ST. CLOUD, Minn. — With apologies to Spinal Tap‘s Nigel Tufnel, the fifth-ranked St. Cloud State Huskies are really starting to turn it up.
They’ve now turned it up to 11.
Dan Kronick, John Swanson and Ryan Lasch each generated a goal and an assist for St. Cloud State as the Huskies won their 11th consecutive game Friday night, recovering from a difficult start and rallying twice to overcome a solid effort by Alaska-Anchorage, 4-2.
“They’re big and strong,” said St. Cloud netminder Bobby Goepfert. “They battle everywhere and throw their hits around. It makes them tough to play against. We were having trouble breaking down their ‘D’ all game and they did such a great job of clogging the neutral zone. I had trouble all night when they got bodies in front of me and started hacking away. They’re a lot different than they were last year.”
“The teams out east [at the Catamount Cup tournament last week] weren’t as physical as [Alaska-Anchorage] was,” said Swanson. “But it helps our confidence to be able to come back like this. We’re happy with the win, but we’re not happy with the way we played early. Come playoff time, we might not be able to survive that way.”
The first period was dominated offensively and physically by Alaska-Anchorage (10-9-2, 6-9-0 WCHA). The visitors displayed speed and sharp passing early while using their muscle to keep a sluggish St. Cloud State (13-3-3, 7-3-3) off the puck. After gaining the zone, UAA cycled well and kept Goepfert on his toes — it was Goepfert’s efforts which kept the game close during the first period, as he made 10 saves, many less than routine.
UAA’s domination did pay off with a goal during the first period. Junior Chris Tarkir was the catalyst. Tarkir took the puck behind the Husky net and flipped it out in front. The puck caromed quickly off of teammate Nick Lowe directly to Peter Cartwright, who was positioned to Goepfert’s left. Cartwright was able to get a quick shot off before Goepfert could move across the goal mouth, giving the Seawolves a 1-0 lead.
The sharp defensive play of Alaska-Anchorage was apparent in the lopsided shot totals at the end of the first twenty minutes, as the potent St. Cloud State attack was limited to a mere four shots on goal, although the Huskies did enjoy a few decent scoring opportunities on which they were unable to get a shot on net.
Roughly eight minutes into the second, a flurry of activity in front of the St. Cloud net nearly led to a second goal for the Seawolves. With the puck lose in the crease and skaters coming in from all directions, Goepfert quickly jumped on the puck for a freeze. Several sticks came into the crease all at once, and the whistle blew just before one of them poked the puck into the net. Anchorage coach Dave Shyiak protested, but to no avail.
Just eleven seconds after the Seawolves’ unfortunate whistle, the Huskies struck back. Freshman Ryan Lasch turned on the jets and came screaming into the UAA zone, and made a quick deke move that fooled freshman goaltender Jon Olthuis to his left. Lasch moved right, but put the puck directly against the post instead of shoving it into the net. Throwing on the brakes, Lasch directed his stick back just before Anchorage senior Justin Bourne could get to the crease for the clearance, poking the loose puck into the net to tie it up.
Shortly thereafter, a penalty to SCSU’s Nate Raduns put the Seawolves on the man advantage, and controversy was in the air once again. This time, another flurry in front of Goepfert led to a difficult viewing picture for the referees. Goepfert made at least one save, and eventually froze the puck, but UAA appealed, claiming that one of their efforts had made it over the line. Referee Todd Anderson checked the video replay, but ruled that no goal had been scored – the overhead shot was inconclusive as to whether the puck had hit off the bottom of the post or had crossed the goal line.
“It was a goal,” said Shyiak after reviewing other angles unavailable to Anderson. “It clearly crossed the line, but if the video up top shows it’s inconclusive, then he made the right call, even if from all accounts it’s a goal.”
Despite the second frustration, Alaska-Anchorage continued to pound away, and were rewarded for their hard work. About three minutes after their video appeal was denied, a shot by freshman Kevin Clark from the right side of the net bounced off Goepfert’s pads and landed right in the slot, where UAA sophomore Jay Beagle was able to quickly pounce. Beagle lifted a one-timer which found the net before Goepfert could reposition, finally giving the Seawolves their second goal.
About four minutes later, St. Cloud State would respond for a second time, this time on the power play. A big blast from the point by senior defenseman Justin Fletcher was redirected in front by junior Andrew Gordon. Gordon’s deflection served to deaden the puck’s momentum considerably as he slipped it between Olthuis’ pads. Olthuis appeared to believe that the puck was beneath him, instead the puck was slowly trickling behind him and in with just over three minutes to play in the second. It was the third time in as many games that Gordon had scored on a redirected shot from the point.
Momentum shifts throughout the game were fairly symmetrical. While UAA dominated the first, momentum slowly shifted in St. Cloud’s favor during the second, and was out in full force during the third, as the SCSU attack began pouring on the shots, aided by a possession advantage which kept the puck in their attacking zone for a respectable amount of the period.
Olthuis stood tall for most of the period, but with about four minutes to play, SCSU’s pressure would finally generate their first lead of the game. After a dig in the corner, it was Ryan Lasch who would come away with the puck. Lasch positioned himself behind the net and made a pass to sophomore John Swanson in front of the net. Swanson hit the one-timer, and Olthuis tried moving himself into position to make the save, but his momentum was too much, carrying him too far off to the left.
Moments later, Kronick swept a loose puck past Olthuis to give the Huskies a last bit of insurance with 99 seconds left to play.
St. Cloud’s unbeaten streak now sits at a school-record 14 straight games to go with the 11-game winning streak.
“We knew it was coming,” said St. Cloud State head coach Bob Motzko. “They’re a good hockey team. They worked their tails off. They’re strong, and they have a real deliberate game play. They wanted to slow the game down and take our space away, and for most of the game that’s exactly what they did. But we got stronger as the game went on.
“It’s break. This time of year, it’s tough to be at home on break, because it’s such a change in your routine with no classes. You go on the road, and it’s the same, but when you’re at home, you get out of the pattern. We’ve got five of the next six at home during break, though, so it’s important that we find a way to deal with it.”
The loss was Alaska-Anchorage’s fourth consecutive in WCHA play, and the Seawolves have lost five of the last six league games.
“I thought we carried the game,” said Shyiak. “I thought we played well enough to win but found a way to lose. St. Cloud played kind of an opportunistic kind of game and they found ways to score. They obviously got a lot of momentum off of the two goals being called off. It became a different game even though we still got the next goal and still had the momentum and were playing well.
“We still had a solid game against one of the best teams in the country.”
The two-game WCHA series concludes Saturday night at the National Hockey Center.
“They definitely don’t quit,” said Swanson about the UAA work ethic. “There’s no question that we’re going to get the same kind of game tomorrow from them.”