MANKATO — The drive to Verizon Wireless Center on Friday night was greasy for travelers, as south central Minnesota took the brunt of a nasty snowstorm.
Minnesota State Mankato coach Troy Jutting was happy, however, to slog to the rink, which must have seemed unfamiliar after more than a month of long-distance journeys.
The Mavericks, who already have been in Michigan, Alaska, Massachusetts and Colorado, returned after 41 days away and edged the Gophers 3-2 in a WCHA game that offered frustrating moments to both teams.
"If they are honest, both teams would admit they could have played better," Jutting said. "But after, what? 60 days? It feels good to play at home."
Phil Cook had 33 saves for MSU Mankato, and Adam Mueller had a goal and an assist in front of 4,106 fans.
Nick Bjugstad and Nick Larson scored for the Gophers, who were without first-line winger Mike Hoeffel (flu). Alex Kangas stopped 21 shots.
"We had our chances," Larson said. "We knew they were gonna come at us hard after being away for a month and a half, but we got some shots. The goalie made some big saves when he needed to."
The Gophers had the better chances in the scoreless third period, but they couldn't solve Cook during three power plays. Kangas stopped Mavericks captain Rylan Galiardi on a short-handed breakaway in the third to keep the deficit at one, but his teammates couldn't pick him up.
"We have a small margin between winning and losing," Gophers coach Don Lucia said. "We had chances we didn't bury, and in the end, they have one more than we did."
The Gophers fell to 8-6-1 overall and 5-5-1 in the league. The Mavericks are 5-6-4 and 3-6-2.
"We were throwing the puck at the net and hoping something happened," Mueller said. His goal at 6:29 of the second period, which put Mankato ahead 3-1, was a prime example. He worked down low with linemates Corey Lievermann and Joe Schliler and when the puck popped loose on the left side, Mueller tucked it past Kangas.
The Gophers had a 5-on-3 power play for 43 seconds later in the second and, although they didn't score, they got some life. Shortly after the teams began skating 5-on-5 again, Larson stuffed a shot under Cook from the right side of the crease.
"We felt pretty good going into the third period,'' Lucia said. "We had our looks, we had our chances, but the goalie made good saves and we just missed in goal-mouth scrambles."
Michael Dorr, who started his career with the Gophers, and defenseman Ben Youds scored first-period goals for the Mavericks. Dorr, like Mueller a junior from Roseville, played two games for the Gophers as a freshman before transferring midseason to Mankato.