ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Scott Sandelin’s face said it all. One of these days, maybe his Minnesota-Duluth hockey team will figure it out.
It didn’t happen Friday, and it was apparent early that St. Cloud State wasn’t about to let it, as the Huskies continued their good play at home downing Minnesota-Duluth 4-2 in front of 5,832 fans inside the National Hockey Center.
The Huskies dominated play in the first and took advantage of an early 2-0 lead, sending Sandelin and the Bulldogs to their fifth loss in seven games.
“It’s the same thing, we’re just getting outworked,” said Sandelin, whose team was picked to win the WCHA and as recently as a month ago was the top-ranked team in the country. “Not to take anything away from what St. Cloud did, but we didn’t come to play.”
At least not in the opening 20 minutes, as the Huskies took advantage of UMD’s lackluster play and poured 18 shots on Isaac Reichmuth. They beat him twice in the period, providing the difference in the game and inching the 7-5-1 Huskies back to .500 in WCHA play.
“That’s the one thing we wanted to do tonight, was start fast,” said Mike Doyle, who scored a goal and assisted on the eventual game-winner in the second period.
They did that, and it could have been worse for the Bulldogs in that first period, but an apparent tip-in goal by Billy Hengen was waved off after a whistle had blown just before the puck went in before two minutes had even ticked off the clock.
It didn’t matter. Peter Szabo scored first when he had a floater from the point glaze of his shoulder before sputtering behind Reichmuth at the 4:51 mark. Joe Jensen made it a two-goal lead four minutes later, picking the top left corner while St. Cloud State was up a man.
The teams went into the dressing room that way, and Sandelin had all the proof of his team’s play right in his hands.
“I passed the shot chart around to the whole team (between periods),” said Sandelin. “I figured that was all they needed to see, but we kept taking dumb penalties and they kept taking advantage.”
Grant Clafton did just that a little over six minutes into the second when he made it 3-0 with a power-play goal after Mike Doyle fanned on a shot from the slot. The puck slid right to Clafton, who was camped to Reichmuth’s left side, and he deposited it into an empty net giving the Huskies what looked like a comfortable lead.
It wasn’t, as Steve Czech started Minnesota-Duluth’s only rally when he scored on rocket from the point 26 seconds after Clafton made it 3-0. 32 ticks after that, Marco Peluso walked around Clafton before beating Jason Montgomery stick-side, trickling that one-time three-goal deficit down to one.
“We didn’t get down after that and that was key,” said Doyle. “You can’t do that against this team.”
The Huskies survived the next shift, watching a few outstanding UMD chances sail just wide, including a bomb off the stick of Tim Stapleton. They had to kill off a penalty to Casey Borer shortly after that, and 21 seconds after that penalty expired, Mike Curry went off for slashing.
Doyle cashed in that power play in less than a minute, tipping a pass from Justin Fletcher through Reichmuth’s five-hole, giving his team another two-goal lead and suffocating the energy on the Bulldog bench.
“Special teams are always key,” said St. Cloud State head coach Craig Dahl, whose team provided the proof by scoring three goals with the man advantage and killing off all six UMD power plays. “We’ve been blocking a lot of shots on the penalty kill, and that really paid off tonight.”
That was most notable during a 1:23 5-on-3 disadvantage early in the third, when the Bulldogs only registered a pair of shots on Jason Montgomery, who finished with 24 saves.
“We weren’t moving the puck at all (on that power play),” said Sandelin, who called his timeout just as the two-man advantage started. “Maybe that comes with confidence, but you’ve got to zing it around the ice and we weren’t doing that. I tell you what though, I’m going to quit calling those timeouts before 5-on-3′s because obviously they aren’t working.”
Perhaps they will start Saturday night, but if not, Sandelin is ready to let the burden continue to rest on the shoulders of the guys in his locker room.
“It’s up to them; (the coaches) can’t play,” said Sandelin. “As much as we’d like to, we can’t play.”
His team will get another chance to do just that Saturday. The rematch is slated for 7 p.m. CST.