ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Jamie Russell might not make it a month with a full head of hair if things keep going this way for his Michigan Tech hockey team.
For the third time in as many games, Tech found itself in overtime. And for the second consecutive game, it needed a last-minute goal from Colin Murphy to get there. But, for the first time this season, the overtime ended in a tie as Russell’s Huskies held on for a 3-3 draw with St. Cloud State before an announced crowd of 5,873 at the National Hockey Center.
All that despite giving up 50 shots on goal, and surviving a St. Cloud State flurry in the extra session.
“This has kind of been a theme for us,” said Russell, whose team avoiding dropping its WCHA opener for the first time since 1998. “But any time you come in on the road and start off on a Friday night and you’re down inside of a minute and get a point, it’s a point well taken.”
They wouldn’t have gotten that point without the help of three guys. The first, freshman goaltender Bryce Luker, made 47 saves, which came in bunches.
“I’m tired,” said Luker. “But it seemed like most of them were coming from the outside and that’s something that Jamie Russell has brought to this team. If we can keep the shots on the outside I’ll have a better chance of stopping them.
And then there was Chris Conner, who scored Michigan Tech’s first two goals. And Murphy, who saved the game when he found a loose puck while Luker was on the bench for an extra attacker and shot it past St. Cloud State’s Tim Boron, who had lost his stick on the play.
Those two players have already combined for 15 points in just three games.
“They are getting the job done,” said Russell of his top two gunslingers. “It’s nice to have your scorers going early in the season.”
Needless to say, without the three of them, this was St. Cloud State’s game.
Craig Dahl’s Huskies were flying from the opening draw, and except for a five-minute letdown in the second when Conner netted both of his goals, they controlled play with a vengeance.
St. Cloud State outshot Tech 16-3 in the first, 17-6 in the third and 3-0 in the extra frame. But they couldn’t solve Luker, who turned away just about everything they threw at him.
“I’ve seen it happen before in 23 years,” said Dahl. “It happens sometimes. After a sterling first period and a very lackluster second period, to come back and dominate the third and not get the win, it’s going to happen where you run into a hot goaltender.”
Luker closed shop on all 16 first-period shots, and it looked like it was going to be his night when Conner scored on a bad-angle shot nine ticks into the second. But St. Cloud State evened it up after Mike Doyle kicked Dave Iannazzo’s rebound up to his stick and pushed it into an open net just over a minute and a half later. But Conner scored again, on another soft shot at the 3:28 mark.
This time Conner, who raced into the St. Cloud zone, faked a slapshot before pulling his stick down and flipping a shot that squeezed in between Boron’s arm and chest.
“I let in a couple of soft goals,” said Boron, playing his first college game. “But I don’t let the lows get too low or the highs get to high.”
He kept St. Cloud within one with a couple of great saves during that second-period lapse, and his team responded by tying the game and eventually taking the lead.
Iannazzo tied it with a wicked wrister 2:52 into the third, and Joe Jensen gave St. Cloud State its first lead when he deflected Matt Gens’ blast over Luker’s left shoulder.
Russell called timeout with 47 seconds left in regulation, pulled Luker and let Murphy do the rest.
“Any time you put up 50 shots in a game you’re doing something right,” said Iannazzo. “And if we keep doing that eventually you’re going to see some five- or six-goal games and not these three-goal games.
Russell wasn’t sure afterward if he’d give Luker Saturday night off to rest and let Cam Ellsworth play. Either way, as Russell put it, things probably won’t be any easier in the rematch.