MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Golden Gophers are headed to the WCHA Final Five and possibly the NCAA tournament. And after Saturday’s 3-0 win over St. Cloud State, Huskies head coach Bob Motzko wasn’t shy about explaining why.
“They swept one team all year,” Motzko said of Minnesota. “Us. Three times.”
The Gophers (17-12-7) compiled a 6-0 record against the Huskies (18-17-3) this season — a four-game sweep of the regular-season series and two more wins in the teams’ first-round WCHA playoff series.
Collectively, those victories helped Minnesota to home ice and then to next weekend’s conference championship in St. Paul, ending St. Cloud State’s 2008-09 campaign in the process. Minnesota, which advanced to its 11th consecutive Final Five, has never lost a first-round WCHA playoff series at home.
“They destroyed our regular season, and they destroyed our playoffs,” lamented Motzko. “We made their season. Six wins?”
On Saturday, the sixth and last of those was keyed by Minnesota netminder Alex Kangas, who made 21 shots for his second shutout in three games, raising the Gophers’ hopes of a bid to the national field of 16 and possibly the Broadmoor Trophy.
“It’s funny,” said Kangas. “I don’t understand why we went 6-0 [against SCSU], but I’m not going to complain, obviously.”
“St. Cloud’s an outstanding program,” said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia. “Whether it’s a matchup or a bounce here or there, we had their number.”
Friday’s series opener was a spirited affair; Minnesota jumped out early and SCSU mounted two rallies from two-goal deficits but could never get back to a tie.
Saturday, though, was a workmanlike performance by Minnesota, as St. Cloud outshot the Gophers 34-21 but watched the hosts gradually extend their lead all game long. Captain Ryan Stoa scored his 23rd and 24th goals of the season to pace the Minnesota offense, and Kangas made those goals stand up.
The opening frame was quiet, especially after the first few minutes. Stoa put the Gophers on the scoreboard with a give-and-go, taking Cade Fairchild’s return pass and firing it inside the right post at 4:09 of the first period.
After that, however, Minnesota only managed two more shots on goal before intermission. St. Cloud stepped up the pressure as the period went along, but there were few quality scoring chances for either side in the opening 20 minutes.
But after a hook on SCSU’s David Carlisle midway through the second period, Jay Barriball gave Minnesota its third power-play goal of the weekend.
Jordan Schroeder was the playmaker, taking a pass from Stoa and slipping a diagonal pass through the slot for Barriball, who buried it into the top left corner of the net to make it 2-0 at 7:44.
Travis Novak had a chance to put SCSU on the board a few minutes later during a Husky power play, but missed a wide-open net while standing unmarked to Kangas’ right.
At the opposite end, Stoa nearly made it a three-goal lead for Minnesota with a point-blank stuff attempt, but SCSU netminder Jase Weslosky (31 saves) stood firm.
Kangas returned the favor to open the third period, robbing Jordy Christian on a rebound chance from the edge of the crease to maintain the shutout.
“You could see Alex was on his game all weekend long,” said Lucia.
SCSU had two power-play opportunities late in the game, the second after a slash by Barriball with 1:20 left. Weslosky was pulled for the six-on-four, but with 32 seconds left Stoa dumped home the shorthanded empty-netter to account for the final.
“Your best players have to be your best players,” said Lucia, particularly in reference to his top line. “And they were, all weekend long.”
“Scoring was a little bit of an issue for us down the stretch,” said Motzko. “We were playing well enough that we had some opportunities, but…”
Minnesota next plays Minnesota-Duluth — which swept Colorado College this weekend — on Thursday in the Final Five play-in game at the Xcel Energy Center.
That game may eliminate the loser from NCAA tournament consideration depending on other results later that weekend, so winning is still a must.
“We don’t have any control over it,” said Lucia. “We just have to worry about ourselves.”