ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Ties in hockey are regularly compared to “kissing your sister.”
If that’s the case, someone may want to consider stepping between Minnesota and St. Cloud State.
Jay Barriball and Mike Vannelli scored third-period goals to erase a two-goal deficit on Saturday night as No. 2 Minnesota and No. 16 St. Cloud State ended the second game of a home-and-home series the same way they ended the first — with a tie score, this time completing a 3-3 score sheet in front of 6,190 crammed into the National Hockey Center.
If one can count the prolonged overtime period during the WCHA semifinals last March, the Gophers and Huskies have played three straight games evenly.
The first period was defined by crisp passes and hard hitting on both sides early on. Both sides got their licks in, with open ice hits flying and long passes finding tape, but neither team was able to break onto the board in the early going. Minnesota (8-1-2, 4-0-2 WCHA) survived two penalty kills, which gave St. Cloud State (2-3-3, 2-3-3) some of its best opportunities of the opening period.
As the period neared its end, St. Cloud’s Matt Stephenson was called for tripping, and the Gopher power-play unit wasted no time in taking advantage. Freshman Kyle Okposo won the faceoff in the SCSU zone and dished to Tyler Hirsch, who positioned himself in front of the net. Hirsch blasted the shot past senior Bobby Goepfert to give Minnesota the 1-0 lead just four seconds into the power-play and with just one minute to play in the first period.
If the late goal gave Minnesota the slight edge following the first period, the second period was clearly won by St. Cloud State. The Huskies played with desperation from the opening drop of the second period, digging in and working for every loose puck. The hard work would pay off just four minutes into the middle period, as junior Aaron Brocklehurst dashed up the side boards, cut to the net, and pushed the puck to senior Gary Houseman, who took the one-timer just out of the reach of Minnesota netminder Jeff Frazee to tie the game.
The up-tempo play continued throughout the second period, but a penalty to Dan Kronick about half way through gave Minnesota their best opportunity of the period to break the deadlock. At one point in the power play, St. Cloud State was forced to spend nearly a minute defending the zone with one broken stick lying on the ice. Ultimately, the puck was turned over to the player without his stick, Nate Dey, and the zone was cleared.
Just as the Kronick penalty was expiring, the patience of sophomore John Swanson broke the tie. Swanson took control of the puck in the neutral zone off a Minnesota skate after the defensive zone was cleared for the last time. He had a jump on his defenders at first but eventually crossed the blue line dogged by two defensemen. With a simple circle around, Swanson shook his marks, both of whom dropped back with their backs to him, and then settled in with a very clear shot to the cage from the top of the right faceoff circle, slapping a laser which hit the back of the net to give the Huskies their first lead of the evening.
“I noticed both guys on me, so I threw on the brakes because I thought we were still on the penalty kill,” said Swanson. “I noticed them both backing in towards [Frazee], so I figured that I might as well shoot since they were both screening him, and I was just lucky enough to put it in.”
About two and a half minutes later, SCSU lengthened the lead to two. Toward the end of a four-on-four period caused by a small scrum between Minnesota’s Evan Kaufmann and St. Cloud’s Gary Houseman, Nate Raduns took a pass from freshman Ryan Lasch and ripped a shot from the far side of the same circle Swanson had scored from earlier, and the shot evaded Frazee to put the score at 3-1.
Coming out of the second intermission, it became obvious from the beginning that the Gophers were determined to play the third period with the same kind of desperation that St. Cloud State had displayed during the second.
“In the locker room after the second period, we just decided that we weren’t going to feel sorry for ourselves,” said Minnesota captain Mike Vannelli. “There was still 20 minutes left in the weekend. We figured we’d just go out there and give all we had and see what happens.”
After some early back and forth play, the Gophers began putting on a even-strength passing exhibition in the attacking zone, and it eventually ended with a solid shot from the point by freshman sensation Jay Barriball which screened Goepfert just long enough to keep him from seeing the trajectory as the puck made a loud clang off the post and into the net, halving the Husky advantage.
Minnesota buzzed in the attacking zone during a mid-period power-play opportunity created by a holding penalty to Dey, but Goepfert’s play during the penalty kill saved the game during the Minnesota advantage. Just scant seconds after the power play ended, however, the Huskies’ inability to clear the zone late in the penalty kill cost them the tying goal.
Hirsch took a pass behind the net from Ryan Stoa, and then tossed a weak dribbler across the slot which avoided all of the traffic in front and ended up near Vannelli. The Gopher captain had likely as clear a shot at the net as John Swanson had had in the second period, and he wasted no time in roofing a one-timer to even the game again.
The Gophers continued to pour on the pressure for much of the remainder of the third period. Three minutes after Vannelli’s goal, Stoa rang a shot off of the inside of the post which for a split-second appeared to have been in given the reactions of the men in the maroon and gold, but it was quickly waved off and play continued. Minnesota made 31 shot attempts in the third period, many of which were headed on target. The St. Cloud State defense made 13 blocks, and Goepfert had 11 saves in the third period alone.
The overtime period was evenly split, with Minnesota dominating possession and chances in the first half, and SCSU dominating the second half, but neither side could break the tie.
“Tonight feels worse,” said St. Cloud defenseman Matt Stephenson. “Last night we made the comeback in their house. Going into the third up 3-1, we knew they were going to come out hard. In the end you come back into the locker room and it feels like a loss.”
With the point, Minnesota drops idle North Dakota and is all alone in first place in the WCHA with ten points after six league games.
“We did a lot better job tonight of not turning the puck over,” said Vannelli, “but I think the main thing for us was that we played a lot better tonight than we did last night, and a big part of that was just our intensity level and our mental preparation. The WCHA has a long, grueling season and every game is going to be a battle. You’re going to see some ups and downs on a regular basis but we’ve fought pretty well through it so far.”
For St. Cloud State, it was their third straight tie, and their third on the season in eight league games. The Huskies are now in a three-way tie for fourth place with Michigan Tech and Wisconsin.
“We’ve had two weeks in a row where we’ve seen better team play,” said St. Cloud State head coach Bob Motzko. “Two weeks straight where we’ve been making progress. We’ve just got to continue on this track. We didn’t score on the power play tonight but we’re continuing to improve there… we’re still trying to figure it out. We’ve said from day one that it might take until Christmas to get everything ironed out, and now we’re looking forward to having six of the next ten out of conference to make sure we get those ironed out.”
Minnesota returns home next weekend for a WCHA series against archrival and No. 7 Wisconsin, while St. Cloud State remains at home for a non-conference set against No. 12 Clarkson.