MINNEAPOLIS — In a game with little tangible benefit to either team, Minnesota and St. Cloud State skated to a 1-1 draw on Senior Night at Mariucci Arena Saturday. SCSU netminder Jason Montgomery made 40 saves to preserve the tie.
“He’s an athletic goalie,” smiled St. Cloud coach Craig Dahl, “but he makes me nervous sometimes.”
Minnesota (20-8-9, 15-6-7 WCHA), technically, did have something to play for. The Gophers entered the evening in third place in the WCHA, and could move up to second with at least one point, which they did. That, combined with Michigan Tech’s loss to Minnesota-Duluth, means that the Gophers will host the WCHA’s other Huskies in next weekend’s first round of the playoffs.
“I didn’t even know until Coach came in and said we got second [place],” said Troy Riddle, who scored Minnesota’s only goal. “I thought we needed two wins.”
St. Cloud (16-13-5, 12-11-5), meanwhile, was locked into sixth place, and a road series in the WCHA first round, irrespective of the outcome. SCSU will play at UMD next weekend.
The contest was one of missed opportunities for the Gophers, who handily outshot St. Cloud 41-25 and had multiple odd-man rushes and breakaway chances. Most of those, however, ended with pucks sliding off sticks or going wide of the Husky net. The ones the Gophers sent true were fended off by Montgomery, who kept the Huskies in the game during stretches of Minnesota dominance.
“It’s all a blur to me out there,” Montgomery quipped. “Really, I’d say tonight I was the most into it [all season]. It was just a fun game to be part of.”
“I thought St. Cloud came out and played a lot harder than they did last night [a 5-3 Minnesota win],” said Minnesota coach Don Lucia, who remained at 99 career wins with the Gophers. “And they got good goaltending.
“It was a good game to get ready for the playoffs.”
Minnesota took over for a spurt midway through the first period, beginning with Barry Tallackson’s shorthanded chance and continuing with point-blank shots for Judd Stevens and Jerrid Reinholz.
However, Garrett Larson put St. Cloud in front at 13:17, getting the puck at the blue line, slipping around two defenders and squeezing the puck by Travis Weber (24 saves) for his second goal of the year.
Weber stopped Peter Szabo’s redirection from the slot four minutes into the second, and then Minnesota earned its second power play when Derek Eastman was forced to haul down Tallackson on another partial breakaway.
On the man advantage, Paul Martin got the puck low to Matt Koalska, whose behind-the-back pass found Riddle on the back door with the entire net available. Riddle’s team-best 24th goal of the year tied the game at 5:18.
“I think everyone on our power play touched the puck,” said Riddle of the goal. “I didn’t do anything.”
The Gopher third line also continued its strong play, though without denting the scoreboard, as Montgomery was forced to stop Gino Guyer and Tallackson — again — from the slot area with five minutes left in the second.
The chances continued to mount for Minnesota in the third, culminating in a wild scramble in front of the Husky net with less than five minutes remaining in regulation.
That produced another Minnesota power play after a hold on Brock Hooton, but despite chances for Grant Potulny (in the slot) and two hard point shots from Chris Harrington, Montgomery kept the Gophers off the board.
Minnesota had two final chances to end the game in regulation, but shots from Jake Fleming and Matt DeMarchi, the latter in the final two seconds, couldn’t beat Montgomery either.
That rarest of birds — the power play in overtime — came into being thanks to a high-stick by Matt Gens with a minute and a half left in the extra session. But Martin hammered a slapshot wide with a second left to leave the game a tie.
The game also carried national implications for the Huskies, who remain barely on the good side of the NCAA tournament bubble.
“I think we have to win a first-round series [to reach the NCAAs],” said Dahl. “I really do. … But we can’t be concerned about that right now.”
“There are no easy games,” said Lucia of his next opponent, ninth-place MTU. “Sertie [Mike Sertich] is an outstanding coach, and Michigan Tech is much improved over last year.”