COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — St. Cloud State looked well on its way to the WCHA Final Five. Then “Big Mo” reared its ugly head.
The Tigers, down two goals and struggling offensively for the second straight night, scored twice within one minute late in the second period and added the game-winner in the third to send their WCHA quarterfinal series against the Huskies to a decisive game three.
“After last night’s embarrassing performance, we really battled,” said a relieved and much happier Brett Sterling. “For us to come back like that being down two goals was huge.”
“I thought we showed more heart, more determination and more of a will to win tonight,” added CC head coach Scott Owens. “And the result was a win. [St. Cloud] played well tonight, but we just stepped it up.”
It took two winks of an eye for the tenor of the night to change entirely. St. Cloud State (19-15-4, 13-13-2 WCHA) led, 2-0, midway through the second period, and looked in control of the contest.
But at 15:07 of the middle frame, Colorado College’s Trevor Frischmon won a clean faceoff straight back to Brian Salcido. The junior unleashed a booming shot that flew past SCSU netminder Bobby Goepfert on the short side, slicing the Huskies’ lead to 2-1.
“Salcido started at forward and moved back,” explained Owens. “He had a great shot on that faceoff goal. He made a lot of nice plays offensively. He’s still struggling defensively, but that’s a lot of our defensive corps right now.”
Less than a minute later, Sterling tied the game on the power play. A long shot from Jimmy Kilpatrick found its way through traffic and off Goepfert, eventually lying loose in the crease. Sterling cleaned up the rebound for his 29th goal of the season, tying the game at 2.
“Those two goals were important, because we had nothing going offensively,” said Sterling. “We got the momentum there; we had things going.”
For all the team’s finesse, Colorado College (24-14-2, 15-11-2) relied on sheer strength to tally its game-winning goal at 11:28 of the third. Positioned at the left post, Sterling found the puck nestled up against Goepfert’s right pad just along the goal line.
The nation’s leading scorer dug, jammed, and rammed the puck amidst a mass of bodies. Referee Todd Anderson, located behind the cage, was in position to see the rubber barely cross the goal line, and awarded the Tigers a 3-2 lead.
“I just tried to wrap it and I think when all of their defensemen tried to get us out of there they pushed [Goepfert] back into his net,” said Sterling. “I’ll take it any way I can get it now.”
“Sterling, the goal-scorer that he is, the bulldog that he is, found a way to get the puck into the net,” added Owens
St. Cloud State controlled much of the play in the third period, but failed to generate many quality chances. In the end, the Huskies came up just short of advancing to its first WCHA Final Five since 2001-02 … for tonight.
“We played a great period, but it wasn’t great enough,” said SCSU head coach Bob Motzko. “We can’t get to three. If you’re going to sit and try to win every game 2-1, you’re going to run out of real estate against an offensive team like this.”
Colorado College goaltender Matt Zaba looked strong for his fourth consecutive playoff period, making a quick right pad save seven minutes into the game on a quick snap shot by Andrew Gordon in the slot.
It was the Huskies who struck first, however, thanks to a strong individual effort by Nate Raduns. Dan Kronick flew into the Colorado College end up the left-wing boards and dropped the puck to the trailing Raduns.
The junior put on the breaks and eluded two Tiger defenders, freeing up space to find a driving Matt Hartman at the far post. Hartman tapped the puck into an open side, giving the visitors an early 1-0 lead.
The goal appeared to energize St. Cloud, which — having been outplayed for the first half of the opening period — began to cycle well in the CC zone and generate quality chances.
The wall that had been Zaba finally cracked five minutes into the second period. With SCSU on the power play, Aaron Brocklehurst fired what seemed to be a harmless slapshot from the blue line with no traffic in front of the net. The puck cleanly zipped past the glove of Zaba, however, giving the Huskies a two-goal edge.
But the Huskies’ very brief collapse late in the frame energized the crowd and their opponent, allowing the Tigers back into the series.
“We had a little bit of a lapse there in the second period,” said Motzko. “We kind of got on our heels, and that was the first time this series that we’ve done that.”