MINNEAPOLIS — There’s an intensity that accompanies a Minnesota-St. Cloud matchup under ordinary circumstances. Make the battle No. 1 versus No. 2 in the nation, and it’s another matter entirely.
Friday night at Mariucci Arena, the second-ranked Huskies used plenty of speed, old-fashioned determination and the nation’s second-best power play — not to mention a couple of fortuitous bounces — to upend top-slotted Minnesota, 3-2, before an arena-record crowd of 10,231.
Lady Luck might have smiled on the Huskies a bit, as two of St. Cloud’s goals deflected off skates, both on the man-advantage. However, Dean Weasler’s presence in the SCSU net was a more tangible benefit. St. Cloud (12-1-0, 10-1-0 WCHA) won despite being outshot 39-22, as Weasler stood firm to deny the Gophers on scoring attempts all night long.
“Dean did a great job,” said SCSU coach Craig Dahl. “That’s the guy who gave up a year of eligibility [last season] to come in when [then-starting goaltender] Scott Meyer got a concussion.”
“I was just trying to play my game,” Weasler said of his 37-save performance.
Minnesota (11-1-2, 5-1-1 WCHA), meanwhile, became the last team in the nation to lose a game despite controlling play for much of the first and third periods, leaving head coach Don Lucia philosophical.
“We had some shots and they didn’t go in,” Lucia said. “Another night they will.”
After a brief feeling-out period, the Huskies earned the game’s first power play thanks to Mark Hartigan, who slipped free of the Gopher defense at neutral ice and deked Judd Stevens, forcing the rookie blueliner to pull him down in front of the Minnesota goal.
With 10 seconds left on the man-advantage, Nate DiCasmirro circled out to the top of the right circle and banked a shot off Mike Doyle’s skate into the right side of the net. Minnesota protested that Doyle had intentionally directed the puck in, but to no avail as referee Robin Anderson signaled the goal at 5:31, giving the freshman an eye-popping 12 goals on the year.
St. Cloud threatened to make it 2-0 minutes later after a Nick Angell hold, but Szabo negated the last half of the power play with a trip of Jeff Taffe. That, followed by a Derek Eastman hook under a minute later, gave the Gophers a five-on-three. They promptly converted, as Taffe’s point-blank shot rebounded to All-American defenseman Jordan Leopold, who roofed his shot over Weasler, knotting the score at 9:07.
Minnesota consistently got the puck low in the zone after that, but Weasler put a stop to any further Gopher scoring. At the other end, Doyle nearly put SCSU back up in the closing moments of the period, chipping the puck over a fallen Adam Hauser before Hauser got a glove on it to end the threat.
Shots on goal after 20 minutes favored Minnesota 17-9, and quality scoring chances went the Gophers’ way by a margin of 6-3.
The middle frame was a very different story. With St. Cloud successful in slowing down the Gopher offense, the early minutes of the second period were played mostly at neutral ice, until DiCasmirro and Derek Eastman untied the game on a bang-bang play. DiCasmirro, leading a three-on-two from the right side, couldn’t get by Leopold, but Eastman, streaking uncovered up the middle, redirected DiCasmirro’s pass through Hauser’s legs at 6:19 for a 2-1 lead.
St. Cloud dominated territorially for the next few minutes, coming within an eyelash of a third goal as an innocent-looking wrister by captain Jon Cullen — making his return from an injury suffered in the Huskies’ season opener — somehow eluded Hauser and banged off the far post at 11:45.
A Barry Tallackson slash put St. Cloud up a man once more, and the Huskies got their goal in a fashion not unlike their first. Eastman’s shot from the left point got through to Ryan Malone behind the net, and the junior winger’s stuff attempt hit traffic in the crease, then banked off linemate Matt Hendricks’ skate once again before slipping under Hauser’s right pad to give SCSU a 3-1 lead.
That goal turned out to be the game-winner in a defining period of hockey.
“We were real nervous in the first period,” Dahl said, “and [at intermission] I just challenged them a little bit.”
“When we came out for the second period, we came out flying,” agreed Weasler. “The last two shifts of the first period, we really took it to them, and that gave us the confidence.”
Hartigan had a shot to make it 4-1 three minutes into the third on a turnover, splitting the Gopher defense, but Hauser ranged well out of the net to clear the puck ahead of the junior center. Moments later, Weasler stoned Taffe in close, then watched Troy Riddle fan on a one-timer from the edge of the crease.
Malone hooked Paul Martin at center ice to precipitate Minnesota’s fifth power play, but the Gophers failed to score despite a scramble in front during which John Pohl and Grant Potulny both took swipes at the puck with Weasler down and the net essentially empty. But Malone went back into the box on a cross-check not 10 seconds after he got out, giving Minnesota yet another chance.
This time, Keith Ballard’s slapshot from the right point was blocked down by Weasler, but the goaltender could only wave at Tallackson’s wrister as the rookie winger roofed a shot to bring Minnesota within one again at 9:49.
A frantic next few minutes ensued, with Weasler blocking down Matt DeMarchi’s point-blank redirection attempt and the Gophers warding off a similar chance for Hartigan — who, despite a solid performance, saw his season-long 12-game scoring streak end. Hauser left the Minnesota net at 19:12, but the Gophers were unable to get a shot on goal as time ran out.
The victory was the first ever, in seven meetings between No. 1 and No. 2 in the history of the USCHO.com poll, by the second-ranked team. However, it continued an undefeated streak for the visitor — no top-ranked team had ever hosted a 1-2 game before.
Dahl, however, wasn’t concerned about any of that.
“We do not care about that [the poll],” he said. “We need to concentrate on being as good as we can be. … We could go up to our place tomorrow night and get waxed, and it’s 1-1 [for the weekend].”
“We’ll see what we’re made of [Saturday],” Pohl, the nation’s leading scorer entering the contest, concurred. “It’s college hockey. No one’s going to go undefeated.”
St. Cloud made sure of that Friday night.