ST. PAUL, MN — Any time two top teams play, a dogfight is expected. Such was the case tonight, as No. 5 St. Scholastica hit the road to take on No. 7 Hamline in a non-conference tilt. With both off to impressive starts in their respective seasons and both featuring very similar styles, most figured this one might go down to the wire. As it played out, however, it was the road Saints, who behind two goals from Jordan Chong and a shutout by goaltender Brennan Poderzay, shut down the Pipers and pulled away for a 4-0 victory at Drake Arena.
Neither team was able to get much going in the opening minutes, but that changed as the Saints jumped up 1-0 at 6:59 of the period when Damon Milsom hit Chong on a breakaway. A quick forehand fake froze Pipers’ goaltender Beau Christian briefly and Chong slid it five-hole to stake the Saints to an early lead.
“[Getting an early lead] was very important to us and that was something we stressed,” said St. Scholastica coach Mark Wick, whose Saints are now 9-2-2 on the year. “Hamline was coming off games last week against Adrian and we were coming off the break not knowing how it would affect us, but I thought we did a great job.”
Hamline nearly tied the game with about eight minutes remaining in the period when a centering pass found the stick of the Pipers’ Jordan Van Gilder, but Poderzay shut the back door at the last second and make the stop. It was one of the best scoring chances the Pipers generated on the night.
It remained 1-0 Saints at the end of a period that featured plenty of end to end action and quality puck movement, but little by way of high quality scoring chances. The Pipers held a 5-4 shot advantage in the frame.
“Hamline is a very good hockey team and for us to get out like that I was very happy after the first period,” Wick said.
The Saints extended the lead to 2-0 at 4:01 of the second period when Chong struck again in transition. A long breakout pass, again from Milsom, set up a two-on-one with Chong and Brett Corcoran in which Chong kept it himself and buried a wrister over Christian’s right shoulder.
“Chonger’s been great,” Wick said. “Since the Lawrence game in the Thanksgiving tournament, he’s really stepped up his game. He’s been very productive”
The Pipers received back-to-back power plays in the minutes following Chong’s goal, but were unable to get pucks deep on the St. Scholastica kill units, no less on Poderzay, and the penalties expired without incident.
The lead grew to 3-0 at 9:52 when a centering pass from the Saints’ Chris Sinclair was deflected in by Carter Davis. There was a brief discussion as to whether the puck was kicked in, but the officials deemed it a legal goal and the Pipers were in a three-goal hole against one of the best defensive teams around.
The Pipers received another power play with just over three minutes left in the period, but were once again unable to get on the board, thanks in part to the shot-blocking prowess of the Saints’ penalty kill unit.
“They did a great job keeping pucks out and it’s something we really stress,” said Wick of his penalty killers.
The third period rolled out much the same as the first two, as the Saints were largely able to keep the Pipers to the outside, in turn keeping Poderzay’s work load relatively light one.
All hopes of a Hamline comeback were dashed at 6:51 of the period when Chong hit Corcoran on another two-on-one. This time it was Corcoran who beat Christian and it was 4-0 Saints.
With ten minutes to go, Pipers’ forward Brian Arrigoni finally beat Poderzay, but his shot clanged off the crossbar and harmlessly out of play. The Saints only allowed six shots in the final frame, all of which were stopped by Poderzay. He turned back 16 in all to garner his second consecutive shutout.
“He’s been playing very well,” said Wick of Poderzay. “He’s been playing very confidently and I’m very happy for him. He got this tonight and he’s the type of guy who will be in the weight room tomorrow morning at 5:00 a.m., so it was real nice to see him get this.”
St. Scholastica outshot Hamline 19-16 on the night and the difference in the game was the Saints’ ability to convert on the few grade ‘A’ chances they managed to create.
“I think it was two teams that play a very similar style and both play good team defense, but like to get up the rink as well,” said Wick. “We knew it wasn’t going to be a horse race and there wouldn’t be a lot of chances and we would need to capitalize on our chances. Tonight we did that.”
Wick was especially pleased with the Saints’ defensive efforts over the final half of the game, as they did not break form and get complacent despite holding a three-goal lead.
“That’s something we stress and we are very confident with our depth and are used to being in these situations over the past few years. We told our guys they weren’t going to win the game in the first period. We set it up to hopefully be in the game in the third period with a chance to win and that’s what we were able to do.”