ST. CLOUD, Minn. — After 50 minutes, it appeared that No. 4 St. Cloud State was well on its way to its 13th consecutive win. Unfortunately for the Huskies, the games are still 60 minutes long.
Minnesota State (8-13-3, 5-10-2 WCHA) used some lucky bounces and some timely play from forwards Travis Morin and Jon Kalinski, riding five unanswered goals, including three in a span of 5:20 late in the game, to bring themselves all the way back from a 4-1 deficit and dealt St. Cloud State (14-4-3, 8-4-3 WCHA) their first loss since November 10, 6-4, in front of a stunned crowd at the National Hockey Center Friday night.
“Our special teams did a very good job tonight,” said Minnesota State head coach Troy Jutting. “We did a great job killing against the best power play in the league until we finally got the bounces we needed in the third period.
Leading 3-1, St. Cloud State got a power play goal 2:39 into the third from defenseman-turned-forward Aaron Brocklehurst, who ripped a slapshot from the top of the slot that beat MSU netminder Mike Zacharias on the stick side to give the Huskies a three-goal cushion. The party was on in St. Cloud.
“I still thought we had been playing rather well throughout even at 4-1,” said Jutting. “I couldn’t believe the score, but that’s what it was.”
The long road back started shortly thereafter. A minute after Brocklehurst’s goal, a penalty to SCSU’s Matt Hartman put Minnesota State on the power play, and a well-timed shot from the right faceoff dot by sophomore Mick Berge glanced off of St. Cloud State goalie Bobby Goepfert’s blocker and directly into the back of the net to make the score 4-2.
The Huskies continued to work the puck in their attacking zone for the next several minutes, and even had a few opportunities of their own, but it soon became apparent that the tide was slowly turning in Minnesota State’s favor.
“We talked all week about using our speed and keeping the puck wide,” said captain Travis Morin. “We finally started making that happen in the third and it really turned things in our favor.”
Another fortuitous bounce pulled Mankato within one. With traffic in front of the net screening Goepfert, junior winger Joel Hanson unleashed a slapper from the blue line which the St. Cloud senior simply could not see. The puck was not directly on course, as it rang distinctly off the left post, but the bounce was straight into the net, giving the Mavericks life with plenty of time left to tie the game.
“[Goepfert] is a really good goalie,” said Morin. “We knew we’d have to put bodies in front of the net and just throw stuff at him in order to be successful.”
About four-and-a-half minutes later, MSU completed the comeback to tie the score, and once again, it was a puck lucky bounce in their favor. Near the top of the right faceoff circle, freshman Jerad Stewart threw the puck into the slot. It appeared that SCSU defender Grant Clafton was in position to intercept the pass, but Clafton was unable to get his stick on the puck, which instead bounced off his skates and quickly angled unswervingly at the left side of the net. Goepfert sprawled himself out, but had no chance to stop the errant puck from crossing the goal line.
There was still about four minutes left to play, but the Huskies’ body language immediately following the goal said it all they looked like they’d just given up a game-winner instead of a tying goal.
“Complacency took hold of us,” said St. Cloud junior Andrew Gordon. “We were in control for most of the game on the scoreboard and even as all of those bounces went their way, I think we still kept feeling like we were going to eventually just break out and overcome like we’ve been doing, and we never did.”
The real game-winner came just 1:05 later, and it was team captain Travis Morin scoring a true goal-scorer’s goal to complete Mankato’s rapid rise into the driver’s seat. After taking a pass from sophomore Jon Kalinski, Morin ripped a shot from the left circle that Goepfert stopped, but the rebound came directly back to Morin.
“I noticed a defenseman near [Goepfert],” said Morin, “so I did a little toe drag to move him in front to screen him and just put it top shelf.”
“It was a great shot by a great player,” said Jutting. “Travis Morin is a big time player not just for us but in college hockey in general and he showed that tonight.”
Kalinski would add an empty netter in the game’s final minute to seal things up for the Mavericks. It was their fifth unanswered goal since falling behind by three just 18 minutes earlier.
Despite needing the big comeback, it was Minnesota State who scored first. After weathering two early penalty kills, the Mavericks struck on their first man advantage of the game when Hanson put the puck through on Goepfert’s short side after an extended cat-and-mouse game in the MSU attacking zone. Defenseman Casey Borer broke his stick, leaving the Huskies without an effective penalty kill for almost a minute before Hanson’s goal.
St. Cloud State responded quickly. About 1:30 later, sophomore Michael Olson, who had been in the penalty box for Hanson’s goal, took a feed in the slot and one-timed a blast by MSU goaltender Mike Zacharias to tie the game at one.
After a largely back-and-forth second period, a strange first goal of the season from Borer lifted the Huskies into the lead. Borer, normally a stay-at-home defenseman, stole the puck deep in the attacking zone and advanced toward the net along the goal line. Deftly switching to his backhand, he lifted the puck up and over Zacharias, putting SCSU up by one.
Four minutes later, SCSU scored the 3-1 goal on the power play their first goal on the advantage on their seventh opportunity. With the puck loose to Zacharias’ right, Andrew Gordon swooped in to scoop up the puck and threaded the needle as he placed the puck between the post and Zacharias’ leg. It was Gordon’s fifth goal in as many games.
Brocklehurst’s goal early in the third put the Huskies up 4-1, but the comeback was in the cards.
Before bounces started crashing down around him, Goepfert was having a sensational night. Not only did he finish the evening with 30 saves, he was credited with the second assist on both Gordon’s and Brocklehurst’s goals. Not to be outdone, Zacharias finished with 23 saves to backstop the victory for Minnesota State.
The loss snaps St. Cloud’s school-record unbeaten and winning streaks at 15 and 12 respectively. The Huskies are 0-4-2 when allowing three or more goals in a game.
“It was a bad, bad game for us,” said St. Cloud coach Bob Motzko. “It was bad, but some things were leading up to it this week. We lost our focus during practice and had a mental flatness all night. The power play was as horrendous tonight as it was all week.”
“Practice on Wednesday was a joke,” said Borer. “But regardless, we didn’t play well tonight at all. We got enough goals to win and then we let them off the hook. That’s unacceptable and that’s on the upperclassmen.”
With the victory, Minnesota State has their first WCHA win since November 11th. The Mavericks have won 5 straight games in St. Cloud dating back to January 2004.
“They were frustrated after the second period but they never quit,” said Gordon.
“Coach [Jutting] stayed calm throughout,” said Morin, “and it really helped us stay calm even when we were down.”
The series shifts to Mankato, Minn. for the second half of the home-and-home series Saturday night at the Midwest Wireless Civic Center.
“Hopefully, we can get the same thing tomorrow,” said Jutting, “only we’re going to need to score in the first and second.”
“It’s a big letdown for ourselves and our fans,” said Borer. “But that’s why we have a two game series. We need to take our season by the throat now before what happened tonight gets out of hand.”