ST. CLOUD, Minn. — The doors to the National Hockey Center officially opened Friday night, but unfortunately for Northern Michigan, the rink operator forgot to open up the net behind St. Cloud State goaltender Tim Boron.
Or maybe it was the Husky defense that held the keys. Whatever the case, Boron turned away 18 relatively easy shots and St. Cloud State saw second-period goals from Andrew Gordon and Matt Gens hold up as the Huskies defeated Northern Michigan 2-1 before 5,854 hockey-starved fans in central Minnesota.
“We’ve only given up one even-strength goal in our first three games, that’s pretty good.” said St. Cloud State head coach Craig Dahl, whose team began the season last weekend with a 1-1 tie with St. Lawrence and a 3-1 win over Ohio State.
Andrew Contois scored a power-play goal for the Northern Michigan with just over five minutes to go in the third, but that was the only puck to elude Boron and the Husky ‘D,’ which has looked impressive in the first three games of 2004-05.
“They played better than us tonight,” said Northern Michigan head coach Walt Kyle, who watched his Wildcats get outshot 34-19 on the night and 14-3 in that decisive second period. “It’s as simple as that.”
Both teams had quality chances in the first. Northern Michigan goaltender Tuomas Tarkki used his back to stop Billy Hengen from close in then squeezed his pads on a Justin Fletcher shot from the point shortly after. Boron made his best save of the night just as the period expired, sliding across to stop Dirk Southern’s shot after losing his stick.
After 20 scoreless minutes, Gordon put some ink on the score sheet early on in the second. Joe Jenson carried the Wildcat zone, hit the brakes and fired a shot on Tarkki, who made the save but left a juicy rebound just to his left. Gordon crashed the net and had the puck hit off his chest and ricochet into the net.
“I visualized myself scoring all day,” said Gordon, who scored a breakaway goal last Sunday in the Huskies 3-1 win over the Buckeyes. “For that to come true in my first game here is pretty cool.”
Gens made it 2-0 midway through the period after Southern’s hooking penalty gave the Huskies a brief 5-on-3 advantage. The Huskies circled the puck around to Dave Iannazzo, and Gens made his way to the top of the slot, took a pass from Iannazzo and blasted it over Tarkki’s glove just as the two-man advantage expired.
Northern Michigan couldn’t take advantage of a few opportunities early in the third and by the time Contois scored to make it a one-goal game with 5:19 to play, the Huskies had regained that defensive dominance.
“That was a very good defensive effort by our team and for two and a half periods we had pretty good jump,” said Dahl. “We were a little disappointed with the first 10 minutes of the third, just from the standpoint that we didn’t have the same energy.”
They didn’t have much left when Contois ended Boron’s shutout bid. After finishing off 43 seconds of 4-on-4 the Huskies couldn’t get a change as Northern Michigan went on the power play. Boron stopped a shot from his right, but the rebound bounced out to Contois, who was left alone. He hit the post on his first attempt before burying the rebound.
“There wasn’t much I could do,” said Boron, who has only given up two goals in his first two appearances this year. “I got a piece of it but I just couldn’t get over.”
His defense did the rest, not allowing Kyle to pull Tarkki until there were just 18 ticks left on the clock and getting in the way of the Wildcats’ final two chances of the night.
“The defense played great in front of me,” said Boron.
They’ll try to do the same for Jason Montgomery Saturday night, as Dahl plans on rotating the two goaltenders until one emerges. Boron is making his case, so Montgomery will try to have a repeat of his performance from last Sunday, when he allowed a single goal to the Buckeyes.
“If we keep allowing just one, I’ll take it,” said Montgomery Friday night.
His team most likely will too.