PROVIDENCE, R.I. — For No. 10 St. Cloud State, Sunday’s victory in the championship game of the Dunkin’ Donuts tournament was mission accomplished.
After dropping its final three games before Christmas break, the Huskies, once ranked as high as sixth in the USCHO.com poll, found themselves 10th in the rankings and soul-searching a bit coming into this weekend.
The field, though, possessed two credible national programs in Harvard and Providence and after dispensing with the Crimson Saturday, Sunday’s test against Providence was one the Huskies passed with flying colors, upending the Friars, 6-1, in front of a home crowd of 4,407 at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center.
“It was like a business trip,” said St. Cloud captain Matt Hendricks, who notched a goal and assist on Sunday to earn his spot on the all-tournament team. “We know that Harvard and Providence are very good teams. They have a lot of potential, as people say about us, too.
“To come in here and play teams like that and come away with win makes it a real important tournament for us.”
“We tried to approach it like it was an NCAA tournament,” said St. Cloud head coach Craig Dahl, whose team improved to 12-6-2 with the victory. “We tried to prepare ourselves for situations that we’d be in during an NCAA tournament, and in doing so played very hard both nights.”
Sunday’s championship was a chance for St. Cloud goaltender Adam Coole to redeem himself for Saturday’s performance. Despite notching the win over the Crimson in the semifinals, Coole allowed a season-high four goals, a couple of the soft variety.
Sunday, though, Coole returned to form, stopping 37 of Providence’s 38 shots, many of which were spectacular. The redemption not only gave his club the tournament title but earned Coole MVP honors.
“Providence was doing a really good job of putting somebody in front of [Coole] on the power play,” said Dahl. “He couldn’t see a lot of shots and had to work around that.
“He said to me after that game, ‘It took me one game to get back being used to seeing college shots,’” Dahl said of his netminder who returned to his hometown of Duluth, Minn., for the holiday break and practiced with his local high school team.
For Providence, Sunday’s game typified the rollercoaster-like season the Friars have had. Since starting the year with four straight wins, the Friars have not won consecutive games.
“[St. Cloud] is a good hockey team, but we made it too easy for them,” said Providence head coach Paul Pooley. “When we play a good team, we have to execute better. We had a lot of good quality shots but couldn’t get anything by them. Every time we broke down for the first two periods, the puck was in the net.
The Friars did jump out to an early 1-0 lead thanks to a power-play goal by Peter Zingoni, but the would be the end of the offense for the Friars night. Chase Watson fed Zingoni at the left point and he feathered a soft wrister that beat Coole top shelf through a brutal screen in front.
St. Cloud, though, answered with three goals before the end of the frame. The first came at 9:35, just 59 seconds after the Friar tally. Dave Iannazzo stole the puck at the offensive blue line and walked in untouched, firing a hard wrist shot over the glove to Providence netminder Bobby Goepfert (25 saves) to pull the Huskies even.
At 13:13, St. Cloud grabbed the lead on a power-play goal of its own. Iannazzo centered the puck to Hendricks in front. The pass bounced off Hendricks’ shin enough to pull Goepfert out of position and leave an open net for the senior to bury his sixth goal of the season.
In the closing minute of the first St. Cloud added to the lead. Defenseman Tim Conboy found a loose puck 15 feet inside the blueline and fired off a quick shot that Goepfert never saw coming. The shot beat him between the left leg and the post to give the Huskies a two-goal cushion entering the break.
“The third goal was a killer,” admitted Pooley. “There’s a minute left and we give one up. 2-1 after the first isn’t bad, but 3-1 isn’t good.”
In the second, the Huskies pulled away definitively, scoring twice. Mike Doyle’s power-play goal on a perfect goalmouth feed from Hendricks extended the lead to 4-1 at 7:41. Brent Hill added his first of two goals firing a loose puck under the crossbar at 13:28, sending the Friars to the locker room trailing by four and making the third period all but academic.
For good measure, Hill scored his second of the game at 4:31 of the third to account for the 6-1 final.
The loss dropped Providence to just a game above .500 at 7-6-3, despite beginning the year 5-1-1. The Friars return to action at home next Friday against perennial Atlantic Hockey powerhouse Quinnipiac.
St. Cloud, heading back to Minnesota with the inaugural Coffee Pot trophy, will host No. 1 North Dakota, a winner in its own holiday tournament Sunday night, for two games next Friday and Saturday.