MANKATO, Minn.—Northern Michigan University Men's Ice Hockey (10-8-2, 8-4-2-2 WCHA) earned a 4-3 road victory over No. 7 Minnesota State University-Mankato (13-6, 11-4 WCHA) Friday evening at the Verizon Center. The win moved the Wildcats into sole possession of second place in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association standings, just two points behind the Mavericks for the top spot.
Wasting little time, the Mavericks jumped to an early lead less than five minutes into the opening period. The MSU score came just 4:23 into the first period marking the third time this season in three matchups that the Mavericks earned an early lead on the Wildcats.
The lead was short lived as junior forward Troy Loggins (Huntington Beach, California) went top shelf at the eight-minute mark to knot the game up at one goal each. Loggins' seventh goal of the year was assisted by reigning WCHA Defensive Player of the Week senior defenseman Jordan Klimek (Langley, British Columbia). It was Klimek's ninth assist of the season.
It took more than 15 minutes for either team to find their offense in the second period. Sophomore forward Darien Craighead (Surrey, British Columbia) scored his sixth goal in four games and 11th of the year 17:46 into the second period. Freshman forward Mitchell Slattery (Lino Lakes, Minnesota) and junior forward Adam Rockwood (Coquitlam, British Columbia) earned their third and 15th assists of the season the play.
Just 18 seconds later, MSU tied it up at two goals each. The tie would span the final minutes of the period. Despite no power play opportunities of their own, the Wildcats special teams held the Mavericks scoreless in a pair of power play chances in the second period, putting each team at 0-for-2 after two periods.
Senior forward Robbie Payne (Gaylord, Michigan) got the third period started with his 16th goal of the season. The goal moved him into a tie for the top spot in the country for goals scored during the 2017-18 season. The goal came 3:02 into the third period with Rockwood earning his second assist of the game and Loggins recording his second point of the night.
MSU was not ready to ready to give up, again tying the contest late in the third period. With 5:10 remaining in the frame, the Mavericks knotted the game at three goals each, but freshman forward Jospeh Nardi (Edmonton, Alberta) came to the Wildcats' aid, scoring his fourth goal of the season with 36 seconds to play. Craighead and junior forward Denver Pierce (Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan) were credited with assists on what ended up being the game-winning goal.
Between the pipes, junior goaltender Atte Tolvanen (Vihti, Finland) earned his third consecutive win after collecting 26 saves. It was the most saves for Tolvanen since the series opener at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks November 17. After the victory, Tolvanen now owns a .914 save percentage and a 2.33 goals against average this season.
Now just two points behind MSU for the top spot in the WCHA standings, NMU heads into Saturday's contest with a chance to end 2017 as the top team in the conference if they earn the series sweep over the Mavericks. The series final is set for Saturday evening in Mankato, Minnesota with an 8:07 p.m. puck drop.