Minnesota State Waits for Puck Luck to Arrive
by Dan Myers/CHN Staff
ST. CLOUD, Minn. The Minnesota State Mavericks are tied for 10th place in the WCHA, knotted with Bemidji State, who also has a game in hand.
But a look at the standings does the Mavericks no justice.
Despite being winless over their last seven games after a 3-3 tie with St. Cloud State on Friday night at the National Hockey Center, you might be hard pressed to find two teams playing better hockey than the Mavericks and Huskies right now.
Over the last nine conference games, the wins have been hard to come by for MSU, but they've gone toe-to-toe with the best the league has to offer. Consider the stretch that started Dec. 3 against Minnesota. Following a sweep of the Gophers in Mankato, the Mavericks lost a one-goal game to North Dakota (a game MSU led 2-0) and lost a 4-2 contest the next night (UND had an empty-netter).
Following four straight wins over non-conference opponents over the holiday break, including a title in the Shillelagh Tournament, the Mavericks returned to conference play against Denver. They lost a lead in the final two minutes of that one and the Pioneers dug out of a 3-0 hole in game two to win 4-3 in overtime Saturday.
Last weekend in Madison, MSU led Friday before a poor second period gave Wisconsin a 3-1 lead heading to the third. Minnesota State outshot Wisconsin 17-6 over the final 20 minutes but lost 3-2. The next night, MSU held a 17-4 edge in shots in the third period and tied the game at one with 16 minutes left but lost 2-1.
"I don't think we could have played any better than we did in Madison last weekend," said Mavericks coach Troy Jutting.
Indeed, it's been like the movie Groundhog Day for Jutting, who says his team has played "extremely well" over the last 15 games.
"We just haven't gotten the puck luck yet," Jutting said. "But if we keep playing the way we have, it'll come."
That time might be coming soon. Over the last six games, the Mavericks haven't had many "Grade-A chances," as Jutting calls them. Friday in St. Cloud, the chances were there for the Mavericks. MSU hit a pair of posts in an impressive second period. That doesn't count the wide open nets missed in all three periods — one glorious chance in each frame. In all three cases, pucks were rolling and couldn't be corralled until the moment had passed.
"It's frustrating for sure," said Mavericks forward Michael Dorr, who assisted on all three Maverick goals. "You just gotta play through it. The fact that we are playing so well, we have to take the positives out of that. If you dwell on it, things will just spiral downward."
Asked if he feels at all snake-bitten, Jutting, always the optimist, just chuckles.
"It seems like the same story for us," Jutting said.
Among the Mavericks who had chances Friday were Joe Schiller. He drew a penalty on a breakaway in the first period, but was still able to execute his move. He had SCSU goaltender Mike Lee beaten, but the puck rolled off his stick. Then, with under seven minutes to play, Schiller dug out a loose puck at the top of Lee's crease, pulled it to his backhand and lifted a shot off the side of the net. The play was so tight, the red light went on behind the goal and the shot was reviewed.
"I knew I had just missed it, so I was surprised they looked at it," Schiller said. "It should have gone in though. I had quite a bit of net. I'd like to see that one again."
If the Mavericks can catch some puck luck down the stretch, they'll be the team come March nobody wants to see again.