ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan’s freshmen played like seasoned veterans, accounting for three of four UM goals as the Wolverines defeated the St. Cloud State Huskies in the second NCAA West Regional game, 4-2, in front of nearly 7,000 rabid fans in Yost Arena.
Rookies Jason Ryznar, Milan Gajic, and Dwight Helminen tallied for Michigan, as did senior Craig Murray. Josh Blackburn stopped 22 in net for Michigan.
Michigan head coach Red Berenson said the Wolverines had a healthy respect for St. Cloud coming into this game.
“We knew that they were as good a team as we’d played all year, maybe the best team that we’d played — certainly a team that we had to keep off balance if we were going to survive this game. We played as hard as we could.”
Jeff Finger and Jon Cullen each scored a power-play goal for St. Cloud, but the Huskies had no success finding the net at full strength — which is nothing new, according to SCSU head coach Craig Dahl.
“Unfortunately, the year did not end the way we’d like it to. We were unable to score five-on-five in the last month, and that was our downfall,” he said.
“I thought Michigan played a very tough, hard-nosed, gritty game, especially early, and Blackburn was very good in nets tonight.”
The Wolverines jumped out to a 3-1 lead after one, in a game during which every bounce seemed to go the Maize and Blue way.
“I think we came out strong,” said Berenson. “You knew that one team or another was going to get the edge early, and we got the edge. Of course, scoring that first goal was important.”
That first goal was Ryznar’s, from John Shouneyia and Mark Mink at 4:09 in the first. After receiving Shouneyia’s centering pass from the far side of the left SCSU circle, Ryznar hesitated just long enough for a clean shot at the right side of the St. Cloud net.
The Huskies tied it up 1:10 later on their first of six power plays on the night. Jon Cullen passed to Finger from the right circle, and Finger’s shot from near the crease beat Blackburn five-hole.
After that, the first period was all Michigan. Murray made it 2-1 at 13:20 — a blast from the left point that found its way through traffic and went in off Dean Weasler’s right shoulder to hit top-shelf — and Gajic scored a beautiful goal just over a minute later, fighting for control of the puck behind the Huskies’ net, wending his way to the left of the crease while shaking off a defender, and putting the puck in five-hole from close range.
The Wolverines outshot the Huskies 11-4 in the first, having attempted 23 shots to SCSU’s 12.
Jake Moreland replaced Weasler in the St. Cloud net at the start of the second, a relatively quiet 20 minutes in this lively, physical game. There were no goals and few penalties in the middle period, but the Huskies found their feet and their sticks, firing repeatedly toward the Michigan cage. Six of St. Cloud’s 20 attempts in the second period were blocked by the Michigan defense, and Blackburn stopped all 10 shots that made it to the net.
Michigan spent the first seven minutes of the third period down at least one man, giving St. Cloud an opportunity to shorten the Wolverine lead. At 4:19, Cullen capitalized on a man-advantage, picking up Joe Motzko’s rebound. With Blackburn drawn right to block Motzko’s shot, Cullen made a graceful spinning move around Mike Komisarek to find the empty left side of the net, making it a 3-2 game.
The momentum seemed to swing St. Cloud’s way after Cullen brought the Huskies to within one, and two minutes later when SCSU was pressing Blackburn hard, Ryan Malone appeared to score the tying goal. The goal, however, was waved off when video review showed that Peter Szabo was in the Michigan crease — completely out of way of the play, but in the crease nonetheless.
“I stand by the video replay,” said Dahl. “They [officials] certainly have a better view of it than I do. If they said there was a foot in the crease, I’m sure there was a foot in the crease.”
That break for Michigan came just when the Wolverines were coming up for air after killing repeated penalties — including two five-on-three Husky advantages — and took the proverbial wind out of St. Cloud’s sails.
Helminen was the beneficiary of a beautiful play by Gajic from a faceoff in the right SCSU circle to make the score 4-2 at 14:40 in the third. After winning the draw at the dot, Gajic muscled his way toward the St. Cloud net and forced a shot. With Jake Moreland drawn to defend Gajic, Helminen picked up the rebound and easily scored on the open net.
After the Wolverines had their fill of the penalty box in the third, the Huskies found themselves down a man twice, once when Finger was called for a double minor near the eight-minute mark, and when Szabo was sent to the box for high sticking at 16:40.
“You don’t want to kill penalties in the third period, particularly when you’re down,” said Dahl. “We killed off that four-minute penalty and we killed off that two-minute penaltybut it does take a lot out of you. Obviously, those weren’t good penalties to take at the time, particularly after that disallowed goal.”
Milan said that maintaining a lead in the third was difficult for the Wolverines. “We got called for a lot of penalties, a couple of five-on-threes. [Jed] Ortmeyer, [Mike] Cammalleri, [Eric] Nystrom, Helminen, [J.J.] Swistak — all of those guys are unbelievable penalty killers. I personally thought we were going to get through it because all season long we kind of proved [we could]. I knew they were going to get the job done.”
The Wolverines (27-10-5) will face top-seed Denver Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
“We don’t have much time to regroup and refocus for this team,” said Berenson. “We know that Denver is a great team, a great defensive team. They don’t give you much. They’ve had a great season. They’re in a good position now. Our team has had to work hard to get through this game, and we’ve got to take advantage of twenty-four hours and get ready to play tomorrow.”
This loss marks the second time in as many years that the Huskies (29-11-2) were eliminated by Michigan in NCAA Tournament play. Last season, Michigan beat St. Cloud 4-3 in a second-round game in Grand Rapids, Mich.