ST CLOUD, Minn. — St. Cloud State junior Mark Hartigan had been waiting his entire college career for his first hat trick, and now that he finally has it, it’s not going to count.
Hartigan and the rest of the Huskies played host to the United States Under-18 National Developmental Team in an exhibition game Saturday night at the National Hockey Center that won’t count for the nations top-ranked team in the standings or in the scorebook, but nonetheless they escaped with a 4-2 behind Hartigan’s hat trick and some solid goaltending from Jake Moreland.
“It’s over with, we won, that’s all that really matters,” said Hartigan, who unofficially pulled of the trifecta, the seventh of the season for the Huskies.
Neither team really knew what to expect coming in, but by the time 20 minutes had passed one thing was for sure, it wasn’t going to be the blowout that many of the 6,159 people in attendance were expecting.
Neither team was able to score in the tightly checked opening frame. St. Cloud out shot Team USA 11-10 in the period but they were outplayed for the most part by the group of 17 year olds.
“This is no excuse but it was tough to get up for this game,” said Hartigan, who has 15 career two-goal games. “When it doesn’t mean anything and nothing really counts but pride, it’s tougher to get going.”
Hartigan scored two of his goals in the second and his final tally came at the 12:17 mark of the third. In between however, there was some exciting hockey played. After the Huskies took a 2-0 lead, Team USA got on the board when Ryan Ortiz swiped a Nate Raduns rebound past a sprawled out Moreland.
Steven Werner tied the game at two 6:44 into the third on a pretty wrister that beat Moreland high on the glove side. Peter Szabo’s goal just over two minutes later gave the Huskies the lead again and Hartigan’s third three minutes after that extinguished any flame the Americans were carrying.
“When the forth goal went in there was spirit lost on our side,” said Team USA head coach Mike Eaves, a former St. Cloud State assistant. “Physically we were trying but it is tough to come back against a team as strong as St. Cloud.”
While the Huskies were more than happy to see this game over with, the other side of the rink saw a locker room filled with a group of kids that felt like they had really accomplished something by skating with the nation’s top-ranked team.
Eaves was quick to point out that three of the St. Cloud State goals came with the extra man and that the shots for the game were relatively even (36-30 SCSU).
“I told the boys after the game that I really respected their spirit tonight,” he said. “We knew we had to play hard, that is a corner stone of hockey, and we did that tonight.”
One of the most impressive players in the red, white and blue was their goaltender, James Howard, who at times was left hanging out to dry.
“I really can’t put any of this into words, it was just a great experience out there tonight,” said Howard, who looked as if he had just finished a marathon. “To stay with the number-one ranked team for as long as we did, that’s just such a plus for us.”
And something to build on, which Team USA can start doing tomorrow when they face Bemidji State at 3 p.m. in Northern Minnesota.
St. Cloud State returns to league action next weekend when Minnesota-Duluth visits the den for a Friday-Saturday series.