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Minnesota State-Mankato opens hockey series vs. Northern Michigan University with crushing 5-0 shutout

Northern Michigan University forwards Vincent de Mey, left, and Connor Marritt, right, battle Minnesota State's Riese Zmolek for the puck along the boards in the Wildcats' offensive zone during the first period of their WCHA game played at the Berry Events Center in Marquette on Saturday. (Photo courtesy Shannon Stieg)

MARQUETTE — There are a lot of truths in hockey and a big one is that you can’t afford to fall behind a good team quickly in the first period and expect to recover.

That was confirmed Saturday night when the Northern Michigan University hockey team was hit hard and fast by No. 5 Minnesota State-Mankato. The Mavericks scored four first-period goals and cruised to a 5-0 victory at the Berry Events Center.

Wildcats head coach Grant Potulny was blunt when asked his assessment of the game afterward.

“They were better at every position than we were tonight,” he said.

MSU tested Wildcats starting goalie Connor Ryckman early, forcing him to make back-to-back saves just over a minute into the opening period. Then just 5:16 in, the Mavericks got a shot past the redshirt junior as Jared Spooner received a pass in the slot and went low to make it 1-0.

With MSU continuing to buzz in the Northern defensive zone, ‘Cats forward Griffin Loughran committed a costly slashing penalty and the Mavs took advantage about a minute later. Akito Hirose sent a cross-ice pass to Nathan Smith, who one-timed it past Ryckman to make it 2-0 at 7:49.

The Mankato offensive barrage continued as the period went on. At 10:43, Cade Borchardt scored to pad the Mavericks’ advantage to 3-0 as Ryckman was pulled in favor of Nolan Kent. The goalie change didn’t do much to stop the tide, though, as NMU defenseman Mike Van Unen was called for elbowing and Mankato’s Julian Napravnik fired a shot past Kent just as the ensuing power play was expiring to put the Mavs up 4-0.

Northern had 10 shots in the first period, but didn’t get a decent scoring chance until the final minute during a power play. With the Mavericks called for charging, defenseman Ben Newhouse snapped a shot from the blue line that almost got through traffic and into the net, but Mankato goalie Dryden McKay made a nice glove save to keep his shutout going.

Compared to the offensive-heavy first period, the second was pretty quiet. Mankato continued to put pressure on the Wildcats, but Northern was able to kill off another Van Unen penalty. Kent also made a sharp glove save on the Mavericks’ Jack McNeely with 9:22 left and a sprawling kick save with 6:20 remaining.

Meanwhile at the other end of the rink, the Wildcats managed only one shot on net and the only real scoring opportunity came with 5:38 left when Connor Marritt sent a pass from the left post of the MSU net to the slot and a charging Alex Frye, but McKay scrambled to cover the puck in time.

The third was more of the same. The Mavericks stayed in control for almost the entire period and nearly made it 5-0 with 12:06 remaining as Walker Duehr came down the rink on a partial breakaway. But Kent denied him with a blocker save and deflected the puck into the netting. Kent also stuffed Reggie Lutz by the left post after the winger made some shifty moves into the zone to keep the deficit at four.

However, he couldn’t keep the Mavericks at bay for the whole period. After Loughran was called for slashing, MSU’s Dallas Gerads put the finishing touch on the victory as his shot from the left circle deflected past Kent and into the back of the net for the Mavs’ third power play game of the game.

When asked what needs to change to earn a split with the Mankato, Potulny said it was effort.

“One thing needs to change and it’s just how hard you play the game,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing that’s got to change and we’re gonna play that way here. And along the way … we’re gonna find a way to play that way, whether it’s through practice, or through the game, or whatever it is.

“This tonight is not acceptable in our program. And either you adjust ice time or you adjust players and you push. And practice is meant to be an area where you should get better at different areas of your game.

“It shouldn’t be an area that you have to continually worry about, coaching effort. Effort’s something you should never have to coach. That’s the disappointing part.”

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.

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