ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Two years ago, Dan Kronick was at a crossroads in his career. Entering his sophomore season, he suffered a major injury that cost him his season on top of the difficulty he found cracking a talented Minnesota-Duluth lineup. He chose to leave UMD, sit out a season, and join the St. Cloud State Huskies in time for the 2005-06 season.
The first reunion did not go as well as the Bulldogs had hoped.
With the Huskies missing leading scorer Joe Jensen to injury, Kronick scored a second-period breakaway goal to add to a first-period assist, leading St. Cloud State (11-9-3, 6-8-1) to a 4-2 victory over Minnesota-Duluth (8-13-4, 5-9-3) in a pivotal WCHA matchup for both teams.
“There’s still a lot of guys over there I know, a lot of them are still good buddies,” said Kronick. “I knew if I was in a position to score, that’s what I wanted to do.”
The game kicked off with theatrics on both sides of the ice, provided by Duluth’s Issac Reichmuth and St. Cloud’s Bobby Goepfert. Both were forced to make several excellent saves, many unorthodox, and some downright acrobatic. About five minutes in, Reichmuth stoned SCSU’s Brock Hooton on a point blank two-on-none shot and managed to sit on the rebound. Goepfert faced down several odd-man rushes to open the game, ending the period with 11 saves overall.
Goepfert found himself all alone facing Minnesota-Duluth freshman Andrew Carroll eight and a half minutes into the opening frame as Carroll rushed into the attacking zone in front of the St. Cloud defense. The Bulldog forward patiently waited as he approached Goepfert, and calmly threw the puck to the sprawling St. Cloud netminder’s left to put UMD up 1-0.
Minutes later, St. Cloud State took advantage of a penalty to Minnesota-Duluth captain Steve Czech by tying the score on the power play. Sophomore Aaron Brocklehurst blasted a shot from the blueline that avoided traffic in front and caromed off Reichmuth, only to drop to a waiting Konrad Reeder, who lifted the puck into the roof of the net to even the game at one.
A pitched battle developed as the game entered the second period. Hard hits and kick saves were seen as Minnesota-Duluth received the lion’s share of the shooting opportunities. Meanwhile, St. Cloud State countered with physical play along the boards, shutting down UMD’s passing lanes and waiting for opportunity.
Then the fireworks really began.
Kronick took a kick-pass from Reeder in the neutral zone with less than five minutes to play in the second. He gained the zone on the breakaway, wasting little time in rocketing a shot past Reichmuth to send the home crowd into a frenzy and put the Huskies up 2-1.
The response was nearly immediate. Minnesota-Duluth went on the attack right off the ensuing faceoff, throwing the puck towards Goepfert several times. UMD forced the St. Cloud goalie to make two more acrobatic saves before he lost his stick, giving Bulldog freshman MacGregor Sharp the opportunity to poke the puck home, tying the score at two only 15 seconds after Kronick’s goal.
Physical play continued into the third period. As the game developed into a battle for possession and control of the neutral zone, SCSU sophomore Andrew Gordon shoveled home a pass from Billy Hengen to give the Huskies a 3-2 lead.
“We kept our composure and didn’t get too frustrated,” said Gordon. “We talked about having people step up with Joey [Jensen] out, and we had twenty people step up when it mattered.”
A late bench minor for too many men hampered UMD’s attempts at drawing even late, and an empty-net goal in the waning moments of the game by sophomore Nate Dey put the cap on the St. Cloud victory.
“You can’t make mistakes like that,” said Minnesota-Duluth head coach Scott Sandelin. “Obviously, if you’re down 3-2 late, you’re resting some of your top players in case you need to pull the goalie, and then you take a penalty like that and you spend your time killing a penalty instead of trying to tie the game.”
With the win, St. Cloud is now in a three-way tie with UMD and Minnesota State for sixth in the WCHA with two games in hand over both teams.
“You look at the table in January, and any game you have against teams that are near you in the standings, and it’s going to be a huge game,” said St. Cloud State head coach Bob Motzko, coaching his first home game at St. Cloud since dropping the “interim” label from his title. “But we haven’t set any goals yet. We’re still trying to find out just how good we can be.”
The victory was St. Cloud’s fifth Friday win in WCHA series play on the season, but the team has yet to complete an in-league sweep. They will get another opportunity as both teams return to action Saturday night at the National Hockey Center.