ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Herb Brooks would have been proud of at least one of the teams inside the National Hockey Center Saturday night.
On a night when St. Cloud State honored the late legendary coach, it was Northern Michigan that stole the show. The Wildcats stormed back from a 2-1 second-period deficit and blitzed St. Cloud State with three third-period goals, escaping central Minnesota with a split and proof that this young team can score.
Freshman Matt Siddall and sophomore Dirk Southern each scored on the power play in the third before another freshman — Mike Santorelli — put a staple on it with a sizzling backhand with less than four minutes to play, lifting the Wildcats to a 4-2 win before 5,733 at the NHC.
“We’re relying on some young kids and we need those guys to score,” said Northern Michigan head coach Walt Kyle, whose team didn’t have one senior hit the ice. “We didn’t score a lot last year and we didn’t have a lot returning and those young guys started to find the net a little bit tonight. We played a good team, though. I saw where they were picked in their league and they are going to finish higher, I can guarantee you that.”
St. Cloud State had the look of a good hockey team in the first and controlled play for the majority of the period, but could only manage a 1-1 tie after 20 minutes. Billy Hengen got the game’s first goal, taking a nifty one-handed pass from linemate Nate Dey out front. Hengen circled around the crease, moving Wildcat goaltender Bill Zaniboni out of position and depositing the puck into and empty net 1:56 into the game.
The Wildcats would get the equalizer six minutes later. Pat Bateman tried to feather a pass between a pair of Husky defenders to Southern, but the puck went off St. Cloud’s Matt Gens’ stick and through Jason Montgomery’s five-hole.
St. Cloud State grabbed the lead back 13:44 into the second. Joe Jenson won a draw in the Northern Michigan end, pushed the puck ahead and skated in on Zaniboni. He made the initial save but couldn’t stop Andrew Gordon, who jumped on it and slid it in for his third goal in four games to give the Huskies that 2-1 cushion after two.
“We played five good periods of hockey this weekend,” said St. Cloud State head coach Craig Dahl. “Then let it slip away.”
Northern Michigan started the third on a power play after a penalty to Peter Szabo carried over through the intermission, and it didn’t take the Wildcats long to capitalize.
The Wildcat power play sent a puck into the slot where four different guys took a whack at it. Montgomery made a pair of saves but the puck squirted from the scrum to Siddall, who whistled it into the upper left corner, tying the game 1:20 into third.
They then took advantage of another St. Cloud penalty at the 8:20 mark in similar fashion. This time it was Southern who picked up a loose puck and fired it through three players, including Montgomery, to give the Northern Michigan its first lead of the weekend.
“If there is time on the clock there is time to score,” said Southern, who added an assist on Santorelli’s backbreaker with 3:25 to play. “We were just hoping to get a couple pucks to the net and get something through and we were able to do that. The boys got a spark and we just ran with it.”
They’ll take the win and run all the way back to Marquette, a not-so-easy eight-hour bus ride that would have seemed like an eternity if not for the third period.
“We knew coming in that St. Cloud as a good team and they were going to play well on their home-opening weekend,” said Zaniboni, who finished with 33 saves in his first career start. “So, we’re pretty happy with a split on the road after last night’s game.”
The Wildcat penalty kill got them that split, as the Huskies were shut out on nine chances and went 1-for-18 on the weekend.
“We got some guys in their face,” said Kyle. “That’s what we wanted to do.”
“I thought we moved the puck okay, we just couldn’t score,” added Dahl. “I’m playing so many different guys right now trying to find out who can play on the power play that it’s hard to get into a rhythm.”
So what would Brooks have said about the game?
Dahl thought it would go something like this: “Damn power play, and how do we blow a 2-1 lead?”
If he were on the other side, there’s little doubt he would have enjoyed the eight-hour trip home.