ST CLOUD, Minn. — One of these nights, Mark Hartigan’s back might start to get sore, but for now, the nation’s leading scorer feels just fine.
As do the rest of his teammates after the St. Cloud State Huskies finished off a two-game sweep of Minnesota-Duluth with a 6-3 win at the National Hockey Center to move into next Friday’s semifinals at the WCHA Final Five in downtown St. Paul.
Waiting for Hartigan and the Huskies when they get there will be Minnesota, which survived an overtime scare from North Dakota, but moved on with a 4-3 win in the extra session.
To get to St. Paul, though, the Huskies had to get by a Minnesota-Duluth team that pushed them to the limit last night, and played as if they were the team seeded second, opposed to eighth, for parts of Saturday night.
And what better way to do that than to jump on Hartigan and take the hour ride down Interstate 94? The junior scored two goals and assisted on three others, all while playing his final game in St. Cloud.
“I had a little conversation with [U.S. Olympic coach] Herb Brooks last Sunday night, and he told me that this time of year it’s going to be your seniors and juniors that lead you,” said St. Cloud State head coach Craig Dahl. “Tonight they really did just that.”
All of the upperclassmen contributed. Senior forward Nate DiCasmirro had a goal and two assists and junior Jon Cullen netted a pair.
Ryan Malone got the Huskies going early, firing a wrist shot that got through Rob Anderson to make it 1-0 just 3:50 into the game. Cullen picked up a power-play goal at the 6:09 mark and Hartigan got his first with just under three minutes to play in the period.
Junior Lessard got the Bulldogs on the board late in the period to make it 3-1, but Cullen scored again 7:33 into the second to give his team a three-goal lead again.
After Mark Carlson made it 4-2 8:40 into the third, DiCasmirro and Hartigan scored back to back power-play goals five minutes apart to seal it.
“When we get going, especially those two (Hartigan and DiCasmirro), it’s tough for other teams to stop us,” said Cullen. “To say they are a vital part of our team would be pretty much an understatement.”
Not only did the two combine for eight points, they led by example. A perfect example was Hartigan’s first goal: DiCasmirro had the puck in the circle to the left of Anderson. He held off his defenseman and spun, all while keeping the puck in between his legs. After getting free, he kicked the puck to his stick and hit a streaking Hartigan, who deposited the puck over Anderson’s glove.
“We talked about it earlier in the week about how we had to keep it simple,” said Hartigan. “Coach sat us both down and said to that if we do that, our talent will take over.”
Hartigan’s talent hasn’t just been responsible for taking over games. It’s also led him to nearly every scoring record in school history, impressively in only three years.
“I gotta like that; I can’t complain,” he said of tying another record on Saturday, this time for assists in a season (38). “If that’s the way to get noticed by the big scouts, I guess that is what I have to do.”
He also has a couple more games to play, the first Friday. The Gophers swept the Huskies only a week ago and shouldn’t need much to get up for the game. A year ago, St. Cloud beat Minnesota in the same game on the same sheet of ice, 3-0.
“It should be fun,” said Cullen. “We got them last year, but they got us last weekend so we have a little bit of payback, I hope we can settle the score with them.”
Hartigan was a bit more blunt.
“I want that battle and hopefully it will shut them up,” he said. “We didn’t play that well last time we faced them, and we want to show everybody we can play better.”
They did on this night.