ST. PAUL, Minn. — Who said Tyler Arnason’s slap shot couldn’t tear through twine?
St. Cloud State’s WCHA Final Five semifinal game against Minnesota on Friday, the battle for a first-round bye in the NCAA tournament, wasn’t the contest most expected. And no one could have expected the kind of goal that put it away for the Huskies.
That’s because no one on the ice really saw it.
Arnason’s shorthanded slap shot off a drop pass, on first glance, appeared to harmlessly go wide. Arnason thought he saw the net ripple, but he didn’t make a big deal of it.
Upon further review, it tore through the bottom of the net. It gave the Huskies a 3-0 lead midway through the second period, and they held that advantage in front of the largest crowd to see a WCHA playoff championship game, 18,409 at the Xcel Energy Center.
“I’m going to be that old guy telling my grandkids that I broke the net once,” Arnason said.
After a lengthy video review, initiated by review judge Greg Shepherd, the goal counted. It probably was actually a skate that put the hole in the net, but, hey, when you have a good story, run with it.
“I thought it was a little wierd because at that angle, it would have been impossible to hit that side of the net and not go in,” Arnason said. “I looked at the angle that I shot it from and figured it out because I go to college.”
Arnason added assists on St. Cloud’s first two goals for a three-point night, and the Huskies (30-8-1) reached the 30-win plateau for the first time in program history.
Scott Meyer made 23 saves for the shutout as the Huskies advanced to face North Dakota in the Final Five championship game on Saturday night. Minnesota (27-11-2) will play Colorado College in the consolation game.
Between the time the puck ripped through the net and play next stopped for a Minnesota penalty, 70 seconds elapsed and the Gophers’ power play expired. The clock was set back to read 10:14 and St. Cloud’s Jeff Finger was sent back to the penalty box to serve the rest of his penalty.
It was an odd twist to the game that most expected to determine the last team to receive a first-round bye. In reality, the game was much like the last two times the Gophers and Huskies played in the regular season:
St. Cloud State dominated.
“We did a good job of playing with a lead,” St. Cloud coach Craig Dahl said, “and not giving them much of a sniff.”
The Huskies had a quicker jump to the puck. They blocked almost every chance the Gophers had. And when they first took the momentum in the game, they followed up to put the Gophers in a quick 2-0 hole.
The goals, coming on St. Cloud’s first and second shots of the game, both were of the soft variety on Minnesota goaltender Adam Hauser.
St. Cloud State’s Chris Purslow started things 5 minutes, 7 seconds into the first period, firing a wrist shot from the right faceoff dot past Hauser and into the lower left part of the net.
Just 40 seconds later, Nate DiCasmirro’s wrister from roughly the same spot on the ice hit Hauser in the pads but snuck through for a 2-0 lead.
“Once we scored, I felt like we were in our groove,” Meyer said.
Meyer should be one to talk. From that point, the game became the Scott Meyer show.
The Huskies’ senior goaltender made a number of quality saves to protect the lead, although his defensemen helped him out a number of times with blocks.
“You have to give them credit for that; that’s smart by them,” Minnesota winger Johnny Pohl said.
Even when the shots got to Meyer, he made it look easy.
He stopped Minnesota senior Aaron Miskovich on a breakaway by snapping his pads closed at the last second. He kicked out a Nick Anthony shot from the slot with a nice reflex save.
“He’s the best goalie in the league,” Pohl said,” and he showed why.”
Said Minnesota coach Don Lucia: “The way Meyer’s playing, they can win it all.”
But he got a little lucky, too.
Moving in from the right side on a power play, Minnesota captain Erik Westrum deked Meyer to the ice and got the puck past the goaltender. But, in another sign of the night for the Gophers, he shot the puck wide left.
“I knew I was in trouble there,” Meyer said. “It was a pretty fortunate break on my part.”
The trouble, instead, turned to the Gophers’ power play. It finished the game 0-for-9.
“I’ve always said that the best penalty killer on your team is your goaltender,” Lucia said. “We had chances and they didn’t go in.”
The St. Cloud State players said they’re looking more at the NCAA tournament, in which they will probably be a second seed, instead of the Final Five.
But the Huskies have never won a WCHA title — regular season or playoffs. Dahl said this is their chance.
“Someone stood up after the game and said, ‘We got the No. 2 seed and that’s a bye, and that’s great, but as long as we’re going there, let’s get the darn trophy,’ ” Dahl said.