ALBANY, N.Y. — To give the St. Cloud State Huskies six power plays in a game this year has been akin to spotting them a goal and a half; only scoring two goals in such a game usually results in a big L on your record.
But Clarkson turned the westerners around on Friday, blanking the vaunted St. Cloud power-play unit and getting big-time performances out of junior Shea Guthrie and seniors David Leggio and David Cayer in a 2-1 victory.
“Clarkson played a great game tactically, they took away the middle of the ice,” said SCSU head coach Bob Motzko.
“For 60 minutes, we played about as well as we have all year,” said Clarkson counterpart George Roll. “I don’t want to say we deserved the win, but we played well enough to win.”
St. Cloud fell to 0-8 all-time in the NCAA tournament, while Clarkson won only its second tourney game in the last 17 years. For two teams with little to no NCAA tournament history, something was bound to give.
“I thought [our penalty kill] was the difference in the game,” said Roll. “With [St. Cloud], it’s like pick-your-poison … and we went hard at [leading scorer Ryan] Lasch. If we’re even in the special teams game with them, we’ll take that,” he said, as both teams went scoreless on the advantage.
The Golden Knights flew out of the gate, outshooting the Huskies 11-4 by the halfway mark of the first period. Each team had quality opportunities — St. Cloud had a handful of odd-man rushes against an oblivious defense — but it was Clarkson’s offense that controlled the tempo as the game took shape.
The Green and Gold did put SCSU’s lethal power play on the ice three times in the first, the second instance of which was especially menacing. A few sharp passes found open shooters low in the slot, but Clarkson goaltender Leggio was equal to the task, denying the Huskies on a pair of full-split pad stops.
By the end of the session, however, the Dogs had evened things up a bit, finishing at a 15-11 shot disadvantage.
The Huskies were the first to tickle the twine, as sophomore defenseman Garrett Raboin ripped a wire from 40 feet out. Leggio appeared confused by the shot, which skimmed the surface and sneaked inside his right post at 4:08 of the second.
Ironically, Clarkson’s power play was the first special-teams unit to score in this game.
After two straight minutes of possession, the Knights’ Bryan Rufenach pounded a shot on net from the left-wing point just as Chris Anderson exited the box. Knights winger Cayer arrived at the long rebound in the mid-slot at the same time as the Husky defense, but the senior managed to send a deflected pop-fly over goaltender Jase Weslosky at with 5:45 on the clock to tie the game.
“There was a brief moment in the second period [when we had it going],” said Motzko, “but we took two penalties in a row,” and that was that.
By the second horn, Clarkson had rebuilt a significant shot disparity, putting 29 on Weslosky to St. Cloud’s 16.
The higher-seeded Huskies, despite the white jerseys and second-change privilege, played tentatively early in the third. Clarkson darted around the offensive zone on the forecheck, and earned the go-ahead goal as St. Cloud fumbled for its game.
Junior Shea Guthrie picked up the puck along the right-side boards, and beat first the defense and then Weslosky on a beauty backhand to the top shelf. ‘Tech nearly made it a two-goal lead just moments later, as a long shot redirected toward St. Cloud’s right post with Weslosky drifting past the left. The soph ‘keeper got a toe to the rubber, though, to discourage a hard-charging Matt Beca from tipping it home.
With only a dozen minutes to play, the Huskies got a golden opportunity as Leggio overcommitted to a wraparound bid. The crease turned into an amalgam of green, yellow, red and white as a mass of bodies fought for positioning. The puck squirted into the slot, but referee Tim Benedetto whistled the play dead as the net lost its moorings.
The out-of-state skaters failed to take advantage of Clarkson’s proceeding interference minor, as the fourth-ranked power play in the nation fell to 0-5. With five minutes to the regulation buzzer, the Knights held a 39-20 shot advantage.
“We have a few different looks that we throw out there,” said Motzko of his power play, “and we threw all of them out there. We just couldn’t get that one bounce.
“We showed frustration at times … guys staying out for the full two minutes, showing our youth. Our youth showed up; you can’t do that in a game like this,” he continued of sophomore snipers Andreas Nodl and Lasch.
Weslosky agreed. “Clarkson’s seniority really came through tonight,” he said.
However, with 15:48 in the books, St. Cloud got one more shot as Tyrell Mason took a deuce for interference in the Clarkson crease. The Knights tested Leggio with two quality bids, but the white-shirts couldn’t apply consistent pressure.
“Leggio made some obviously critical saves,” praised Roll.
Steve Zalewski had a chance to add to his team-leading scoring total, but the Knights’ assistant captain was turned away on a shorthanded breakaway by the big right leg of Weslosky.
Bob Motzko pulled his ‘keeper with a minute to go, but his charges couldn’t hold the zone for the final 41 seconds, much less break through Leggio and the Clarkson rearguard.
“They must’ve gone through a lot of tape,” said Huskies captain Matt Stephenson. “They shut down Nodl on [the left] side.”
Clarkson advances to the second round for the first time since 1996, when it beat Western Michigan 6-1 on the very same ice on which it won Friday.