ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Coming into Saturday night’s game at the National Hockey Center, St. Cloud State had three streaks they were looking to lengthen. They hadn’t been beaten in 11 straight, hadn’t lost in 14, and hadn’t lost to Alaska-Anchorage at home in the last 29 meetings.
In each case, the train keeps rolling.
Andrew Gordon had two goals and an assist, and captain Casey Borer added two assists to lead No. 5 St. Cloud State to a 4-1 victory over Alaska-Anchorage to complete the weekend sweep.
“It was the hardest fought weekend we’ve seen all year,” said SCSU head coach Bob Motzko. “We’re spent. They’re spent. It was a physical battle all weekend long.”
Contrary to Friday’s first period, St. Cloud State (14-3-3, 8-3-3 WCHA) was the team coming out with guns blazing and taking shots. After only having four shots reach the net in the first twenty minutes on Friday, SCSU put 16 shots on net on Saturday.
Like Friday, it was the attacking team which would score first, and it was St. Cloud who would claim that title on Saturday. Andrew Gordon was the playmaker and the goal scorer wrapped in one midway through the second period, as he threaded a pass through the legs of UAA’s Nick Lowe to senior Matt Stephenson at the point. Stephenson then dished to freshman Andreas Nodl, whose shot rebounded to Gordon, who had immediately cut to the slot after making his pass. Gordon scooped up the loose puck and put it between the legs of Anchorage netminder Nathan Lawson for the 1-0 lead.
Alaska Anchorage (10-10-2, 6-10-0) would take a penalty late in the first period which largely carried over into the second. The penalty kill stood tall despite several close opportunities for St. Cloud State on the advantage, including a wrist shot by sophomore John Swanson which rang off the crossbar near the end of the power play.
Swanson’s shot caromed almost all of the way out of the zone, just as the penalty expired, and UAA began the counter-attack almost immediately. Regrouping in the neutral zone and gaining possession, the Seawolves created a three-on-one going the other way, and as junior Luke Beaverson glided to the right of the St. Cloud net, he dished the puck into the slot to find freshman center Paul Crowder. Crowder took a wrister that beat SCSU goalie Jase Weslosky five-hole to tie the game at one, just two minutes into the second period.
Physical play was the name of the game for the first four periods of the weekend, and it quickly became apparent that it was taking its toll on both teams during the second period. Neither team was able to gain much of a foothold during the second stanza, which featured plenty of end-to-end action, but with few quality scoring opportunities for either side.
It was right in the midst of the back-and-forth battle, however, that St. Cloud would take the lead for good, and once again, it was Andrew Gordon making the key play. Gordon would pick up the puck in the neutral zone and rush the attacking zone along side junior Nate Dey, but instead of continuing the charge or passing to Dey, he made a backhand pass just after crossing the blue line. Senior Casey Borer rushed ahead to collect the puck onside, and then crossed the defense with a pass to Dey on the left side of the UAA net. Dey’s shot hit the net on Lawton’s short side with about a minute and a half left in the second to swing momentum in St. Cloud’s favor.
The Seawolves were clearly tired during the third period, but they worked hard early to try and find their second equalizer of the evening. As the period wore on, even their tenacity was not enough to overcome a bizarre goal midway through.
John Swanson took a pass from Borer within the attacking zone and skated to the right side of the UAA goal. With freshman Ryan Lasch positioned behind the net, he tried to make the pass and then cut to the slot. Lasch could not collect the puck, but somehow, without touching it, the puck curled in front of the net. Lawton, moving from right to left across the crease, did not see where Swanson’s pass had ended up – and as the puck curled, it glanced off of his left skate and into the back of the net.
“I didn’t touch it,” Lasch insisted. “I don’t know how it got in front.” Swanson was ultimately credited with the goal.
“We’ll take ‘em,” said Borer. “I’m sure they would have taken one like that tonight. [Lawson] played well overall, but it was a tough bounce.”
Six minutes later, Andrew Gordon would score his fifth goal in four games in almost the exact same fashion as he had scored in the preceding three – with a redirection of a shot from the point. This time, it was senior Justin Fletcher making the delivery, and with quick reflexes, Gordon tapped the puck down out of the air and into the net.
“I like to make fun of Fletcher,” said Gordon. “I tell him that if I have anything to do with it, he’s not going to have any more goals for the rest of the season. The guys are starting to make fun of me for all those greasy goals I’m scoring, but I’ll take ‘em.”
Freshman Jase Weslosky stayed perfect for SCSU, winning his fourth game in as many collegiate starts between the pipes. He made 20 stops on 21 shots.
For UAA, coming to St. Cloud has been a disheartening road trip for nearly 20 years – since the opening of the National Hockey Center, the team has played thirty games without a single victory, their record now standing at 0-28-2. The Seawolves haven’t posted a win in St. Cloud since November 1987. With the loss, they fall into a tie with Michigan Tech for seventh in the WCHA.
“When they get opportunities to score, they bury their chances,” said UAA head coach Dave Shyiak. “I wasn’t happy with the way we played tonight. We had chances in the second period where we could have gone up, but we didn’t capitalize on our opportunities, and then we lost our discipline and composure in the third period. Our puck movement tonight was very poor.”
For St. Cloud State, the win extends their winning streak to 12, and their overall unbeaten streak to 15. The Huskies now move into third in the WCHA, with two games in hand over second-place Denver.
“We’ve had four solid lines,” said St. Cloud head coach Bob Motzko. “We’ve been getting a more balanced offense to go with our defense. It hasn’t just been one line – a lot of the same guys on point to be sure, but we’ve been having other groups step up to fill the void when we have rough nights. It was [Marty] Mjelleli at Michigan Tech. Last night, it was Lasch. Tonight it was Gordon. Last week it was Dey.”
“You’re not going to play well every single night,” said Borer, “and I’m sure one night we’re going to get stung if we don’t show up. Sooner or later we’re probably going to lose and it’ll become about how we deal with that. In a perfect world, you’d never lose, but losing games is part of any kind of athletics and we need to be ready for it.”
“You gain confidence when you start winning game after game,” said Shyiak, who played on a Northern Michigan squad which had a WCHA record 26-game unbeaten streak during the 1990-91 season. “It makes you better as a team. Even when you don’t play your best game, you find a way to win, and that adds even more confidence.”
St. Cloud’s next opponent will be Minnesota State, as the Huskies and Mavericks kick off a home-and-home series next Friday at the National Hockey Center. Alaska-Anchorage stays on the road visiting No. 20 North Dakota.