ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Still fighting for the all-important home ice in the WCHA playoffs, St. Cloud State needed a victory in the worst way as they returned home from shocking two straight losses at Minnesota State last weekend.
Andrew Gordon and Dan Kronick answered the call, scoring two goals each in the first two periods, with Gordon picking up his first career hat-trick in the third, leading No. 19 St. Cloud State to a convincing 6-1 victory over visiting Michigan Tech.
Five minutes into the game, St. Cloud State (18-12-3, 13-11-1 WCHA) converted on their very first power play opportunity of the night, a welcome sight after the team went 0-for-15 on the man advantage last weekend. Dan Kronick took a pass from Brock Hooton, situated behind the end line, and one-timed it past Michigan Tech goalie Rob Nolan.
“We needed to get a good break and score first if we were going to be successful tonight,” said St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko. “After last week, we really needed that first break. Good to finally get something going on the power play.”
Later in the period, Andrew Gordon scored a short-handed goal to put SCSU up 2-0. Gordon blasted a long shot from just over the blue line that was on net, eluding Nolan to his right on a shot that may have been misjudged by the freshman goaltender.
Just 2:39 later, Gordon added his second in spectacular fashion. Taking a feed from Justin Fletcher, Gordon proceeded to weave in and out of four Michigan Tech players as though they were practice cones while he approached the net through the slot, keeping the puck on a string as he moved to the crease and switched to his backhand to put it home.
“I just pump faked around the first guy and tried to get a shot,” said Gordon of his highlight reel goal. “(MTU senior Chris) Conner slipped in front and it gave me six or seven feet to operate.”
Conner would make amends in the second period when he drew Michigan Tech (7-21-5, 6-14-5) within two. In the midst of MTU’s penalty-kill of the game, Conner slipped ahead of everyone else on the ice following a clearance and took a pass from senior John Scott for the breakaway. Conner calmly moved to the right on St. Cloud goalie Bobby Goepfert and threw the puck into the net to the right, top shelf.
Michigan Tech fought well in the second period to pull closer, but Goepfert made eight saves during the period to keep them from scoring further. Kronick’s second goal, a mid-air tap-in of a pass from Konrad Reeder with just over a minute to play in the second period, made the score 4-1 and seemed to deflate any chance that MTU had to catch St. Cloud.
“It was good to get into the locker room and let them sit on that one,” said Kronick. “Konrad and I have had some good chemistry lately, and he made just an unreal pass.”
Hooton added a goal14 minutes into the third, and Gordon finished up his hat-trick three minutes later on the tap-in of an Aaron Brocklehurst shot that was squirted between Nolan’s legs and sat just next to the goal line.
“We came out and played the game we wanted to play and did all the little things we had to do to be successful tonight,” said Gordon. “When we play other teams’ games, that’s when we get down. That happened to us last weekend and we came into tonight with the mentality that we can’t let that happen anymore.”
A brawl between Michigan Tech’s Jimmy Kerr and St. Cloud’s David Carlisle between the two SCSU goals in the third earned both men game disqualifications, and neither will be available for the series finale on Saturday night.
Bobby Goepfert made 22 saves on 23 shots for St. Cloud State before giving way to senior Jason Montgomery following Hooton’s goal. Montgomery made four saves, playing six minutes during the first game of his final regular-season home series. Rob Nolan made 23 saves in a losing effort.
Although the victory was a much needed win for St. Cloud State, the results from around the league left SCSU in the same position they were in to begin the night: sitting in sixth place, a point behind North Dakota and the final home-ice slot, two behind Colorado College, and two in front of Minnesota State.
“At this point, we really can’t be too concerned about what’s going on everywhere else,” said Motzko. “We need to worry about ourselves first.”
For Michigan Tech, the loss coupled with Minnesota State’s victory assured them of finishing no higher than eighth, their current position in the WCHA. MTU maintains a two point lead over ninth place Minnesota-Duluth.
The teams play the second game of the weekend series Saturday night at the National Hockey Center.