ST CLOUD, Minn. — Before an ear-splitting capacity crowd of 6,178 at the National Hockey Center, No. 4 St. Cloud State pulled out all the stops and put on a show against their arch-rivals.
Freshman Ryan Lasch and junior Aaron Brocklehurst tallied two goals each, while sophomore John Swanson added two assists as St. Cloud State put the hurt on No. 2 Minnesota, 5-1 Friday night.
“We were moving our feet all night,” said St. Cloud coach Bob Motzko. “[Minnesota] is bigger than us, so we knew we had to be quick and play smart.”
“I’ve never played in front of a crowd like this before,” said Lasch. “There was a buzz in the locker room before the game. It was different, you could tell this was an important game.”
Just seconds after Minnesota junior Derek Peltier was called for holding early on in the first period, the St. Cloud power play went to work and found the net. A howitzer from the blueline by junior Matt Stephenson just missed the net wide on the right side, but the puck caromed off the end boards directly to Lasch, who curled around to bury the puck in the open net.
St. Cloud State (19-6-6, 13-6-6 WCHA) dominated the flow during the first period, and had several other quality opportunities that they did not convert on during the opening twenty. About three minutes after Lasch’s opening goal, senior Justin Fletcher rang a blueline shot off the post to the left of Minnesota goalie Jeff Frazee, and maintained consistent offensive pressure during another advantage midway through the period.
Lasch set up the second Husky goal with three-and-a-half minutes to play in the first. Fading to the right side boards, the freshman from Lake Forest, Calif. whipped a pass into the slot that was picked up by senior Nate Raduns, who moved the puck quickly to Frazee’s left, putting SCSU up 2-0.
“I was just trying to make a play one on one,” said Lasch. “[Senior captain] Casey Borer made a great play on the defensive side, just poking the puck up to me, and ‘Radar’ just snuck in the back door. I just slipped it to him and he did the rest.”
By the early throes of the second period, it was becoming obvious that Lasch was the star of the evening, and Lasch was the catalyst yet again on SCSU’s third goal of the evening. With the puck on the end line to the left of the Minnesota net, Lasch fired the puck on net behind Frazee, bouncing the puck off the Gopher goaltender’s leg and into the net to give the Huskies a three-goal cushion.
“Our top line has been producing all year,” said Lasch. “Tonight they were off a bit so it was our turn to produce. Maybe tomorrow will be their turn again.”
Minnesota (25-6-3, 17-5-3 WCHA) got on the board midway through the second period on the power play. A dump into the zone by freshman Jay Barriball leapt over the stick of SCSU’s Matt Stephenson, allowing junior Alex Goligoski to take control. Goligoski moved the puck in front to junior Ben Gordon, and with a nifty move to the pass, Gordon one-timed the puck with his backhand to best SCSU goaltender Bobby Goepfert.
St. Cloud appeared to get their three-goal lead back with about three minutes to play, but senior Grant Clafton’s goal was waved off, as the net had been knocked off its moorings by SCSU’s Dan Kronick just a split second before the puck crossed the line.
If that goal would have been controversial, the Huskies’ next goal that did count was surely controversial anyway. Sophomore John Swanson manipulated the puck behind Jeff Frazee and the Gopher net, and tried to move the puck toward the slot, where junior Aaron Brocklehurst was lying in wait. Brocklehurst got tangled up with his defender and fell over, but not before the puck glanced off of his skate and past Frazee.
After review, referee Derek Shepard signaled that the goal would stand, despite the protestations of the Minnesota bench.
The game devolved into a chippy battle for the remainder of the third period, with Minnesota taking several frustration penalties and St. Cloud State responding in kind with retaliatory calls. A laser shot by Brocklehurst from the top of the left faceoff circle beat Frazee top shelf to make the score 5-1 with about three minutes remaining and effectively nailed the coffin shut.
Bobby Goepfert finished with 29 saves on 30 shots, including saves on all 13 Minnesota shots during the third period, and was credited with his third assist of the season on Brocklehurst’s second goal. He was called on to make some spectacular saves throughout the game, and won loads of adulation from the Husky faithful on each occasion.
Jeff Frazee made 26 stops on 31 shots, taking the loss for only the second time this season.
St. Cloud State is now unbeaten (2-0-2) in four consecutive games against Minnesota. In conjunction with Wisconsin’s loss at Michigan Tech, the Huskies have clinched home-ice for the first round of the WCHA playoffs for the first time since 2002, and are assured of finishing no worse than fourth.
“We’ve been playing some teams who have been desperate at the end of the season, and we haven’t had that,” said St. Cloud coach Bob Motzko. “We haven’t had that. Obviously it helps when you have the crowd that we had tonight, but we played strong in all areas in tonight. We just want to see intensity for the next three games and protect what we’ve accomplished thus far.”
Minnesota ended a four-game win streak with the loss, but remains five points ahead of St. Cloud and are still heavy favorites to take their second consecutive MacNaughton Cup.
“There are some things we need to fix,” said Minnesota captain Mike Vannelli. “There’s nothing more we can do tonight, we just need to put this behind us. We’ve still got a chance to hang a banner tomorrow night, and there’s no use in sitting back and feeling sorry for ourselves that wasn’t Gopher hockey out there tonight.”
The scene shifts to Minneapolis for the second half of the home-and-home series Saturday night.