ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Its not unusual to see teams getting shut down defensively, being forced to make their way through clogged passing lanes and take fewer shots when No. 13 Wisconsin is playing.
Its just not usually the Badgers who are facing those difficulties.
Ninth ranked St. Cloud States sophomore Jase Weslosky recorded 24 saves on as many shots, while classmate Andreas Nodl had a goal and an assist as the fifth-seeded Huskies put the clamp down on six-seed Wisconsin, 3-0, Friday night in Game 1 of their WCHA playoff series at the National Hockey Center.
I think everyone on the planet was anticipating a one-goal game, St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko said. It was a team effort tonight on defense.
The Huskies dominated play during the first period, taking the lions share of the quality scoring opportunities and forcing Wisconsins Shane Connelly to be sharp right from the get go.
Five-and-a-half minutes into the game, Wisconsin junior Ben Street was sent off for holding, and about 30 seconds later, sophomore Blake Geoffrion joined him in the penalty box after a tripping call during the penalty kill, giving St. Cloud State a long 5-on-3 chance. Connelly stood tall while the Wisconsin defense played well in front, smothering the Huskies opportunity.
It appeared to give Wisconsin the life they needed to take charge.
I thought we could start rolling from there, Connelly said. It was huge to start the game with a 5-on-3 kill. Youd like to be able to jumpstart something from there.
Unfortunately, St. Cloud was settling in with a game plan similar to that usually employed by the Badgers: tight defense, tight defense, tight defense.
Theyre such a good team when it comes to eliminating chances, Nodl said. You rarely get a Grade A chance with them. You rarely get a good rebound, and they rarely make mistakes. As long as you work hard to try and create chances you have an opportunity to find succeed.
A second power play opportunity in the period presented the Huskies with the opening they needed to notch that first goal, always important when defense is the name of the game. A wrister from junior John Swanson from the top of the slot evaded Connelly with less than a minute to play in the first period.
Theyre not known for shooting the puck way up there, Connelly said. It took me a little by surprise. I thought I had it, but thats kind of the way the night ended up going.
The Badgers had perhaps their best opportunity to pull back into things during the second period, where they loosed 10 shots on Weslosky, but the sophomore held his own throughout.
You have to keep yourself ready, Weslosky said, referring to a relatively easy first period being followed by a tougher second. You have to be ready to stop a shot no matter what the case is, whether youre getting two or 10 in a period.
Late in the period, sophomore Ryan Lasch — who took the WCHAs scoring crown with 34 points in the regular season — made it a 2-0 game with a quick chip shot in front of Connelly that went in on the stick side.
I didnt get a chance to see Lasch coming out, Connelly said. He was there and I wasnt able to get a good read on who it was in front. It was such a bang-bang play.
Two power-play opportunities in the third period were insufficient to bring Wisconsin back into the game, and Weslosky completed his shutout effort, his 3rd of the year. Nodl added a one-timer on the power-play midway through the period to essentially seal the deal for St. Cloud State.
The whole team knows whats at stake, Nodl said. We know that if we dont win this series, our season is going to be done. Scorings never really been a problem, its been our defensive effort. If we can keep things going like this were going to be in really good shape.
For the Badgers, the series itself presented a bit of a challenge — it was their action in two weeks following a bye during the last week of the regular season, and it was in the exact same building against the very same team that they had completed their campaign against.
“You can blame it a bit on the week off, but I don’t buy that personally, Street said. We could have done a better job. We made a few mistakes that maybe you make after not playing for a week, but we prepared for this series. We come back into this building, and we had a pretty good weekend here last time. It’s just different every time you come here and it was really frustrating tonight.”
The win put the Huskies just one win away from their third consecutive Final Five appearance.
The defense in front was fantastic, Weslosky said. Theyve been phenomenal the last couple of games. They probably had as many blocked shots as I had saves tonight.
The series continues Saturday night at the National Hockey Center.
I think well see a completely different energy level (from Wisconsin) tomorrow night, Motzko said. I get the feeling theyre going to be much better tomorrow.