On many nights when a hockey team plays well enough to win but does not, the vanquished often employ a solid fallback explanation: lack of puck luck.
They cite a glorious scoring chance quashed when the puck hops a stick, or an opponents' fluke goal, or a ricochet gone wrong. Sometimes, the reasoning rings entirely true, sometimes it's a straight-up cop-out -- usually the truth lies somewhere in between.
Friday night in Mankato, Minn., UAA could point to misery on the puck-luck front and have a legit rap.
Minnesota State-Mankato's game-winning strike in the third period of its 3-2 Western Collegiate Hockey Association victory over UAA came on a strange bounce that turned Sean Flanagan's shot into something that bore more resemblance to an infield fly than a scorcher from the left point.
Flanagan's shot three minutes into the third period hit the stick blade of Seawolves center Bobby Murphy, tumbled high into the air as UAA goaltender Rob Gunderson lost track of it and dropped over Gunderson's right shoulder and into his net at the Verizon Wireless Center.
As Seawolves coach Matt Thomas said, the puck had "eyes.''
That good fortune furnished the Mavericks (6-7-0, 4-3-0 WCHA) a 3-2 lead and halted the Seawolves' comeback from an early 2-0 deficit. UAA (6-5-2, 3-4-2) also lost its three-game unbeaten streak (1-0-2).
Even so, Thomas didn't decry that bitter bounce as much as he did the Seawolves' slow start -- they trailed 2-0 inside 16 minutes on goals from Mavericks Zach Lehrke and Jean-Paul Lafontaine. Lehrke's even-strength goal and Lafontaine's power-play marker each finished tic-tac-toe passing plays.
"We lost the game in the first period,'' Thomas said by cellphone. "We had a bad turnover that led to the first goal and we made a bad read on the power-play goal.
"I liked the way we came back to tie it. And we had our chances, that's what's frustrating.''
UAA remained winless on the WCHA road (0-4-1).
Gunderson, a senior, stopped 28 shots. His .903 save percentage for the evening marked his seventh straight game with a .903 mark or higher, and he clearly is riding the best extended stretch of his career in green and gold.
Gunderson stacked his pads and flashed his glove to make a remarkable save on Matt Leitner's power-play bid in the second period and he couldn't be faulted for the three goals he surrendered -- he had no chance on Lehrke's tap-in or Lafontaine's slot shot, and came up snake eyes on Flangan's winner.
"It was unfortunate we didn't do enough to support him,'' said Thomas, who lamented considerable turnovers his club committed.
Senior captain Matt Bailey helped the Seawolves get back in the game late in the first period, when Thomas, seeking a goal, loaded up a power line of Bailey, team-leading scorer Jordan Kwas and center Blake Tatchell.
Tatchell drove to the net along the right-wing goal line with the puck and get off a shot Mankato's Cole Huggins (22 saves) could not corral. Bailey scored on the rebound for his team-high eighth goal to cut the deficit to 2-1.
Five minutes into the second period, junior center Brett Cameron forged a 2-2 tie with a dazzling goal during a delayed penalty against the Mavericks. The right-handed-shooting Cameron, back after missing four games with an upper-body injury, carried the puck into the offensive zone on right wing, cut to the middle, used a Maverick as a screen, and unleashed a wrister off the right post and in.
UAA closes its series against Minnesota State-Mankato on Saturday night before returning home to entertain UAF in a WCHA series that doubles as the first two games in the four-game Governor's Cup this season.
Bailey has eight goals in 13 games after scoring seven goals in 36 games last season. He is the program's leading active goal scorer with 35.
Tatchell furnished his third assist in the last two games and led UAA with six shots on goal.
Mankato's Lehrke, a senior, played just his third game since reconsidering his retirement. He suffers from a condition in which he suffers cramping from exertion and before the season decided to call it quits. He changed his mind, decided to finish what he started, and now owns 1-3 -- 4 totals in three games since his return.
Lafontaine has scored a goal in three straight games.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
Aces 1 0 0 1
Colorado 0 1 1 2
First Period - 1, Aces, Mazzolini 5 (Trupp, Parker), 19:57. Penalties -- None.
Second Period - 2, Colorado, Ostrow 9 (Ulanski, Daavettila), 17:01 (pp). Penalties - Trupp, Aces (tripping), 16:03; Johnston, Colorado (slashing), 18:48.
Third Period - 3, Colorado, Parker 2 (Johnston, Smeltzer), 15:28. Penalties - Nemec, Colorado (tripping), :33; Fulghum, Colorado (boarding), 2:56; Kremyr, Aces (interference), 5:32; Nemec, Colorado (boarding), 12:29.
Shots on goal - Aces 7-5-10--22. Colorado 10-14-10--34.
Power-play Opportunities - Aces 0 of 4. Colorado 1 of 2.
Goalies - Aces, Roy, 1-3-0 (34 shots-32 saves). Colorado, Cheverie, 9-0-2 (22-21).
A - 5,289 (5,289). T - 2:14.
Referee - Pierre Lambert. Linesmen - Jon Shaw, Chris Wilson.