ST. CLOUD, Minn. — One took 13 regular season series, the other 16 years, but with its 5-3 win over Providence on Saturday night at the National Hockey Center, St. Cloud State accomplished a pair of pretty important feats.
First and foremost would be, combined with last night’s 2-1 over the Friars, the Huskies completed their first series sweep since they handed Alaska-Anchorage a pair of defeats in the middle of last February.
Then, there was the history made as coach Craig Dahl picked up his 300th career win behind the Huskies bench.
“It means a lot to me,” said Dahl, whose first win came almost 16 years ago. “Herb Brooks and I came here and we started from scratch and some people didn’t think we were going to be able to do it. But I never worried about that, all I wanted to do was try and go get good players, run a good program and build a base that was solid and not sand.”
The early years may have been rough, but the Huskies’ rise in national prominence over the past five years has to be directed to the man behind the bench. And with Brooks, his partner in the beginning, in attendance as well as 6,372 other gracious fans, the Huskies put on a 60-minute show that the coach probably won’t soon forget regardless of the milestone.
They controlled play from the opening draw, built leads of 2-0, 4-1 and 5-2 and outshot the Friars in every period and 45-29 for the game.
Matt Hendricks scored a pair of first-period goals, Matt Gens and Joe Jenson each added a goal and an assist and Ryan Malone broke a five-game goalless drought with a second-period tally as the Huskies cruised to their third straight win.
“That was our team playing tonight,” said Hendricks, whose goals were the numbers nine and 10 on the year. “We played three full periods and that’s what we needed and for us to get it done tonight and get the sweep is huge.”
“They were a better team than us tonight,” said Providence head coach Paul Pooley. “But we were our own worst enemy tonight, in the first period we had 10 turnovers alone and they are too good of a transition team to do that to.”
Hendricks’ first goal came after Jon Cullen hit him with pass as he was camped right in front of Providence goaltender Bobby Goepfert. With his back facing the goaltender, Hendricks’s turned and slid a shot into the net. His second came just over three minutes later when Jenson fed him a pass at the Providence blue line and then while using a defender as a screen he beat Goepfert clean from just about the top the circles.
Devin Rask scored for the second consecutive night to cut the St. Cloud State lead in half 4:37 into the second period, but Malone and Jensen scored goals less than a minute apart late in the second to give the Huskies a 4-1 cushion.
Jon DiSalvatore scored on a shorthanded breakaway to make it 4-2 before Gens slammed the door with a wrister from about the same spot as Hendricks scored his second.
“We were pretty balanced tonight,” said Malone, who was moved from the top line to the third in order to spread out St. Cloud State’s scoring threats. “Everyone seems to be coming together finally.”
They did after the game at center ice following the handshakes, as the players and crowd gave some credence to Dahl, who has been the only coach St. Cloud State has had since making the jump to Division one before the 1987 season.
“It’s exciting when any coach reaches that plateau it’s pretty big, especially in this league,” said Hendricks, who was one of the first to give Dahl a pat on the back as the Huskies headed towards the dressing room. “But he works hard at what he does and he works us hard to be a good team and to play like a team … so he deserves what he has and what he has coming.”
Which could be wins 301 and 302 next weekend if his team plays like they did on this night.
“I’ll tell you, we really played good tonight,” said Dahl, instantly deferring the attention to his team. “Any time you keep a team under 30 shots is awesome, and we did that tonight, we stymied them.”
He’ll get his shot at moving towards 400 next weekend when the Huskies play a home-and-home with Minnesota-Duluth. Providence, on the other hand, will do the same with Boston College.