ST. PAUL, Minn. — The kings of the WCHA Final Five third-place game added to their resume Saturday afteroon.
Its legs tired but its desire to claim a spot in the 12-team NCAA tournament field strong, Colorado College managed a 2-1 victory over St. Cloud State at the Xcel Energy Center.
Tigers goaltender Jeff Sanger withstood a St. Cloud charge in the third period, making 35 saves in the game to give CC a brighter outlook on its chances for the NCAA tournament.
It’ll be an awfully nervous day-plus until the selections are announced Sunday night, but CC did what it could on this day, something that has become a pattern.
“We, as a collective group, didn’t want to see our season end,” said CC forward Chris Hartsburg, who scored the go-ahead goal early in the second period. “A lot of the seniors didn’t want this to be our last game.”
The Tigers have never won the Final Five championship, but are 6-0 all-time in the consolation game, having won it in three of the last five years.
Sanger made they would add to that track record after the Tigers took a 2-1 lead on goals by Richard Petiot in the first period and Hartsburg in the second after St. Cloud State took a 1-0 lead.
For a few minutes in the third period, Sanger was a one-man show on defense. He played all 180 minutes, 53 seconds of the Final Five for CC, but he looked as fresh as ever when it mattered most.
Six minutes into the third period, Sanger robbed Joe Motzko on a quick shot from the slot, then Hobey Baker Memorial Award finalist Mark Hartigan moments later from the top of the crease.
“This is the main reason we stayed alive this weekend,” Hartsburg said, pointing to Sanger, who was seated to his left. “Jeff Sanger was unbelievable from start to finish.”
Sanger made 15 saves in the pressure-packed third period, when the Huskies were throwing “everything but the kitchen sink” at the Tigers, St. Cloud State coach Craig Dahl said.
“I’ve felt good this past month,” Sanger said, noting that he wasn’t tired despite facing 92 shots on goal in the last three days. “I feel like I’m really on my game right now. You just want to play every game from here on out. Once you get in a groove, you have to keep going with it.”
Hartsburg scored what turned out to be the game-winning goal on the power play 3:48 into the second period. His quick drive up the left-wing boards briefly caught the Huskies’ power-play defense off guard. He beat St. Cloud defenseman Derek Eastman to the inside and put a quick shot past goaltender Dean Weasler.
That goal held up for the last 36 minutes of the game, a fact that was indicative of the weekend for the Huskies. They scored two goals in two games, both losses, and went 1-for-12 on the power play. They led the nation in success with the man advantage at the start of the weekend.
Credit the opposing goaltenders if you will — Minnesota’s Adam Hauser played well in a 4-1 Gophers victory on Friday night and Sanger stymied them all afternoon Saturday — but the Huskies will have to look inward as they enter the national tournament.
“I wouldn’t have bet that [Ryan] Malone and Motzko and [Matt] Hendricks and DiCas [Nate DiCasmirro] and Harty [Hartigan] wouldn’t score goals,” Dahl said. “I don’t have an answer for it.”
St. Cloud State was the first on the scoreboard Saturday, but they didn’t have the lead for long.
The Huskies’ Colin Peters scored 5:02 into the first period, cutting in from the left point and getting a Hendricks pass while all alone in front of the net.
But Petiot, a freshman defenseman, took the lead away 97 seconds later, collecting the puck in the high slot and putting his shot through traffic in front of the net and past Weasler.
After the Tigers took the lead in the second period, they hounded the Huskies for the rest of the period. They held a 13-9 shots advantage and dominated the play in the last three minutes, putting one shot off the post and another just wide from the crease.
“It was definitely the best period we played in this tournament,” Hartsburg said. “We got a lot of confidence out of that period. The momentum took a big swing in our favor.”
Yet, the Tigers didn’t score and took only a 2-1 lead into the last 20 minutes, when they knew the Huskies were going to be firing at will.
“In the locker room after the second period, before we were going into the third, it’s just a tremendous bonus to have confidence in your goaltender,” Tigers defenseman Mike Stuart said. “It makes it a lot easier to play as a defenseman, knowing he’s going to be backing you up.”
Said Dahl: “There comes a time in a coach’s life when he has to not blame the team, but give credit to the other one. [Sanger] made some great saves.”