ST. CLOUD -- Zeb Knutson isn't from Minnesota, but when you grow up a hockey player in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, you spend enough time in the state to call it a second home.
Knutson, playing on Hockey Day Minnesota for the first time, scored two goals for Minnesota State as the eighth-ranked Mavericks defeated No. 3 St. Cloud State 5-2 at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center on Saturday.
"It's awesome, it's an awesome event, and a televised game is always big for us. I think a lot of boys draw from that and show up to play for that," Knutson said. "I've heard of it, I've known about it most of my life and I've always watched those outdoor games. It's a special day for me and even though I'm not from here, I'm glad all the boys showed up and played for the occasion."
MSU certainly did that, scoring a crucial nonconference win and avenging a season-opening 4-0 loss to the Huskies on its own home ice back in October.
SCSU is atop the NCHC standings and a virtual lock for the NCAA tournament at the end of the season. The Mavericks are the WCHA's best team, but because the league isn't as strong, the win was critical in its own bid for the tournament.
The fact that it provided a bit of payback from three months ago was just icing on the cake.
"They came into our barn and they beat us 4-rip, that's not a game we've forgotten about and it's not a game we will forget about," Knutson said. "There was a lot of emotion going into this game, with the day and the past experience already this year. I think that was huge for our team and it's time for us get moving here in the second half."
It was the first career win in St. Cloud for Mavericks coach Mike Hastings, a Huskies alum and former assistant coach here. It came against good friend Bob Motzko, who he was able to spend some time with out at Lake George earlier in the afternoon. Motzko's son, Mack, plays for St. Cloud Cathedral, which defeated crosstown rival St. Cloud 8-3 earlier on Hockey Day.
"There haven't been many times that I walked out of here with a win," Hastings said. "It's important for our group and I'm happy for them because they did the work and were rewarded for it."
Connor Mackey got MSU on the board 1:33 into the game, one the Mavericks never trailed in. Knutson made it 2-0 11 minutes later.
After the Huskies got within one on a goal by Jon Lizotte before intermission, the Mavericks' Elk River duo of Reggie Lutz and Jake Jaremko connected on a beauty of a goal at 6:14 of the second, driving Huskies' goaltender Jeff Smith from the game.
Robby Jackson made it 3-2 less than a minute later, but Knutson scored his second of the day after sustained pressure by the Mavericks, giving them a 4-2 lead after two.
Forest Lake's C.J. Suess added an empty-net goal in the final minute to salt the game away.
"Give them credit: They kicked our butt with their work ethic and their determination," Motzko said. "We were just there in spurts. This was a game where you just can't come in spurts.
"The first period we had maybe a dozen turnovers. We were just trying to play cute and they just slammed it back down our throat on all the turnovers. We weren't winning battles in those tight little areas on the boards and we put ourselves in a lot of trouble. It was like we put our chin out there and said, 'Knock us out.'"