ST. CLOUD, Minn. — It was a game with everything — hard hits, plenty of power plays, disallowed goals, a good dust-up, stifling defense, pucks striking metal, even a goaltender with neon red hair.
So naturally, a fortuitous bounce was the deciding factor.
SCSU junior Nate Dey scored late in the game’s first overtime period, sneaking the puck past an outstanding Josh Johnson as No. 2 St. Cloud State forced its series with No. 9 Minnesota-Duluth to a deciding third game, 3-2.
“When the game goes on that long, you just have to find a way to get things done,” said St. Cloud coach Bob Motzko. “Don’t make mistakes, play hard, and play on your toes and not your heels.”
Johnson was rock-solid in net all night long, keeping the Bulldogs in the game from start to finish by stopping 42 of 45 shots he faced on the night, but the 45th shot was the backbreaker.
“I’m a little frustrated right now,” said Johnson. “It was a bad bounce, but that’s the game of hockey. It happens. We’ve just got to come out and try and get them tomorrow.”
After surviving a feverish UMD attack for several minutes during the back end of the period of extra hockey, St. Cloud State (21-8-7) started working the puck in its shooting zone. Shortly after the Huskies nearly used a calculated bounce off the end boards to set up a scoring chance, they got a more generous bounce to end the game.
Junior Andrew Gordon manipulated the puck behind the net after a pass from blueliner Justin Fletcher. With a good bounce off the boards, the puck ended up to the right of Johnson in the Duluth net. The puck sat near the right goalpost and Johnson’s right leg when Dey came up to smack it into the net, sending the Husky faithful into jubilation and sending the series to Game 3 on Sunday.
“It’s one and done from here on out,” said Dey. “There’s a sense of urgency. We can’t have lapses like we did [Friday]. We need to come out strong and then play that way the whole way. We got that done tonight.”
As the game got under way, Minnesota-Duluth (13-20-5) took a few penalties, giving St. Cloud the opportunity to dictate the early flow. Unfortunately for the Huskies, their power play prowess was about what it had been a night earlier.
In the game’s first 12 minutes, the Bulldogs took three penalties, but their penalty kill was up to the task of continuing to squelch the SCSU power play, which was 0-for-10 for the series to that point.
A UMD rush with five minutes remaining in the first period ended with SCSU goaltender Bobby Goepfert flat on his back from a bit of incidental contact, but it ignited a small tussle which saw two players from both teams sent off for unsportsmanlike conduct, and a four-on-four resulted.
St. Cloud took advantage of the open ice to take its first lead of the weekend. A Duluth clearance attempt bounced oddly off the right boards to SCSU captain Casey Borer near the blue line. Borer moved laterally across the zone and made a feeder pass to junior Matt Stephenson. As Stephenson approached the left faceoff dot, he lasered the puck right through the slot to a waiting Andrew Gordon, who one-timed it into the net directly to Johnson’s right.
The march to the penalty box for the Bulldogs continued almost unabated for the remainder of the period and into the second, but their penalty kill stayed strong until the Huskies started lucky power play number 13 on the weekend midway through the period.
After holding the zone for some time, the Huskies eventually cycled the puck to senior Dan Kronick on the end line to Johnson’s left. Much like the previous goal, Kronick’s pass went directly through the slot in front of the crease, this time from bottom to top, and found freshman Ryan Lasch near the edge of the right faceoff circle.
Lasch’s shot was so hard that it sheared his stick in two, but the effect was the desired one, as it found the net anyway.
St. Cloud had its own discipline issues shortly thereafter, and UMD’s lethal power play wasted no time in making them pay. Shortly after freshman Andreas Nodl was given two minutes for interference, sophomore Jason Garrison took a shot from the center of the blueline that Bobby Goepfert initially stopped. Goepfert was unable to trap the puck, and it ended up behind him as he fell backwards. Freshman Jordan Fulton was in the right place at the right time, swooping in to push the puck over the line to make the score 2-1.
The game began swinging in Duluth’s favor after the goal. Sophomore Mason Raymond earned himself a near-breakaway just seconds after the center-ice faceoff, but was hauled down by Dey, beginning yet another power play. This time, the SCSU penalty kill was up to the task.
In the last minute of the second, a shot from the blueline by SCSU’s Justin Fletcher clanged off the inside of the left goalpost and bounced to the right. The goal light came on, but referee Jon Campion immediately signaled no goal. After review, the puck touched the line but never crossed it.
A second possible St. Cloud State goal was disallowed early in the third. After two quick UMD penalties, the Huskies went on a five-on-three advantage slated to last over a minute, and it was Fletcher again, this time from the top of the slot, and there was little question the puck found the net, as it dented the twine in the very back after a hard slapshot.
With Duluth coach Scott Sandelin up in arms, Campion reviewed the goal and found that Gordon had screened Johnson with a skate in the crease, and disallowed the goal.
The twin call-offs seemed to give the Bulldogs life. Although still forced to battle in its own end, UMD found time to take a few opportunistic shots, and with four minutes left to play, finally found the tying goal.
Raymond made a pass from behind Goepfert, finding sophomore Josh Meyers at the top of the left faceoff circle. Meyers uncorked a shot which found the net past a screened Goepfert, tying the score and eventually sending the game into overtime.
St. Cloud owned the early part of the overtime, including Nate Dey ringing one off the crossbar about three minutes in, but was forced to fend off several chances by Duluth midway through and as the period wound down before Dey’s bounce ended things.
“We faced a lot of adversity early with all the penalties,” said Sandelin. “The second half was better for us, but the overtime was the best part of the game. We battled back tonight, that’s a positive for us. They just got a bounce at the end, and that’s the way games go. You can’t control the way the puck bounces, and you can’t control who gets the breaks.”
Goepfert, sporting hair which had been dyed bright red following Friday night’s loss, made 28 saves to help St. Cloud to victory.
“A bunch of us were talking about doing it beforehand,” said Goepfert of his new style. “Sometimes playoff beards aren’t enough. I just wanted to do something different to get my mind into that mode, like, ‘Hey, we’re in the playoffs now.’”
The rubber match in the best-of-three series is Sunday night at the National Hockey Center. If St. Cloud State wins, it would advance directly to the WCHA semifinals to face North Dakota, Wisconsin, or Alaska-Anchorage. If Minnesota-Duluth wins, it would appear in the play-in game against either Wisconsin or Alaska-Anchorage.
“As well as [Johnson] is playing right now, and as well as that team is playing, we are in for a dogfight tomorrow night,” said Motzko.