HOUGHTON, Mich. — Second-ranked St. Cloud State stayed in the WCHA title chase with a hard-fought 3-2 triumph over Michigan Tech before a Winter Carnival crowd of 3,455 at MacInnes Arena on Saturday evening.
With the victory, St. Cloud claimed the MacInnes Cup, given annually to the winner to the two-game, total-goals Winter Carnival series. SCSU is 24-5-2 overall and 16-4-2 in the league.
“Obviously it keeps us in the title hunt, so we’re happy about that,” said St. Cloud coach Craig Dahl. “But more than that, I think it was important for us to play two tight, hard-fought games on the road like that. It’s good for our morale, it’s good for our confidence, it’s good for our experience.”
Mark Hartigan, who had a goal and an assist in Friday’s 4-3 win, added an assist in the game to at least temporarily take control of the national scoring race. Hartigan, who now has 56 points, was named Winter Carnival MVP.
Michigan Tech, which threatened to tie things up with the extra attacker for the second straight night, dropped to 7-21-2 overall and 3-17-2 in the WCHA.
The visitors took a 1-0 lead on freshman Mike Doyle’s power-play goal at 11:34. Just 18 seconds after Justin Brown was sent to the box for hooking, Doyle buried a centering pass from Hartigan.
SCSU came close to scoring on its second power-play opportunity, but freshman goaltender Cam Ellsworth came across the crease and robbed Peter Szabo at the right post.
Later in the period, Ellsworth came up with some more heroics as he somehow got a pad on a shot by Doyle, who had the whole net to shoot at. A sprawled Ellsworth finally ended the flurry in front of the net when he stretched his arm out and covered the puck.
But SCSU finally got its elusive second goal moments later with 1:28 left in the period as Joe Motzko turned and threw the puck from the corner to the front of the net where Ryan Malone tipped it past a frozen Ellsworth.
Tech got on the board 2:20 into the second period when Jon Pittis scored a typical Jon Pittis goal. The scrappy Pittis hustled to a loose puck in the right circle, turned around and whacked it past SCSU goaltender Dean Weasler before getting leveled to the ice.
Michigan Tech evened the score thanks to Brett Engelhardt’s power-play goal at the 15:54 mark. Brown took his time at the point and waited for a diving defender to slide past him at the point before sending a pass to Engelhardt down in the left circle. Engelhardt didn’t appear to have much to shoot at, but he squeezed a shot through Weasler’s legs to tie the game.
But SCSU defenseman Colin Peters’ shot from the point hit Tech winger Frank Werner’s skate and eluded Ellsworth at 17:49 for what turned out to be the game-winning goal.
Michigan Tech had a fantastic chance to tie the game early in the third period on the power play. A long pass up ice by Brown sprung Colin Murphy on a breakaway. But Murphy lost control of the puck during his deke move. Moments later, the power play ended when Engelhardt was whistled for slashing.
Ellsworth finished with 29 saves for Michigan Tech, while Weasler had 23 stops for SCSU.
Tech head coach Mike Sertich was pleased with his team’s effort and the progress it displayed this weekend.
“That’s the hardest part for a coach,” said Sertich when asked how he maintains a positive atmosphere when the team continues to lose despite playing well. “They don’t give trophies for second place and good efforts. Kids need more than that. They need some reinforcement. That’s the hard part. They also know that there’s still season left and I don’t think we’re done yet.”