ST. CLOUD, Minn. — The stats books and history books were open all over the press box at the National Hockey Center. Fingers perused the pages looking for information and trying to find longstanding records that were suddenly in jeopardy of being broken.
There were plenty to be found on what was rapidly becoming a historic night in St. Cloud.
After 111:33 of game play, freshman Andreas Nodl netted the game winning goal as second-seeded St. Cloud State survived a knockdown, drag-out, all-night slugfest with ninth seed Minnesota Duluth, 3-2 on Sunday night to advance to the Final Five and eliminate the Bulldogs.
The marathon game was the longest in both schools’ histories, and the fifth-longest in the history of Division I men’s hockey.
“I have no idea what happened,” said Nodl. “I don’t even know where it went in. I was spent, and we got more and more tired, but it was such a big game that sometimes you don’t even feel it. We couldn’t skate, we couldn’t make the simplest passes. It seemed like Duluth never got tired. They did such a great job.”
After St. Cloud State had already struck iron three times in the many overtimes, including one just moments earlier by senior Gary Houseman, Nodl’s shot from the left faceoff circle evaded a tiring Duluth defense and squirted past senior goaltender Josh Johnson, sending Nodl leaping halfway across the ice sheet as the SCSU bench emptied, and leaving Johnson and his teammates devastated in their own end.
“[Duluth] deserves an awful lot of credit,” said St. Cloud head coach Bob Motzko. “I’m spent right now, but not nearly as spent as those two locker rooms are.”
The game got off to a serious start when UMD junior Mike Curry made a reckless hit behind the SCSU net, hitting Husky captain Casey Borer from behind. Referee Jon Campion wasted no time in handing out a five-minute major and showing Curry the dressing room.
SCSU’s power-play woes continued on the ensuing advantage, however. Despite the lengthy opportunity, the Husky attack was shut down at every angle by a tenacious UMD penalty kill.
It wasn’t until late in the first period that St. Cloud opened the scoring, when senior Nate Raduns created the opportunity by brazenly taking the puck into the zone with one hand on his stick in the face of three defenders.
After fumbling around with the puck, he maneuvered to the right side of the net, drawing the defense with him. After a snap shot, the puck was directed straight up into the air with an odd motion, and when it hit the deck, freshman Ryan Lasch was lying in wait to slam the puck home.
St. Cloud took the lead into the first intermission, but it would not last long into the second. The Bulldogs had a power-play carry over into the middle period, and late in the advantage managed to create a sequence that ended with the puck in the net. Senior Bryan McGregor whipped off a shot from the right side of the cage that caromed off the stick of SCSU sophomore Johnny Swanson in the slot. The suddenly-redirected puck evaded St. Cloud goalie Bobby Goepfert to tie things up at one.
Shortly after killing SCSU’s third power play of the game, the Bulldogs stormed down the ice to take the lead. Senior Ryan Geris made a picture-perfect pass into the slot to find sophomore Nick Kemp, who one-timed the pass into the net and sent the UMD faithful in the upper deck into raucous cheering seven minutes into the second.
St. Cloud had two more power plays in the second, but the story was the same as it had been all weekend — a dominating presence by the UMD penalty kill, and an empty-handed result for the Huskies.
Once the third period began, it began to look like UMD was ready to finish off the upset, but Goepfert kept the cage clear until the Huskies could mount an effective counterattack. With pinpoint accuracy, Swanson managed to thread the puck between the right goalpost and Johnson’s leg, through a spot that couldn’t have been much bigger than the puck itself. However it got in, it tied the score at two about four minutes into the third.
Unbeknownst to both teams, it would be some time before the next tally.
The first event of overtime actually occurred at the end of the third period. With four seconds left to play, Lasch sped into the attacking zone but was taken down from behind from Kemp before he could attempt a last-minute shot. Kemp was given a hooking penalty at the 20:00 mark, but once the overtime began, it was same-old, same-old. It was the final penalty of the night, and St. Cloud State finished the evening 0-for-6 on the advantage.
The first overtime was mostly a back-and-forth affair, but St. Cloud had the better of the scoring opportunities. Near the midway point, SCSU senior Dan Kronick nearly ended the game in nightmare fashion for Minnesota-Duluth as the former Bulldog rang the puck off the crossbar. About five minutes later, Raduns took a shot that moved laterally across the goal line, striking the inside of the goalpost and bouncing out. After review, the game continued.
The second overtime was much better for Minnesota-Duluth, as the Bulldogs had the lion’s share of the opportunities nearly from start to finish. About seven minutes in, Kemp tried the ultimate in redemption shots with a howitzer from the middle of the slot, but the puck hit off the right post with a distinct noise which reverberated throughout the National Hockey Center.
Play got sloppy as time went on, and when the puck dropped for the third overtime, it was almost as if the preceding intermission had never happened, as legs moved like they were caught in a thicket and the puck moved like molasses on the ice.
But St. Cloud dominated the third OT and ultimately won the game after 51:33 of overtime. Houseman’s shot hit off the inside of the post in similar fashion to Raduns’ shot in the first overtime, and the pressure held up until Nodl could find the net.
“What an effort by two hockey teams,” said Motzko. “If that isn’t a classic WCHA matchup, I don’t know what is. Forget about two versus nine. That was an unbelievable series. I haven’t been involved in many of those in my life.”
The record books were shattered for both schools. Johnson, despite the loss, set a school record for most saves in a playoff game with 62, destroying the previous mark held by Tony Gasparini (47, set in 1998).
Goepfert went a bit farther, breaking the all-time SCSU record for saves in any game, eclipsing the 49-save mark of Jake Moreland (2003) and Bill Korfhage (1987) with 67 of his own.
“The biggest challenge is the mental part,” said Goepfert. “I just kept telling myself that they were more tired than I was, and took things one shot at a time. It was nerve-wracking being in there, but I was excited.”
St. Cloud State (22-8-7) advances to the Final Five for the second consecutive year. The Huskies will face third-seeded North Dakota in the semifinals on Friday afternoon at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.
Minnesota-Duluth (13-21-5) concluded its season in heartbreaking fashion, finishing its third consecutive losing season since its appearance in the 2004 Frozen Four, but just inches away from its second straight Final Five appearance.
“There’s not much to say,” said Duluth head coach Scott Sandelin. “This is just kind of the way the year’s been; we haven’t had an awful lot of puck luck or any solid breaks. The way we played, we could have easily been 21-13. This group we have is continuing to grow and will continue to grow.”