammered it home for the second goal of his career.

Minnesota tied the game with its second power play goal of the night. The Gophers peppered Cook with shots with the man advantage before Schmidt got an opportunity from the point. He launched a laser glove-side for his second goal of the year. Cook was partially screened by Budish on the play.

“That was a once-in-a-while shot,” Schmidt said with a laugh. “I got a hold of it pretty good. … I don’t even think the goalie saw it.”

Schmidt added that he didn’t even see the puck tickle the twine and didn’t know it was a goal until Budish started celebrating.

Minnesota had been accustomed to vastly outshooting its opponents, but that didn’t happen Friday. The Gophers held a 23-18 shot advantage after two periods and finished with a 32-25 advantage.

Budish’s game-winner came fairly early in the third when the Gophers broke out with an offensive flurry. The Mavericks managed to launch a plethora of shots at Wilcox, but the freshman stood tall, especially in the final minutes of the game.

Lucia said that he was impressed with Wilcox’s effort and hinted that the freshman would be in net tomorrow too.