ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Junior Andrew Gordon and freshman Andreas Nodl both contributed a goal and an assist, and senior netminder Bobby Goepfert made 31 saves as No. 16 St. Cloud State defeated No. 11 Denver 5-2 in a game which was essentially a complete reversal of roles from the previous night.
“In many ways we performed better tonight than we did last night,” said Denver head coach George Gwozdecky. “It was hard to believe that the puck didn’t go in a few more times, but I’m sure St. Cloud was feeling the same way last night.”
“We were better last night, but tonight we had some guys make some plays,” said St. Cloud coach Bob Motzko. “The big thing tonight was shutting down their transition game.”
St. Cloud State (1-1-0, 1-1-0 WCHA) struck first eight minutes into the game. Nodl, dangerous behind the net on Friday night, took the puck behind the cage and made a brisk pass to forward Andrew Gordon, stationed directly in front of the crease. With Denver goaltender Glenn Fisher at the wrong post, Gordon merely had to tap the puck into the net to give the Huskies their first lead of the weekend.
Denver (2-2-0, 1-1-0) struck back only 57 seconds later. Redshirt freshman Brian Trotter floated a backhanded pass to the trailing Tyler Ruegsegger, who fired a one-timer in the slot that beat Goepfert and returned the game to a level score as the Husky faithful had barely returned to their seats.
Having seized momentum, the Pioneers began unloading on Goepfert for the remainder of the period, and would be rewarded in due time. With a minute and a half to play in the first, junior forward Ryan Dingle received a feather-touch pass from right to left across the goalmouth from Pioneer captain Adrian Veideman and uncorked a blistering blast from point-blank range on a wide-open net, putting Denver ahead 2-1 and raising hopes on the visitors’ bench as the period came to a close.
“There are times where you hate to see the period come to an end,” said Gwozdecky. “That was definitely my feeling after the first period; we wanted to start the second period right away.”
The momentum would not last through the intermission. St. Cloud forced the game into a pitched battle during the first half of the second period, and it was Lasch who would ultimately grab the brass ring and thrust the Huskies back into the fray.
Lasch approached the net on a scoring opportunity with linemates John Swanson and Dan Kronick. He tried to pass across the ice to Kronick, but the puck banked off of Swanson and returned quickly to Lasch. With Fisher moving across the crease, Lasch fired the puck and scored his first collegiate goal with an unusual tic-tac-toe sequence.
“Our line had to get it back,” said Lasch. “We were minus-2 in the first period, so we had to make up for that. … I don’t score too many pretty goals. They’re all around the crease, that’s how I score, so I kind of expected my first goal to come like that.”
Just over a minute later, Nodl gave SCSU its second lead of the night. Junior Nate Dey whiffed on a shot attempt near the point, and after regaining control of the puck made a shovel pass to Nodl, who one-timed the pass into the net to put SCSU ahead 3-2.
Denver continued to push in an attempt to nullify the Husky momentum for a second time, and Goepfert was forced to stay strong in net to preserve the SCSU lead. For nearly four minutes after Nodl’s second goal of the weekend, the Pioneers took shot after shot at the St. Cloud net, but to no avail. In all, Goepfert faced 15 shots during the second period, none of which found the back of the net.
“It’s the beginning of the year,” said Goepfert, who bounced back from a sub-par outing on Friday night. “I hate the beginning of the year. You start out slow, like a train, and you gradually gain momentum as time goes by. It’s a process, but that’s why you practice five days a week.”
The offensive pressure led to a defensive lapse that allowed St. Cloud State to lengthen the lead. A turnover in the attacking zone caught the DU defense off-guard, and a smart head-man pass from captain Casey Borer to Swanson in the neutral zone gave SCSU a two-on-one. Swanson faked the pass to Lasch and instead buried the puck himself, putting SCSU up 4-2 and chasing Fisher from the net in favor of junior Peter Mannino.
“[Swanson] is really one of the guys who’s really capable of taking the offense to another level,” said Motzko. “He had a tremendous off-season of work and he’s being rewarded for that.”
Mannino’s appearance helped to stem the tide, but Goepfert’s play on the other end squelched any chance that Denver had to mimic SCSU’s comeback from the night before. The third period was a back-and-forth affair until St. Cloud senior Nate Raduns essentially sealed the game 14 minutes in, splitting two defenders and scoring on the short side with a shot from the left faceoff dot to give the Huskies a three-goal lead they would not relinquish.
Denver, which boasted the top power play in the league last season, was hampered by its ineffectiveness on the man-advantage. After failing to score on their only two power-play chances on Friday, the Pioneers limped to an 0-for-5 showing on Saturday, failing to muster many good scoring chances during their power plays.
The loss snapped a five-game winning streak in St. Cloud for the Pioneers, dating back to December of 2002.
Combined with the weekend split between North Dakota and Wisconsin, Denver and St. Cloud State settle into a four-way tie atop the WCHA standings with the Sioux and Badgers after the first weekend of the young season.
St. Cloud State now faces another early-season WCHA challenge with a home-and-home series next weekend against Minnesota State. The Huskies travel to Mankato on Friday before returning to St. Cloud on Saturday.
“We struggled on Saturday nights last season,” said Motzko. “It’s a bit of a reversal from a year ago, but it’s important to learn the ability to battle back after a tough loss.”
Denver opens its regular-season home schedule next weekend with two nonconference games against Rensselaer, a team coached by Seth Appert, yet another former Gwozdecky protg following Motzko this weekend and Miami coach Enrico Blasi last weekend.
“It’s going to be a very important series for us,” said Gwozdecky. “Nonconference games are a big reason why we didn’t make the national tournament last year, and that makes these two games crucial. We have to be ready to play and take the next step in the development that we saw this weekend.”