ST. CLOUD, Minn. — The grades are now officially in.
After St. Cloud State put the finishing touches on an undefeated six-game homestand with a 3-1 win over Princeton at the National Hockey Center, Craig Dahl’s hockey team left its building after the game with some impressive passing marks and a sense that they are ready to hit the road for a while.
In fact, they won’t return to their den until the day after Thanksgiving. But it seemed that after dominating an overmatched Princeton team that, without the goaltending of Eric Leroux, would have gotten blown back East, they are more than comfortable with that.
“We’ve gotten to stay at home with our fans and we’ve had a great start to the season,” said Husky senior Matt Hendricks. “(Dahl) just said it in the locker room, we’re going on the road and this small family is all we’ll have. But the gelling process has really helped.”
SCSU (5-0-1) seemed to be gelling all weekend against Princeton. The scores read 2-1 and 3-1 for the two game series, but a peek inside the weekend tells a much different story. The Huskies outshot the Tigers 94-27 over the weekend, out-attempted them 171-59 and put so much pressure on Leroux, he’ll probably have an easier time with his Ivy League finals in a few weeks than facing the St. Cloud State offense.
“This is probably as good of a test as we could have had right now,” said Princeton head coach Len Quesnelle. “St. Cloud’s a great skating team. They pressure the puck all over the ice, they’re a very good hockey team.”
The Huskies showed that from the outset again tonight. Like the night before, they dominated play in the first, pouring 18 shots on Leroux. But again like last night, St. Cloud State was only rewarded once for its effort.
Billy Hengen scored his fourth goal in three games on the power play when he cleaned up a rebound 11:42 into the game. The play started with Mike Doyle maneuvering his way around Tiger defensemen Brett Westgarth and putting a backhand shot on Leroux, who kicked the rebound into the slot. Hengen cleaned up the mess and dumped it into the lower right hand corner of the net.
“He’s been in the right place at the right time lately,” said defensemen Ryan LaMere, Hengen’s high school teammate at Holy Angels Academy. “He’s always said that once he get one that he’ll erupt and that’s what he’s doing right now.”
Princeton did tie the game for a few minutes early in the second on an odd play when Neil Stevenson-Moore rushed the St. Cloud State zone. Matt Gens tried to pinch him off, but the play carried the two into Husky goaltender Jason Montgomery. All three players ended up in the net, but just before the collision, the puck bounced off Gens’ skate and into the pile that had formed inside the Husky goal.
The Huskies answered just less than five minutes later though when Hendricks scored his second of the year, whistling a shot over Leroux’s glove that popped the goalie’s water bottle up into the air.
“That was just a rocket,” said Dahl. “The kid didn’t have a chance on that one.”
Tim Conboy added some insurance 12:15 into the third, snapping a shot from the right point that Leroux misjudged and let squeeze through his five-hole.
Princeton did pull Leroux in the closing minute and got an extra man advantage after LaMere was assessed a five-minute major for kneeing late, but couldn’t really get anything going.
LaMere’s penalty came on a scary play when he collided knee-to-knee with Princeton forward Dustin Sproat. Sproat was down for awhile but Quesnelle said he was fine after the game. LaMere, who went to check on Sproat as well before the teams shook hands, said that he didn’t try to get him with his knee, which television replays did confirm.
Now LaMere, who along with Hendricks captains the team, must make sure he checks on his own team. St. Cloud is young and will be in a not-so-friendly environment next weekend at Minnesota-Duluth to play in a series that has definately heated up over the past few years, and is probably even hotter after the Huskies snuck into the NCAA tournament last year after losing in the first round to the Bulldogs — a team that ended up getting left out by the NCAA selection committee even though they finished third in the WCHA Final Five.
Oh, and to throw one more log on the fire, it’ll be for first place in the league.
“We know they have a lot of talent and great goaltending, but we’ve been playing against good goaltenders these last few weeks,” said Hendricks. “We’ll be ready for it.”
Princeton (0-2) will return home to host Colgate and Cornell to open ECAC play.