DULUTH, Minn. — It was just the type of game St. Cloud State head coach Craig Dahl wanted to see.
Dahl’s Huskies (15-4-1, 10-4 WCHA) twice erased two-goal deficits, and rallied with three third-period goals Saturday night to defeat Minnesota-Duluth (4-16-2, 1-12-2 WCHA) and sweep the two-game WCHA series in front of 4,324 at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center.
Dahl says his team needed a tough game, because win or lose, they’d learn something about themselves and get better prepared for the playoffs.
“We want every game to be tested,” he said. “We don’t want any easy games.”
UMD coach Scott Sandelin was also pleased. “I’m proud of how our kids played,” said Sandelin. “They played hard — we just didn’t get the result we were after.”
The loss extended the Bulldogs’ winless streak to six games, yet Sandelin believes it could lead to some good things down the road.
“We may be losing now, but maybe we’ll win those games in February,” he said.
Meanwhile, St. Cloud brought its winning streak up to five.
Senior center Brandon Sampair lead the way offensively for the seventh-ranked Huskies, scoring what turned out to be the winning goal, and adding two assists. Goaltender Scott Meyer turned aside 29 of 33 UMD shots to earn his 13th win of the season.
Sampair also assisted in motivating his team between the second and third periods. With the team trailing 3-2, he told his teammates that if St. Cloud was to gain respect as a possible WCHA champion, it had to act like one.
“In the past, teams like North Dakota and Colorado College, when they were down going into the third period, they would put about 30 shots on goal and win the game,” said Sampair. “I told them, ‘Now’s our turn to make a stand, if we want to win a championship.’”
His team responded in a wild third period that started with the tying goal at the 5:34 mark. Heavy forechecking forced a turnover in the Duluth zone, and sophomore right wing Joe Motzko sent the puck from behind the extended goal line to the slot, where Junior left wing Mark Hartigan was waiting. Hartigan then roofed a shot that deflected off the knob of goaltender Adam Coole’s stick and went in just under the crossbar. Hartigan’s goal was his team-leading 14th of the season.
St. Cloud continued with some heavy pressure in the UMD zone, and followed with its first lead of the game at the 6:51 mark. A flurry in front of the Duluth net resulted in a Sampair centering pass that somehow found its way on to Tyler Arnason’s stick. The junior left wing followed by lifting the puck over a seated Coole to make it 4-3.
Sampair added to that lead at the 14:42 mark when he tapped in a shot that Arnason let go from the left faceoff circle. Sampair skated in with Arnason on a two-on-one and found the puck to the right of the goaltender, and popped it in for his fourth goal of the year.
UMD did manage to cut the St. Cloud lead to one, thanks to Tom Nelson’s second goal of the night at the 16:20 mark. The Bulldogs then tried everything to tie the game, but was thwarted thanks to superb goaltending by Meyer. The senior netminder stopped a half-dozen shots in the last 90 seconds of the hockey game.
Nelson opened the scoring for UMD at the 3:02 mark of the first period despite being tied up by St. Cloud defender. Nelson ended up using a one-handed shot to get the puck past Meyer.
The Bulldogs continued with some heavy pressure during the opening span, outshooting the Huskies 12-6. They made it 2-0 at the 16:41 mark when Andy Reierson scored on a 5-on-3 power play.
St. Cloud first got on the board early in the second period when Sampair assisted on Duvie Westcott’s power-play tally at the 1:05 mark.
However, UMD made it 3-1 when Drew Otten scored his fourth goal of the year, banging in a puck that was first shot from the blue line by Pierce and seemed to hit several sticks and bodies before it found its way to Otten, who was positioned to the right of Meyer.
St. Cloud made it 3-2 on the power play at the 14:21 mark. Sophomore center Ryan Malone found the puck in the middle of a scramble in front of the Duluth net, and sent it past Coole on his stick side.
The win kept SCSU in a three-way tie for second place in the WCHA. North Dakota continues to lead the conference with 21 points, while the Huskies, Minnesota, and Colorado College follow closely at 20 points.
Dahl says the comeback victory proves to him his team has character, “They showed me they’re not going to quit when they’re down,” he said.
Added Sampair, “It’s nice; it shows we’re going to find a way to win.”
Overall, SCSU finished 3-for-6 with the man-advantage, while UMD ended up converting just one of eight power-play opportunities.
St. Cloud continues WCHA action next weekend when it hosts Michigan Tech in a two-game series. UMD will host Colorado College next Friday and Saturday in the final two games of an eight-game conference homestand that began in December.