On the wings of the one of the hottest penalty killing units in the country, the Gustavus men's hockey team closed the calendar year with a 2-1 victory over fourth-ranked UW-River Falls on Wednesday night in River Falls, Wis. The Gusties used two second period goals while shutting the Falcons down on six power play opportunities on the way to their fifth-straight win.
Gustavus improves to 7-4-2 overall with its first win against a ranked opponent this season. UW-River Falls suffers its second loss of the season and is now 9-2-2 on the year.
Dating back to the opening contest of the Augsburg series on Friday, Dec. 2, the Gustie penalty killers have shut down their opponents on their last 21 power play chances. Gustavus has killed 51-of-60 penalties for a penalty kill percentage of .850 this season.
After a scoreless first period in which UW-River Falls had an 11-to-9 advantage in shots, Gustavus' Adam Smyth was able to break the ice at the 14:11 mark of the second period. Smyth, the reigning MIAC Player-of-the-Week, continued to build on his goal scoring surge with a power play goal, his team-leading third of the year, from Andy Pearson and Gustav Bengtson. Pearson now has nine assists on the season, equaling Ross Ring-Jarvi for the team lead.
With just :01 second left on the clock in the second period, Mark Jackson continued to put the pressure on with a goal at 19:59 to put Gustavus up 2-0. Zach May and Sam Smith assisted on the goal and the Gusties carried a two-goal lead into the second intermission.
Although the Gusties were 6-0-1 when entering the third period with a lead, it didn't take long for the Falcons to get on the scoreboard in the final period, cutting the lead to 2-1 just :13 seconds into the frame after Willie Hess hit the back of the net for his third goal of the season.
Following the goal by Hess, UW-River Falls would be shut out by goaltender John McLean on nine shots. Gustavus' penalty killers would also stymie two Falcon power plays in the remaining minuted. The Gusties had three chances on the power play in the third, finishing 1-for-7 on the man advantage in the game.
John McLean picked up his fifth-consecutive win between the pipes, turning away 31-of-32 shots in a complete-game victory. McLean moves to 6-3-0 on the season and now has a save percentage of .939 and a goals against average of 1.76. The rookie netminder has a .953 save percentage and a goals against average of 1.00 in his last five outings.
UW-River Falls finished with the shot advantage at 32-to-29. Falcon goalie Scott Lewan suffered the loss (9-2-2) after allowing both goals and making 27 saves.
Gustavus caps 2011 with a 5-0-0 mark in December. In the past 10 seasons, the Gusties are 32-8 in the December. Head Coach Brett Petersen's squad is now 5-3-2 away from St. Peter and 4-0-1 against schools based in Wisconsin.
Gustavus will be off through finals week and the remaining days of the year before returning to campus the week leading up to the start of the second half of the season. The Gusties will take on St. Scholastica in their first game back on Friday, Jan. 6 at Don Roberts Ice Rink.