ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Tom Freeman scored 3:38 into overtime, sending much of the crowd of 2,600 at the National Hockey Center into bedlam, and lifting St. John’s over archrival St. Thomas, 3-2.
“St. John’s and St. Thomas, it’s such a great atmosphere,” said SJU coach John Harrington. “If they decided to play cards, tons of people would show up and cheer real loud.”
Approaching the last minute of the extra period, Freeman took a pass from Ryan Langenbrunner and caromed it off the leg of Tommies goaltender Treye Kettwick for the game-winning goal, which emptied the Johnnies’ bench for a celebratory mob at center ice.
“It’s a huge rivalry,” Freeman said. “Huge buzz all over campus. It felt good to get the game-winner, but it felt even better just to win that game. That’s two points against a real tough opponent.”
St. Thomas (11-7-0, 8-1-0 MIAC) struck first midway through the first period. On the man-advantage, senior defenseman Adam Meyer scored his second goal in as many games when he wristed the puck high over SJU netminder Adam Hanna, who was out of position following a pass across the crease. The puck dropped behind Hanna and in the net to give the Tommies the first tally of the contest.
St. John’s (12-5-3, 7-2-2) got on the board midway through the second half with a goal scored by sophomore Jordan Swan. Taking a pass from behind the net, Swan was just able to poke the puck to the right side of Kettwick to knot the score at 1.
Five minutes later, the Tommies would retake the lead on a semi-breakaway. Nick Pernula jumped off the UST bench and headed right into the play, taking a place and advancing unabated towards Hanna. Pernula moved quickly to Hanna’s right and lifted the puck just over his leg for the 2-1 marker.
The tying goal came midway through the third off a fortunate bounce for St. John’s. Blake Williams’ initial shot bounced hard off the post as Kettwick moved across the crease towards the shot. The carom fell directly to senior assistant captain Scott Bjorklund, who one-timed the rebound into a functionally empty net.
Ryan Langenbrunner had an opportunity to win the game in regulation for St. John’s on the man-advantage late in the third, but was unable to shoot the puck on a wide-open net with about three minutes to play.
“We expected that it’d be a close game,” said St. Thomas coach Terry Skrypek. “I was a little disappointed that we didn’t finish it off, especially given the power-play opportunities that we had. When it was 2-1, we should have been working harder to make it 3-1.”
It was a milestone night for several Johnnies players. Hanna made 24 saves for the 47th win of his career, setting a school record for career victories. Bjorklund’s third-period tally was his 50th career goal, and Langenbrunner’s assist on the game-winner was his 70th career assist, tying him for third all-time in assists for SJU.
“Against a team like St. Thomas, you’re going to have shifts every once in a while where you spend the whole time playing defense in your own end,” said Harrington. “It’s having composure and not having the feeling like things are crumbling around you when you’re down there that wins games like these. We didn’t get too excited and we took the opportunities we got.”
The rivals meet again Friday night at St. Thomas for the second game of the home-and-home series in Mendota Heights, Minn.