MANKATO, Minn. — Both coaches said that it may be the second weekend of October, but the game on Friday at Mayo Clinic Health System Event Center felt like a game from a different part of the season.
"That was big boy, almost NCAA tournament pace on October 8th," St. Cloud State men's hockey coach Brett Larson said. "The first period, I think there was only three or four faceoffs. It was really an intense, fast game and two teams playing really well."
"I didn't think we'd see a battle like that in October," Minnesota State University-Mankato coach Mike Hastings said.
The Mavericks' two most decorated players on this season's team — Dryden McKay and Nathan Smith — proved to be the difference. McKay, a senior from Downers Grove, Ill., made 20 saves to pick up his 26th career shutout to tie the Division I record with former Michigan State goalie Ryan Miller (1999-2002).
Smith, the preseason CCHA Player of the Year, scored a power-play goal at 18:55 of the second period to give the Mavericks the lone goal of the game and a 1-0 nonconference win over the Huskies. The battle between the top two ranked teams in the national polls was played before a loud crowd of 4,555.
The two teams will play Game 2 of their series at 6:07 p.m. Saturday (FloHockey.tv).
Even though there were nine goals scored when the two teams met the last time — April 8 in the national semifinals, a 5-4 SCSU win — Huskies senior defenseman Nick Perbix saw some similarities to that game.
"Honestly, it felt a lot like that Frozen Four game last year," Perbix said. "We wish it was a different outcome, but we've got to get ready for something very similar (Saturday).
"They're hard, heavy, got a lot of skill and a lot of speed. They're a complete hockey team. Sometimes, you just have to tip your cap to them. They beat us tonight."
In case anyone wants to relive the magic. pic.twitter.com/8uNETyZWRq— Minnesota State Hockey (@MinnStMHockey) October 9, 2021
Smith scores on the power play
There was no score going into the second period, with the Huskies holding a 7-4 shots on goal advantage and they were 0-for-1 without a shot on goal in the lone power play in the first period.
There was a shift in momentum in the second period, with the Mavericks outshooting the Huskies 15-5 and getting two power plays. With Huskies senior defenseman Luke Jaycox off for high-sticking, MSU-M finally broke through.
Julian Napravnik, a senior wing from Germany, skated the puck behind the SCSU net and hit Smith with a pass. Smith, in one motion, shot the puck into the far top corner from the bottom of the faceoff circle with 1:05 left in the second period for his team-leading third goal in three games.
"He's playing major minutes and reaping major rewards for the work he's put in this summer," Hastings said of Smith, a junior from Hudson, Fla. "He's good offensively, good defensively and he's responsible."
"I didn't get squared up, but that was a good shot as well, right into the corner," said Huskies goalie David Hrenak, who made 28 saves.
The Huskies (2-1), who went into the game ranked Nos. 1/2 in the national polls, did not have a power play after the second period and hit two posts in the game.
St. Cloud State pulled Hrenak for an extra attacker with 1:22 left and had a couple shots, but were not able to score the equalizer.
"The last minute we had a few scrums out in front and that's what you need," Perbix said of how to beat McKay. "We needed a bounce and didn't get it. We need to move on."
McKay had gone 0-2 with a .722 save percentage and 6.90 GAA in his two previous starts against the Huskies, but picked up his 26th shutout in 100 career college games on Friday. He has two shutouts and has given up three goals in three games to start the season.
Hrenak was nearly equal to McKay with his sharpness on Friday. Hrenak, a fifth-year senior from Slovakia, made 28 saves. He has given up two goals in his first three starts (2-1, 0.78 goals-against average, .963 save percentage).
"I felt good overall and I wish we would've scored two goals, but that's out of my control," Hrenak said. "They are good around the net and we knew that. They're a good team like we are and it was a game of inches.
"We made some mistakes that we should not (have) and hopefully, we will be better with our opportunity tomorrow."
Both Perbix and Larson had positive words for the play of Hrenak.
"I thought David was in control. solid and poised," Larson said of the Los Angeles Kings draft pick.
"Amazing, he kept us in it," Perbix said of Hrenak. "Both goalies played unbeilevable.
"We made sure that David knew that he played well and had nothing to do with that loss. He had at least five or six Grade A stops that were really big."
Sam Hentges, a senior forward for Fridley, Minn., was injured in the second period and did not return. Larson said he did not see when the injury occurred, but said it may have happened when Hentges drove hard to the net and there was a collision.
Hentges, a Minnesota Wild draft pick, started the game on a line with senior center Nolan Walker and senior wing Easton Brodzinski. Hentges had three shots on goal in the game.
MSU-Mankato 1, SCSU 0
First period scoring — No scoring. Penalties — MSU-M, David Silve (tripping) 11:21.
Second period scoring — 1. MSU-M, Nathan Smith 3 (Julian Napravnik 2, Jake Livingstone 2) 18:55 (pp).. Penalties — SCSU, Kevin Fitzgerald (hooking) 12:37; MSU-M, Akito Hirose (interference) 14:41; SCSU, Luke Jaycox (high-sticking) 17:36.
Third period scoring — None. Penalties — MSU-M, Smith (facemasking) 18:22; SCSU, Seamus Donohue (roughing) 18:22.
Goalie saves — SCSU, David Hrenak 4-14-10—28 (1 GA). MsU-M, Dryden McKay 7-5-8—20 (0 GA).
Penalties-minutes — SCSU 3-6; MSU-M 3-9.
Power plays (shots) — SCSU 0-2 (1 shots); MSU-M 1-2 (3 shots).
Faceoffs — SCSU 27-20.
Referees — Rick Nelson and Stephen McInchak.
Linesemen — Matthew Tyree and Kyle Domin
Three stars of the game — 1. McKay (MSU-M), 2. Smith (MSU-M), 3. Hrenak (SCSU).