DULUTH, Minn. — St. Cloud State’s record run to the WCHA Final Five was obliterated Sunday night at the DECC.
Minnesota-Duluth defeated the Huskies 7-3 in the deciding game of a best-of-three first-round playoff series before 3,048 fans.
Instead of St. Cloud State adding to its league record of seven straight trips to the WCHA Final Five, UMD will be making its first appearance since 1998.
The Bulldogs (20-14-5) face North Dakota (26-10-5) in Thursday’s 7:08 p.m. play-in game at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. North Dakota beat Denver 3-2 in overtime Sunday to claim its series.
The Huskies (17-15-5), who eliminated UMD in the league’s first round two of the last three years, matched their most one-sided loss of the season and may have lost any hope of advancing to a fourth straight NCAA Division I tournament.
“I’ve never played in a game like this in my four seasons. It was life or death,” said UMD senior winger Drew Otten. “We had a goal of getting home ice, then getting to St. Paul, and now to actually do it is an accomplishment for this team. We’ve never given up in any game.”
UMD won Friday’s opening game 5-4, lost 3-2 in overtime Saturday, and trailed 1-0 early Sunday. Bulldog sophomore center Evan Schwabe tied the game 9:15 into the game, putting in an Otten rebound, which got UMD rolling for four straight goals.
Three came in the first half of the second period for a 4-1 lead. The Bulldogs led in final shots 36-25 as UMD freshman goalie Isaac Reichmuth matched St. Cloud State senior Jake Moreland.
Sophomore winger Brett Hammond’s two third-period goals, one on a power play and one shorthanded, put the Huskies away. Hammond had four goals and two assists in the series.
“All season we’ve responded when our backs have been against the wall,” said Hammond. “When I was out there I was playing desperate. I was playing like we were only up by a goal and there were 30 seconds left.”
UMD took the lead for good in the second period as Otten came out of the penalty box and scored at 4:57, Nick Anderson followed 62 seconds later on a power-play tip of a Tim Stapleton shot, and defenseman Beau Geisler connected on a backhand shot from the right circle after a Luke Stauffacher drop-pass. UMD has scored a power-play goal in seven straight games.
That barrage sent the Huskies reeling and they never got any closer than 4-2.
“When I came into the locker room before the game somebody asked `Are you ready?’ And I said yes. We were ready,” said Geisler. “We just needed to be more physical and forecheck harder. Right after Drew’s goal you could feel our whole bench rise up to another level.”
Ryan Malone’s second goal of the game, shorthanded 3:57 into the final period, got St. Cloud State within two. Forty-three seconds later Hammond converted on a power-play rebound, and two minutes after that added an unassisted shorthanded score.
Scoring leader Tim Stapleton contributed an empty-net goal with 1:42 remaining, 25 seconds after Moreland had been replaced by an extra attacker.
Reichmuth was strong throughout and kept the Huskies at bay after they closed within 6-3 with 9:41 to play. His best save came with 7:15 left when he gloved a Mike Doyle attempt.
After the teams had split six games this season, four being decided by one goal, UMD gained a final 4-3 edge by a decisive margin.
“I don’t think we played particularly well. Dumb mistakes at critical times hurt us. We overhandled the puck in a small rink,” said St. Cloud State coach Craig Dahl.
“It doesn’t feel good at all (missing the Final Five). It feels rotten. There won’t be any chance now to get into the NCAAs. I don’t see it happening. It’s virtually impossible.”
The Huskies started the day No. 13 in the PairWise Rankings, which mimic the Division I selection process, and they need to be in the top 14 to hope to qualify for the expanded 16-team field. The loss dropped St. Cloud State into a tie for 15th; however, the current rankings do not account for the NCAA’s new “bonus” criterion for quality wins.
UMD goes to St. Paul on a 9-3-1 streak the past 13 games, scoring nearly 4.5 goals a game in that stretch. The Bulldogs are going through the help of role players like Schwabe, Hammond and Otten.
“In the playoffs you need to hear from one or two guys you haven’t heard from for a while,” said UMD coach Scott Sandelin. “Schwabe’s hard-working goal got us started, Otten got us the lead, and Hammond had just a great weekend. Either Isaac or Rob (Anderson) would’ve done the job in goal. We took Isaac just to stay with the rotation and because he had had more rest.”