Just about everyone in Sullivan Arena saw the puck in the air except for the one guy who could do anything about it: UAA goalie Rob Gunderson.
"I was hoping that it was ending up in the corner or behind the net," Gunderson said about the play where he tried to poke the puck away from Minnesota State's Michael Dorr. "And sure enough it hit me in the back and rolled in the net."
That heartbreaker with 6:09 remaining was the difference in Saturday night's 2-1 victory for the Mavericks, who swept the Western Collegiate Hockey Association series despite registering just 33 shots on goal during the two games.
Gunderson said a "little bit of a breakdown" in the neutral zone led to Dorr's breakaway off a pass from Minnesota State defenseman Zach Palmquist.
"We were trying to make a push, trying to get that next goal," Gunderson said.
Gunderson skated out to cut down Dorr's angle and then poked out his stick as Dorr was trying to control the rolling puck and deke him.
Dorr then saw the puck floating above Gunderson.
"I wasn't sure if it was going to hit his head and fall forward, or hit his back, or go over the net," Dorr said.
Gunderson's heart sank when he realized where the puck wound up.
" 'There's no way that just happened' was running through my head," he said.
The game seemed destined for overtime after both teams tallied in the first four minutes but then grinded through 50 scoreless minutes.
Each team's top line struck early.
At 2:37, the Mavericks' Eriah Hayes chipped in a rebound from the low slot after Gunderson had saved Jean-Paul Lafontaine's initial shot.
Barely a minute later UAA center Matt Bailey one-timed home a centering pass from behind the goal by Curtis Leinweber. The tally was Bailey's fourth in the last three games and tied him with Mitch Bruijsten for the team lead with eight.
"We were down 1-0. We needed to bounce back," Bailey said. "Leiny made a really nice pass and I got good wood on it and got it up over the glove."
Bailey, a sophomore from Winnipeg, Manitoba, has been the lone bright spot lately for an offense that has mustered just 14 goals in its last eight games.
The UAA defense, which allowed fewer than three goals for just the second time since Nov. 18, held strong for most of Saturday night. It also kept the Mavericks (12-19-1 overall, 8-15-1 WCHA) scoreless on nine power play chances over the weekend.
But the offense -- despite outshooting Minnesota State 43-33 on the weekend -- generated few quality chances.
"You can't win too many hockey games with one goal," Bailey said.
The Seawolves (7-19-2, 4-19-1) ended their longest homestand of the season with a 1-5 record. UAA travels to St. Cloud State next weekend before returning for the Governor's Cup series against UAF on Feb. 24-25.
Gunderson made 14 saves for the second straight night while counterpart Phil Cook turned aside 18 UAA attempts.
"There's not many games I've been in where I have less than 20 shots and we come out with a loss," Gunderson said.
UAA dodged two bullets nine minutes. Joe Schiller's contested breakaway was saved by Gunderson and 10 seconds later Corey Leivermann's blast from the point hit the right post.
UAA gained a prime opportunity late in the first period when Minnesota State freshman forward Max Gaede received a five-minute major and game misconduct for checking Alex Gellert hard into the boards from behind. But the Seawolves could not convert.
UAA sophomore wing Andrew Pickering was called for the same infraction at 12:14 of the second period, giving the Mavericks the man-advantage for five minutes. UAA killed that off, allowing only two shots.
But as UAA was clawing for the tying goal, its chances were dimmed by another infraction. Sophomore defenseman Quinn Sproule received a major penalty and game misconduct for contact to the head with 2:18 remaining. That meant UAA could only get a 5-on-5 situation when pulling Gunderson in the final 90 seconds and it did not come close to scoring.
"We could not find the back of the net tonight," Gunderson said.
And unfortunately for UAA, the puck on Dorr's breakaway found Gunderson's back -- and then his net -- to seal the Seawolves' fate.
By MATIAS SAARI
Daily News correspondent