ST. PAUL, Minn. — The goal lights might need to be replaced at the Xcel Energy Center, but odds are St. Cloud State wouldn’t mind footing the bill.
In a topsy-turvy game with more false leads than an Agatha Christie novel, SCSU fourth-liner Matt Hartman upstaged a four-goal performance by Hobey Baker candidate Ryan Potulny of Minnesota, scoring at 9:14 of overtime to give the Huskies an eye-popping 8-7 win.
Hartman’s goal, his second of the game, came out of the blue. Taking a pass from Nate Raduns, the sophomore winger skated hard up the left side and uncorked a low-angle slapshot that got between Minnesota netminder Jeff Frazee and the post, sending the St. Cloud bench into delirium and the Gopher players into shock.
Frazee appeared to be cheating away from the pipe on the play, and the puck squeezed through a foot of clear space between his side and the iron for the goal.
“I saw [defenseman Aaron] Brocklehurst steaming down the slot … and I saw the goaltender kind of leaning that way,” said Hartman, adding, “I knew it was in the net, but I had no idea where. I don’t know if it got under his arm or what.”
The win gave SCSU a berth in the Broadmoor Trophy title game, but the manner in which it came left head coach Bob Motzko in disbelief.
“The first thing I said to my guys is, ‘I don’t know what to say,’” Motzko said. “That’s a WCHA game from the ’70s.”
The victory also preserved the Huskies’ shot at the NCAAs via the WCHA’s autobid, their only viable route into the field of 16 — a fact that Motzko agreed was extra motivation for his players.
“We’re playing to get into the NCAA tournament,” he said.
Overtime was only made possible by a stirring Minnesota comeback, including a six-on-five goal by Potulny with just 14.7 seconds remaining in regulation to knot the game at 7.
The teams had battled to a near-standstill through 40 minutes, leaving St. Cloud — which held a three-goal edge at one point midway through the second period — nursing a 6-5 lead.
With the Huskies seemingly running out of gas, Minnesota swarmed the zone, putting 15 shots on goal in the first 10 minutes of the third period, but netminder Bobby Goepfert (44 saves) kept SCSU’s fragile lead intact.
The Huskies, for their part, didn’t manage much late offense until Brock Hooton picked off a Mike Vannelli pass and raced in on a breakaway to give the Huskies the insurance goal, a seemingly-safe 7-5 lead at 16:21.
But the Gophers refused to go as Danny Irmen scored his 16th goal of the season at 17:59 to narrow the SCSU lead to one again. After Goepfert deflected a shot wide of the net, the puck pinballed around with the All-WCHA first-team goaltender chasing it — until Irmen picked it up in front and fired it past a diving Goepfert to make it 7-6.
“When they went ahead two late in the game, I was so mad I didn’t even want to pull the goalie,” said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia. “Then we got within one, and I had to.”
SCSU iced the puck with 1:12 left, and Lucia did indeed pull Frazee, and Potulny came up big once more, taking a cross-ice pass from Irmen and blasting a one-timer inside the right post. His fourth goal of the game and 38th of the year came with 14.7 seconds left in regulation, sending the teams to an improbable overtime.
“You look at his stats and you know he’s an impact player,” said Hooton of Potulny. “He really made a statement tonight.”
“We expect that out of guys like that,” added Hartman.
Still, Potulny’s heroics were counterbalanced by the Huskies’ determination in overtime, even after giving up what could have been a crushing goal.
“All season long, it’s been low-scoring games for us,” said Hooton. “You couldn’t foresee something like that happening. Fortunately, it worked out for us.”
The slugfest on offense was there from the start, as the teams skated to a 2-2 draw in the first period. In the opening minutes, the Gophers got on the board first when Ben Gordon leaned out and pushed a Blake Wheeler pass inside the left post at 9:36. St. Cloud answered with Hartman’s first goal of the night and ninth of the season for a 1-1 tie just over a minute later.
Alex Goligoski’s tally at 13:33 put Minnesota back up, but Goligoski then went off for tripping, giving SCSU its first power play and, 55 seconds later, a tie game when Andrew Gordon deflected Justin Fletcher’s shot past Gopher starting netminder Kellen Briggs.
But SCSU started to take control on a bizarre play. Teammates Billy Hengen and Gordon collided and Gordon fell to his knees — and somehow flipped the puck high past Briggs at :52 of the second period.
Husky captain Casey Borer made it 4-2 SCSU at 3:57, firing a shot from the left point that got through Briggs for his third goal of the year. Finally, when T.J. McElroy’s point shot met Grant Clafton’s stick and flipped over Briggs’ glove side to give SCSU a 5-2 lead, Lucia had seen enough, lifting Briggs in favor of Frazee at 5:54.
The Gopher comeback began with Potulny’s first goal of the game. Off a diagonal pass from Phil Kessel, Potulny zipped a hard-angle shot into the net, but Hooton’s fifth goal of the season at 16:21 interrupted the momentum.
Potulny got Minnesota back within two again when Danny Irmen hit him with a short pass, and the junior center one-timed the puck past Goepfert at 14:08.
Potulny raised the level of his game once more in the second period, scoring a stunning goal in the waning seconds to get Minnesota within 6-5. With the seconds ticking away, Phil Kessel wrapped around the net and found Potulny, and Potulny blasted the puck inside the post with 0.4 seconds left, setting up the third period and finally Hartman’s overtime winner.
Saturday, Minnesota will take on Wisconsin in the consolation game at 2:30 p.m. CT. St. Cloud State plays North Dakota for the WCHA championship at 7:30.
After that, Minnesota knows it will play next weekend in the NCAA regionals, but in the meantime, the Gophers will ponder how their defense turned so porous.
“It wasn’t just the defense, it was the whole team defensively,” said Potulny.
“We’ve played top-caliber teams for the last half of the season and we’ve done all right,” said alternate captain Chris Harrington. “Hopefully, we can just forget about that one.”