HOUGHTON, Mich. — In the battle of the Huskies, No. 10 St. Cloud (7-3-3 overall, 5-3-3 WCHA) jumped out quickly against well-rested but somewhat rusty Michigan Tech (6-5-2 overall, 3-4-2 WCHA), getting a pair of goals from freshman forward Ryan Lasch to skate away with a 4-1 victory, ending Michigan Tech’s unbeaten streak at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena.
“The game was a little sloppy,” said St. Cloud head coach Bob Motzko. “There wasn’t a lot of transition or a lot of clean plays.”
St. Cloud took the lead for good when assistant captain Justin Fletcher’s shot was redirected by Lasch past MTU goaltender Michel-Lee Teslak for his eighth of the year, giving SCSU a 2-1 edge.
“I just went to the net and (Justin) Fletcher got it over to me,” said Lasch. “(Dan) Kronick and I were battling down low to force something.”
St. Cloud came out to a flying start, getting four shots through to Teslak, who came up with 17 saves, before Michigan Tech found Bobby Goepfert.
It was Goepfert, however, who made perhaps the timeliest save in the first few minutes after Michigan Tech forward Malcolm Gwilliam hit him dead-on from center ice, leaving Goepfert clutching his collarbone. He seemed unaffected the longer the game went on, as he finished with 25 saves.
St. Cloud struck first as freshman forward Andreas Nodl found the net behind Teslak at the 4:36 mark. Michigan Tech had all manner of trouble trying to clear the zone, and centerman Nate Dey moved the puck back to defenseman Matt Stephenson, whose shot rebounded to a waiting Nodl. He netted his eighth of the campaign.
“Ryan and Andreas both feed off of each other,” said Motzko. “They are just two really dynamic players.”
Assistant captain Tyler Skworchinski, of the “Bump and Grind Line,” evened the game at 1 for Michigan Tech with his fourth of the year at 13:26, sending the 2394 Michigan Tech faithful to their collective feet. Junior forward Jordan Foote took the puck behind the St. Cloud goal, fed linemate Jimmy Kerr, who made a slick pass through the St. Cloud defender to a wide-open Skworchinski.
“Jordan made a great play to get the puck to Jimmy,” said Skworchinski. “I didn’t Jimmy could see me coming to the back door, but he made a great pass to me.”
The second period was a little more even, as the teams traded scoring opportunities, but neither could put the puck in the net.
Just over seven minutes into the period, Skworchinski nearly evened the game when he bolted his way around the St. Cloud defender and made a move to his forehand, but Goepfert tracked the puck and made the tough save.
Teslak had to be equally sharp as St. Cloud forward Michael Olson found himself all alone in front and had two quick pokes at a loose puck before Teslak could clear it.
“I felt that we had a lot of passengers tonight,” said Michigan Tech head coach Jamie Russell. “It seemed like every shift we had two guys playing hard and two or three guys doing a lot of spectating.”
Foote nearly evened the game on the power play 13 minutes into the period as he tried to bank the puck off of Goepfert twice below the goal line, but the puck hit the post once, and Goepfert managed to hang on to the other.
“I thought the line of Jimmy, Tyler and Jordan played really well for us again tonight,” said Russell. “Jordan is a big, strong power forward who we ask to play physical for us.”
After Lasch’s tally , Fletcher opened up a two-goal lead for St. Cloud in the third period, getting a shot up and over Teslak. Nodl, who had been stopped just prior to the goal, fed Fletcher cutting to the net. The goal was Fletcher’s second of the season, at 4:15.
Lasch completed his second consecutive two-goal game with a power-play tally at the 7:23 mark of the period. Stephenson fed junior forward Dan Kronick, who found Lasch on the far side of the crease.
“Kronick just made a great pass, and I just found a way to put it in,” said Lasch.
St. Cloud, with the goal, finished one-for-six on the power play, while Michigan Tech struggled to a zero-for-eight night.
“You can draw up 6,000 options for the power play, but if you can’t make the pass from A to B flat, it doesn’t matter what you are doing, it’s not going to work,” said Russell.
Motzko wasn’t happy with his team’s lack of discipline in the third period, when they took four penalties which led to Michigan Tech advantages.
“That’s one of the first times we’ve been an undisciplined hockey team,” said Motzko. “That was embarrassing for us.”
Michigan Tech was without the services of co-captain Mike Batovanja for the second straight game, and without its leading scorer, freshman Alex Gagne, who missed the game with an unspecified upper-body injury.
“We’re not the only team in the country that has to deal with injuries,” said Russell. “That’s something you just have to deal with, and we didn’t do that tonight.”
Freshman forward Ryan Bunger played in just his third career game in place of Gagne.
“When a freshman comes in and he is our best forward, we have a lot of guys who need to take a long look in the mirror and come back tomorrow with a much better effort,” said Russell.
The teams meet back at the MacInnes for game two Saturday night. If Michigan Tech wins, it would be its best start at home since 1972-73, when the Huskies started the season 8-0-0 at home.