COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — If you scored a game based on chances, energy and heart, this one wasn’t even close.
St. Cloud State (19-14-4, 13-13-2 WCHA), the WCHA’s sixth seed and visitor at fifth-seeded Colorado College, edged the Tigers, 2-1, in truly blowout fashion.
The Huskies generated nearly a dozen odd-man rushes and breakaways with a countering style that took advantage of the plethora of CC mistakes, errors, blunders, and follies. And, were it not for the heroically tragic efforts of Tigers goaltender Matt Zaba, the scoreboard might have proved an adequate indicator for the play of the two clubs.
“We didn’t play hockey, myself included,” said a disgusted and truthful Brett Sterling, leading scorer for Colorado College. “I don’t know what we were doing out there as a whole. We didn’t play, we didn’t skate, we didn’t work hard, and it cost us.”
“That’s the style we’ve been trying to play all year,” said St. Cloud head coach Bob Motzko. “Good, strong defense and trying to counter when you can. Our lack of offense is not for lack of trying.”
The Tigers (23-14-2, 15-11-2) caught the game’s first break six minutes in when Jimmy Kilpatrick took advantage of an SCSU miscue. The Colorado College sophomore leapt on the loose puck just inside his opponents’ blue line and fired a shot from the high slot that snuck through Huskies goaltender Bobby Goepfert’s pads and trickled into the net.
St. Cloud answered back just a few minutes later with a gritty goal. After the Huskies worked the puck in on CC goaltender Matt Zaba, assistant captain Konrad Reeder fought off three Tiger defenders to backhand a rebound between the netminder’s legs, tying the score at 1-1.
In the last three minutes of the first period, Zaba, who had been inconsistent throughout much of the regular season, made three athletic saves that kept the game tied and earned him some much-needed confidence.
Zaba stoned SCSU defenseman Matt Stephenson as he pinched in from the blue line to let loose an unfettered one-timer from the right dot. The junior goalie then shut the door on freshman forward John Swanson’s partial breakaway bid. Finally, Husky senior Joe Jensen failed to find the back of the net on a wraparound attempt thanks to the catlike Tiger netminder’s quick right pad.
“The only guy that deserved anything tonight was Matt Zaba,” said Sterling. “He deserved to win. He played unbelievable, and that was a winning effort out there by him.”
Zaba had little chance to stop SCSU’s first quality chance of the second period, however. Nate Raduns picked off a sloppy pass by the Tigers while shorthanded and fed a countering Michael Olsen for a St. Cloud breakaway. The freshman had enough time to wait for Zaba to commit down low, and lifted the puck over the goalie’s outstretched pad for a 2-1 Huskies lead.
Five minutes into the second period, the visiting Huskies were outshooting the Tigers, 15-5, and carrying the play. They continued to dominate throughout the second period as well, surrendering precious few quality chances.
“My defense has been unbelievable about getting in shot lanes and making them get shots around them before they have to get shots around me,” explained winning goaltender Bobby Goepfert. “They made my life so much easier, and in the first two periods I was kind of bored down there.”
Late in the middle frame, Zaba had to come up huge once again, standing tall and holding his position on SCSU forward Matt Hartman’s breakaway rush and Billy Hengen’s rebound follow.
“We could have put the dagger in them in that second period with all of our chances,” said Motzko. “Getting to three has been our problem all year.”
St. Cloud continued to play a solid road game, content to play solid defense while jumping forward to attack any CC mistakes. It was a mistake in judgement by SCSU senior Brock Hooten that nearly cost the Huskies its lead, however. The assistant captain dumped Tiger Brandon Straub head first into the boards midway through the third period, drawing a five-minute major call and a game misconduct.
But another Colorado College gave St. Cloud State its most clear-cut chance of the night: a penalty shot. After Tiger defenseman Lee Sweat lost an edge while attempting to hold the puck in the offensive zone, SCSU’s Olson broke back on a breakaway. CC’s Jack Hillen caught up to the tired Olson, but hauled him down, giving Olson a second chance at his free-and-clear rush.
The Tigers dodged Olson’s bullet his penalty shot sailed wide of the cage but failed to score on the remainder of its extended power play, spelling a death knell for the already lifeless home club.
Fortunately for Colorado College, the sun rises tomorrow for game two of the best-of-three series with St. Cloud State. Meanwhile, the Huskies have a chance to advance to the WCHA Final Five for the first time since the 2001-02 season.