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Mavericks go on a third-period tear to close out St. Thomas

Minnesota State scored five third-period goals to break a 2-2 tie with St. Thomas. “They’re a top team for a reason,” Tommies head coach Rico Blasi said. “They know how to close games out and we’re learning to do that."

minnesota state and St. Thomas hockey players on the ice
St. Thomas' Quinton Pepper (15) and Minnesota State's Akito Hirose track the puck behind the Mavericks' net during a game Friday, Nov. 4, 2022 at St. Thomas Ice Arena in Mendota Heights, Minn.
Shannon Stieg / Special to The Rink Live

MENDOTA HEIGHTS, Minn. — You can only hold a good hockey team at bay for so long and the St. Thomas men’s hockey team learned that the hard way Friday night against No. 6 Minnesota State.

After the Tommies rallied to tie the game at 2-2 in the second period, the Mavericks exploded for five goals in the third to break the game open and turn a tight game into a 7-2 blowout victory.

“They’re a top team for a reason,” UST head coach Rico Blasi said. “They know how to close games out and we’re learning to do that. They deserve all the credit for how they finish games. It’s the confidence, the winning culture that (MSU head coach) Mike’s (Hastings) created there. They certainly made us pay for our mistakes in the third.”

The first period began how all of the previous outings between the two teams had gone. Mankato controlled play and the puck spent most the first half of the period in the Tommies zone. Eventually, that pressure paid off for the Mavericks as Brendan Furry tapped a loose puck in front past UST goalie Aaron Trotter at the 4:44 mark to get MSU on the scoreboard at 1-0. A little more than four minutes later, Mankato’s Christian Fitzgerald padded the advantage to 2-0 as he roofed a shot into the back of the net for his first collegiate tally.

minnesota state and St. Thomas hockey players on the ice
Minnesota State's Christian Fitzgerald (3) bumps fists with goalie Alex Tracy (33) after scoring his first collegiate goal during a game against St. Thomas on Friday, Nov. 4, 2022 at St. Thomas Ice Arena in Mendota Heights, Minn.
Shannon Stieg / Special to The Rink Live

It looked as if things might get worse for the Tommies as the Mavs went on the power play at the 9:20 mark, but that’s when UST found a spark. The Tommies broke free on a shorthanded rush and freshman Cooper Gay capped it off by beating Mankato goalie Alex Tracy top shelf to cut the deficit to 2-1 with 8:50 left. The momentum shifted the Tommies’ way after that point and they almost found the equalizer a couple minutes later, but Tracy just got a piece of Jarrett Lee’s one-timer to maintain the Mavs’ slim lead.

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The second period was more of the same. The Mavericks started off hot again, but Trotter made some nice saves to keep them from increasing the lead. He denied David Silye with a sprawling toe save with just under 16 minutes left and made a flashy glove save with 8:55 remaining. After teammate Cam Recchi just missed tying the game with 7:31 left, Trotter made back-to-back saves down low to maintain the one-goal deficit.

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With 6:01 left, the Tommies caught a break to tie the game. Tracy left his net to cover a loose puck, but didn’t cover it completely and Gay tapped it into a wide-open net to make it 2-2 going into the third period.

However, whatever boost UST got from Gay’s second goal disappeared quickly in the third. Ondrej Pavel’s shot found its way into the net at the 1:20 mark to give the Mavericks the lead again at 3-2 and then four minutes later, a costly Tommies penalty led to a Ryan Sandelin goal to make it 4-2.

“First of all, you can’t take penalties against them any time, but certainly not when you’re trying to get back in the game,” Blasi said. “Really unnecessary penalties on our part and we’re gonna correct that.”

The floodgates opened at that point as Silye scored from the top of the slot to pad the advantage to 5-2 and Luc Wilson made it 6-2 on a nice backhand at the 8:30 mark. Silye added another goal at the 11:17 mark to finish off the scoring.

Despite the tough outcome, Blasi felt positive about his team’s performance and praised Mankato for throwing the Tommies off in the final period.

“I was happy with our effort, in the first two periods for sure,” he said. “We got a little bit out of sorts. Give them all the credit in the world. It’s why they’re in first place.”

The two teams battle again tomorrow at 6:07 p.m. in Mankato.

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