ST. PAUL, Minn. — Few teams can claim to have won their last game of the season.
No. 20 Wisconsin can now claim it in back-to-back seasons, although this time it’s a little more bittersweet.
Ben Street scored the game-winning goal with just 9.1 seconds left in overtime, lifting Wisconsin to a 4-3 win over No. 4 St. Cloud State in the WCHA third-place game at Xcel Energy Center on Saturday afternoon.
“It’s always nice to be able to win your last game,” said Street. “It was a typical Wisconsin win, being down and then battling back. It wasn’t pretty, but it was a really nice finish.”
With 15 seconds left to play in overtime, Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves called timeout to rest his top line. As his men took a breather, he noticed his team discussing plans for the upcoming draw in the St. Cloud zone.
“The guys came back to the bench, and they were the ones saying, ‘Hey, if we win this faceoff, you do this, you do that,’” said Eaves. “They took away that ‘I’ve got this’ attitude. They took charge of that moment. Ultimately, they have to be the ones to execute.”
Off the draw, junior Kyle Klubertanz moved the puck to the right, over to senior Andrew Joudrey, who began looking for Street almost immediately. Street, cutting to the net, received the pass and sent it in, beating Bobby Goepfert on the left side with just 9.1 seconds remaining on the clock.
“A lot of it was pride,” said Street. “To be over .500, and send the seniors out with four consecutive seasons over .500, that’s something for them to be proud of and something that we can all be proud of.”
The game started off very well for St. Cloud State, and it appeared at the start that the Huskies were hungry for the win. Just 29 seconds into the game, on the very first shift, St. Cloud took a 1-0 lead when junior Andrew Gordon took a shot from near the boards on the left side of the net. Senior Brian Elliott, making the last start of his collegiate career, made the stop on Gordon’s shot, but freshman Andreas Nodl was waiting on the doorstep to put the rebound home.
“We just wanted to get the ball rolling and play good hockey,” said sophomore Johnny Swanson. “We knew we needed to get back to the way we were playing about a month ago, now that we’re just ahead of the NCAAs.”
St. Cloud maintained pressure for most of the next ten minutes, but Wisconsin would eventually get their chances. Senior Jake Dowell, whose untimely penalty on Friday night was a leading factor in the Badgers’ defeat, redeemed himself by tying the game just over twelve minutes in. Receiving a pass from winger Ross Carlson, Dowell skated in on the net on Goepfert’s glove side. He played a patient waiting game, and after finally getting Goepfert to commit, slipped it behind the Hobey Baker candidate and in.
The goal re-energized the Badgers, who also had the added benefit of a power play shortly thereafter. On that advantage, a howitzer by Klubertanz from the point rattled off the post, but ultimately stayed out.
A hooking penalty to Carlson early in the second period put SCSU on the power play, and the Husky PP unit immediately looked much brighter than it had in recent games. A swift passing display led to St. Cloud’s second goal. Swanson passed the puck from the top of the zone to senior Dan Kronick near the left side boards at the end line. Kronick immediately whipped it through the slot, right in front of the crease to freshman Ryan Lasch, who tapped it past sophomore Shane Connelly to put the Huskies back on top.
At this point, the Badgers were clearly having a discipline problem. Wisconsin took a total of five consecutive penalties in the second period — including Carlson’s — giving St. Cloud more than enough opportunities to put the game away early. On one such occasion near the game’s halfway mark, the Huskies converted and it did seem that the afternoon could be going SCSU’s way. Shortly after a penalty to sophomore Jack Skille, Kronick crashed the net with the puck, and in the resulting scrum, the puck squirted away to Swanson, who picked it up and forced it into the net before Connelly could put a pad on it.
The game was far from over, however, and Wisconsin showed no quit in mounting a comeback. Gaining a power play of their own late in the second, the Badgers displayed grit and hard work in halving the St. Cloud lead. After being frustrated by a tenacious penalty kill effort early in the advantage, Wisconsin used a rush into the zone to find the net. Skille made a quick pass into the slot, and senior Andy Brandt was there to receive it, one-timing the puck past Goepfert on the stick side.
Shane Connelly had to play well in the third to give Wisconsin a chance, and that’s exactly what he did. Early on, the sophomore goaltender made a huge save on a two-on-one opportunity for St. Cloud which would have given the Huskies a two goal lead. Flashing the glove, Connelly came up with the shot and kept the Badgers in the game.
They had to fight for the tying goal, but eventually the fight was successful. With Skille providing a masterful screen in front of Goepfert, Joudrey unleashed a powerful shot that Skille redirected into the net to knot the game at three, and the momentum was clearly turning in Wisconsin’s favor.
The shift would have been for naught, however, if not for a fortunate bounce at the end of the game. Lasch, a speedy forward who was named to the WCHA All-Rookie Team earlier in the weekend, had plenty of open ice as he took the puck into the zone with just over a minute to play. He took a good shot that beat Connelly, but it was ultimately rubber against crossbar, and the crossbar, as usual, won out.
The first part of the overtime was dominated by St. Cloud, and Connelly came up with three big saves in the extra period to give the Badgers a chance. Street’s marker came well after St. Cloud had ceased to be a threat in the Wisconsin end.
St. Cloud State will receive a bid to the NCAA tournament for the sixth time in school history, but are clearly limping into their regional, likely as a number two seed after only two wins in their last seven games since sweeping a weekend against Minnesota three weeks ago.
“The disappointment right now is that we had a 3-1 lead and we let it get away,” said SCSU coach Bob Motzko. “But if this is going to crush us, we’re not going very far [in the NCAA tournament].”
The Huskies may have lost more than the game. Not only did the loss put a number one seed in the tournament in grave jeopardy, senior Nate Raduns, one of the top defensive forwards in the league and a key component of the SCSU penalty kill, left the game with an undisclosed injury and did not return.
Motzko was not optimistic. “This may be a setback, but the real setback is that we may have lost number eight for the NCAAs. That’s the one thing we didn’t want to happen tonight. We’re going to have to rally now and have some more people step forward.”
Wisconsin finishes its season at 19-18-4, having won two out of three games at the Final Five, but the Badgers will not be defending their title in the national tournament.
“To end our careers here at the Xcel Energy Center was as good as we could have hoped for,” said Brandt, who played in his 130th and final game as a Badger. “It was a battle for us all year long, but we kept fighting. The true character of our team showed tonight. No one quit, and no one gave up, and that character carried us through.”