An old sports cliche says defense wins championships, and Friday night at the National Hockey Center, the St. Cloud State Huskies proved why they sit atop the national polls, and the WCHA standings with a 12-2-1 conference record.
The Huskies used that defense — and special teams play — to withstand an excellent effort from Minnesota State Mankato as they manufactured a 3-1 win in front of 6,011 who came to watch on the weekend before Christmas.
“We played very well in our own end tonight,” said St. Cloud State head coach Craig Dahl. “They brought their ‘A’ game and they played hard, but we found a way to win.”
That win came courtesy of the Huskies’ power play as all three goals came with the extra man. Dahl, in an attempt to get that power play back on track, used five forwards for his first unit. That plan backfired, however, late in the first.
Nate DiCasmirro and Joe Motzko had some trouble connecting a pass at the Maverick blue line and Shane Joseph promptly took advantage, picking up the puck and breaking in on SCSU netminder Dean Weasler, who he beat stick side.
That would be the only goal of the first period, and St. Cloud took over in the second.
First, Ryan Malone tipped home a Derek Eastman shot to tie the game at one at the 9:52 mark, and then Mike Walsh provided the game-winner when he swatted home a rebound out of midair to put the Huskies up 2-1 just over six minutes later.
“That’s what ping-pong will do for you,” joked Walsh.
Matt Gens added his fourth of the year with just under five minutes remaining in regulation to close out the scoring.
If there is a trait that good teams take with them, it is the ability to win these types of games. St. Cloud did so with the same businesslike attitude it has had since day one.
“As long as we find a way to win, that’s all that matters to us,” said Malone, who assisted on Walsh’s winner.
Overshadowed by the strong defensive play of the Huskies was the goaltending of Maverick third-stringer Jason Jensen. The sophomore was forced into action when Mankato lost its top two goaltenders to injuries, and has looked sharp.
“I thought he played very good,” said Dahl. “He absolutely robbed us a couple times.”
Jensen, who finished with 34 saves on the night, wasn’t as impressed with himself as with the team he was facing.
“It was unbelievable,” he said. “You really don’t appreciate their talent until you are out there with them. They have a bunch of players who can really shoot the puck, and tonight it was just a matter of staying on my toes and keeping focused.”
Jensen will see the Huskies again Saturday night in the rematch.