ST. CLOUD, Minn. — St. Cloud State might need to bring a set of keys next time against Michigan Tech, so that when they get a chance to put ‘em away, they can lock the door.
Because, as SCSU has proven through the first two weekends of the season, there is no letting up with Jamie Russell’s team.
Michigan Tech came back last night to tie St. Cloud State in the final minute of the third, and came back again on Saturday, this time from two down in the final period to tie.
But St. Cloud wouldn’t settle for a draw this time, getting a late goal from an unlikely source to sneak away with a 6-5 win before an announced crowd of 5,782 at the National Hockey Center and take three of the four points up for grabs on the weekend.
Billy Hengen sneaked around the Michigan Tech net and roofed a shot over Bryce Luker with just under four minutes to play to finally put a dagger in a Tech team that at times seemed invincible.
It was the sophomore’s second of the night and, as crazy as it sounds, of his career. But it was enough to lift SCSU to its third win in four league games.
The homestanding Huskies survived a scare, and killed off a late penalty to Tim Conboy, and when it was all said and done, St. Cloud State remained undefeated.
“If this were a movie, the climax of that movie would have been the last three minutes,” said Adam Coole, who replaced Jason Montgomery in the St. Cloud State net after Montgomery gave up three goals on just nine shots in the first. “The third period seems like a blur, but all I gotta say is, what a huge kill at the end.”
“I’m sure this was a good game for the fans,” said St. Cloud State head coach Craig Dahl. “You like to think that with a 5-3 lead you’re pretty safe, but they never quit.”
Many others will find out that no lead is that safe against this Michigan Tech team, though, because they have a couple of players who can flat-out score. Chris Conner fits that category. He had three goals Saturday, and now has nine in four games.
“He’s phenomenal,” said Coole. “He’s going to be a force in this league. To be honest, I hadn’t even heard about him before this weekend but he turned my head, I know that.”
Conner had a pair Friday, both of Tech’s goals in the third Saturday, including one at the end of a three-goal barrage in the first.
That one was a shorthanded sprint that ended with a frozen Montgomery on the other end, a goal which gave his team a 3-1 lead just 7:28 into the game.
Dave Iannazzo redirected a shot past Luker, who faced 50 shots Friday, on St. Cloud State’s first shot of the night 1:42 into the game. But Michigan Tech rattled off three in a five-minute span, the last of which was Conner’s shorty, to take away any momentum St. Cloud had.
It could have been worse for St. Cloud; if a couple of passes would have hit the tape or a few pucks wouldn’t have hopped sticks for Michigan Tech, it could have easily been 4-1 or 5-1.
But St. Cloud survived the first and got back into the game in the second. Joe Jenson got it started by squeezing a shot between Luker and the post on a power play 4:24 into the second. Matt Hendricks then got his first of the year at the 16:40 mark of the frame when he one-timed a drop pass from Peter Szabo off the left post and behind Luker.
Just 40 seconds later, Garrett Larson took a centering pass from Nate Raduns and blasted it over Luker’s glove to give St. Cloud State the lead again.
“When I came into the game in the second I just thought I had to close the door,” said Coole. “And then they score three goals in one period for me — that’s a sign of a pretty good team.”
“We’re extremely close, we just need to learn how to play with a lead,” said Conner, whose nine goals lead the nation. “But if we can do that, we will be a really tough team to beat in the WCHA.”
And maybe they can get a 5-2 or 6-3 win.
“Yeah, that would be nice, wouldn’t it,” said Conner.
They’ll get a shot next weekend when Vermont visits the Upper Peninsula for a nonconference series. St. Cloud plays an ECAC opponent as well, hosting Princeton.