Opportunistic Northern Michigan hands Minnesota State its first home loss as CCHA team
Wildcats senior winger AJ Vanderbeck skated out of the penalty box, called for the puck and ripped home the game-winner in OT.
MANKATO, Minn. — Minnesota State goaltender Keenan Rancier stopped 32 shots and turned away two of three short-handed breakaway chances on Friday night. In just his 13th career game, it might have been his best performance as a college hockey player.
“He was our best player tonight,” Mavericks defenseman Jake Livingstone said. “We let him down.”
The eighth-ranked Mavericks built up a two-goal lead over CCHA foe Northern Michigan by the middle of the second period and indeed had their second-year goalie cooking. All signs pointed to Minnesota State remaining unbeaten at home and unbeaten in conference play.
After all, home losses and blown leads are a rarity at the Mayo Clinic Health System Event Center.
But a letdown late in the second period and snipe of a shot by the league’s top scorer in overtime gave the Wildcats a stunning 3-2 victory before a crowd of 4,344, leaving Rancier as the tough-luck losing goalie.
In a wild extra period that began with the Mavericks on a power play and saw each team take a penalty, Wildcats senior winger AJ Vanderbeck skated out of the penalty box, called for the puck and ripped home the game-winner from the slot with 1:40 remaining. It was his second goal of the game and the 50th of his career. Vanderbeck put the puck in the net earlier in OT but was called for slashing, which disallowed the goal and sent him to the box more than a bit frustrated.
He avenged his play with the Wildcats’ lone shot on goal of overtime. The Mavericks (7-4, 4-1 in CCHA) had seven against winning goaltender Beni Halasz (27 saves) and failed to make a good play on the freshman goalie on 3-on-1 rush shortly before the winning goal was scored.
“We didn’t execute, and (Vanderbeck) found a way to score the last two goals,” MSU coach Mike Hastings said.
Home losses are indeed rare for Minnesota State. Prior to Friday, its last loss in Mankato came on Oct. 9, 2021 to St. Cloud State. Its last home loss to a conference foe was against Northern Michigan during the 2021 playoffs, when the teams were in the WCHA. Its last regular-season home loss to a league opponent was on Jan. 25, 2020 against Bemidji State.
“You always want to defend your home ice,” Hastings said. It’s the reason we’ve been able to have some of the success we’ve had.”
Minnesota State has won the last five conference championships but was not a unanimous pick by the CCHA coaches to take a sixth consecutive MacNaughton Cup. Northern Michigan (9-6, 5-2) was the other consideration, getting two votes, and it showed why on Friday.
“They dictated play most of the game,” Hastings said.
The Mavericks took their 2-0 lead on goals by Will Hillman and Lucas Sowder. Hillman tapped in the rebound of an Andy Carroll shot off a rush at 13:45 of the first period. Sowder doubled the lead with a power-play goal at 8:50 of the second period, redirecting in a Livingstone shot from the point.
Meanwhile, Rancier was keeping the speedy Wildcats scoreless, stopping 10 shots in the first period. Two minutes into the game, he deftly moved across his crease and gloved a wide-open chance off a 2-on-1 rush by Andre Ghantous. Later in the period, he fended off a barrage of shots, including Artem Shlaine’s point-blank chance with 12:30 remaining.
Rancier entered the weekend with a 3-2 record, a .891 save percentage and a 2.39 goals-against average, splitting time with freshman Alex Tracy.
“Without his efforts, we’re not in overtime,” Hastings said. “We needed that from him.”
Northern Michigan finally got a puck by Rancier with 2:55 remaining in the second period, as Shlaine made it 2-1 with a power-play goal. He fired the puck into a gaping net after Rancier made an initial save on Ghantous.
That was a tough one. We kind of gave them the game, but they deserved to win.
The Mavericks had a chance to get that back with a late-period power play of their own. Instead, the Wildcats tied it up with 52.6 seconds left in the frame when Vanderbeck cashed in on a short-handed breakaway.
Rancier stopped a short-handed breakaway chance by Ghantous in the third period and 10 other Northern Michigan shots.
“That was a tough one,” Livingstone said. “We kind of gave them the game, but they deserved to win.”
Note: CCHA Commissioner Don Lucia attended the game, which was coached by two of his former assistants at Minnesota. Hastings was a Gophers assistant for one year, 2008-09, while the Wildcats’ Grant Potulny was on the Minnesota bench for eight seasons prior to arriving at NMU in 2017. He also played for Lucia from 2000 to 2004.
Northern Michigan 0-2-0-1—3
Minnesota State 1-1-0-0—0
Scoring: 1. MSU-Hillman 2 (Carroll 7, Krajnik 2) 13:45
Scoring: 2. MSU-Sowder 2 (Livingstone 9, Sandelin 3) ppg 8:50; 3. NMU-Shlaine 8 (Ghantous 10, Colella 7) ppg 17:03; 4. Vanderbeck 9 (Vescio 1) shg 19:09
Penalties: Zinger, NMU (charging) 6:57; Hirose, MSU (holding) 11:47; Livingstone, MSU (interference) 15:54; Van Unen, NMU (holding) 17:38
Penalties: Willits, NMU (holding) 5:21; Bellini, MSU (hooking) 12:42; Van Unen, NMU (kneeing) 18:25
Scoring: 5. Vanderbeck 10 (Ghantous 11, Zinger 8) ppg 3:20
Penalties: Vanderbeck, NMU (slashing) 1:12; Sandelin, MSU (cross-checking) 2:37
Shots on goal: NMU 10-13-11-1—35; MSU 8-8-6-7—29. Penalties: NMU 6 for 12 minutes; MSU 3 for 6 minutes. Power plays: NMU 2 for 3; MSU 1 for 6. Goalie saves: Halasz 7-7-6-7—27 (2 GA); MSU Rancier 10-11-11-0—32 (3 GA).