ST. CLOUD, Minn. — On a night when costumes roamed most of Central Minnesota, it was the one that Princeton goaltender Eric Leroux wore inside the National Hockey Center that nearly spooked St. Cloud State out of their own building.
But, the Huskies got a Halloween surprise of their own, as Billy Hengen pulled another trick out of his bag when he picked the left corner over Leroux’s shoulder on the power play 1:58 into overtime to lift St. Cloud to a 2-1 win over Princeton in a the opener of a non-conference series before an announced crowd of 5,583 at the National Hockey Center.
It was the sophomore’s second consecutive game winner, and after going the first 17 games of his career without a goal, he now has three in the Huskies’ last two games.
“What can I say,” said Hengen. “I had chances in the first and second periods too and couldn’t put it away, so it felt pretty good to get it in there in overtime.”
His entire team had chances.
St. Cloud, playing in its fifth game of the season, outmatched Princeton in nearly every statistical category and, for the most part, dominated a Tiger team playing its season opener.
The Huskies outshot Princeton, 45-12, and out-attempted the Tigers, 85-24, but like they were last Friday against Michigan Tech’s Bryce Luker, SCSU was stifled by the play of Leroux.
He gave up an early goal to Ryan LaMere 3:48 into the game after LaMere took a pass from Billie Luger in between the top of the circles and scored a goal that Leroux never even saw. But his team got him that one back with just over four minutes to go in the first when Patrick Neundorfer took advantage of a T. J. McElroy giveaway and beat Tim Boron clean through his five-hole.
After that, it was Leroux’s holiday. At times he dressed like a suction cup, giving up no rebounds. At other times he resembled a gymnast, stretching his body across a goal crease that he made look small. But in the end, he just played the part of a goaltender standing on his head for 62 minutes of hockey.
“This happened last weekend too,” said Hengen, referring to the show Luker put on last Friday night. “But on Saturday we kept shooting and flood gates opened up and we ended up with six goals, so we’ll see what happens tomorrow. But tonight that guy was great.”
“Eric played sensational tonight,” said Princeton head coach Len Quesnelle, who coincidentally played for the last Princeton team to face St. Cloud back in December of 1987. “Statistically we got outshot pretty badly and he was there, he was up to the challenge. But we are going to have to get good goaltending this year with the youth we still have in our lineup.”
The Tigers are young, very young in fact. Of the players who saw the ice Friday night, 12 were either sophomores or freshmen. This includes Leroux, who has yet to get a win now in 10 decisions. Nine of those came last season, a year in which his team won only three games.
“I know I haven’t had a win yet,” said Leroux. “But this loss isn’t like the others last year. We battled and now we are showing signs that we will get some (wins) this year.”
And if he plays like he did Friday night, not only will he get a few wins, but he’ll probably scare the heck out of opposing teams all year long.
The teams meet again Saturday night at 7:05 p.m.