MADISON, Wis. — It was considered a chess match between two of the top programs in the country. No.4 St. Cloud State was considered one of the hottest teams in the nation — going 10-2-1 its last 13 games — and playing No.3 Wisconsin, one of the country’s stingiest teams at home, going 12-2-3 in Madison.
After the first couple of moves, checkmate to St. Cloud State.
The Huskies answered every challenge with a dictated response and every difficult situation with poise, jumping on a sluggish Badgers squad with a monster second period to post a 5-1 win in the opener between two squads eyeing the MacNaughton Cup.
St. Cloud State (20-9-4, 15-7-3 WCHA) was outshot 38-24, dominated in the face-offs 37-20, but made productive work with its limited chances, scoring five goals on just 24 chances (20.8 percent) against a unit that entered the game giving up only 2.45 tallies a game.
The Huskies got a goal from all four lines, one on the power play against Wisconsin (18-8-4, 13-7-3) — a unit that had killed 29 of its last 31 penalties — and bounced back from an 8-1 blowout against North Dakota last Saturday to earn their first win in Madison since February 2001.
“We played well in here all these years and never got a win, now we have a win,” St. Cloud coach Bob Motzko said. “I am happy how we responded on Monday, (as) 8-1 wasn’t fun. We had a good week of practice and that shows our leadership.”
Matching up against an offense averaging four goals per game, had four players averaging over a point a game and a team that scored 12 goals last weekend in a sweep of Minnesota State, the Huskies’ defense bottled up Wisconsin’s four lines and its top three scorers, limiting senior Michael Davies (37 points), junior Brendan Smith (36) and senior Blake Geoffrion (35) to only nine shots.
More importantly, it helps St. Cloud keeps pace with Denver, a winner over Michigan Tech, and keeps the Huskies as title contenders in a clustered race, the same thing Wisconsin wanted to prove, but which now sits five points behind the pace with five games left in the regular season.
“Nobody really got in a flow,” senior tri-captain Ben Street said. “It was pretty stagnant on our bench, too. We just never really got into it until halfway through the first.”
Huskies’ goalie Dan Dunn atoned for his last loss, November 21 against Wisconsin, by having one of his better statement games in saving 37 shots, 14 coming in the third period when the Badgers were desperate to play catch up.
“When the puck goes into the corner, they are a very dangerous team and they can work it around really well,” said Dunn, as the Huskies picked up their WCHA-leading eighth road win of the season. “I wanted to get back to where I was before Christmas, and I am happy to pick it up.”
St. Cloud State took advantage of Wisconsin’s sluggish start when senior forward Ryan Lasch’s wraparound goal put the Huskies on the board first at 14 minutes, 14 seconds in the opening period.
Lasch scored his 17th of the season on the play and 36th point of the year by getting Wisconsin goalie Scott Gudmandson to commit to the low shot before skating around the net for the open goal.
“Ryan Lasch has had that wraparound goal; that might be the 30th time he’s done it,” Motzko said. “He can get around that net pretty quick.”
Once the Huskies make the first move in any game, they’ve shown why they are such a challenging squad to beat, as they are now 18-2-2 when drawing first blood.
“We thought it was the key to the entire game, the key to the weekend,” Motzko said of scoring first.
Wisconsin appeared to seize momentum just seconds into the second period when Derek Stepan fired the puck in from the slot to tie the score. The tally ended a long string of futility for Stepan, who had scored only two goals since the World Juniors and had gone eight without scoring.
“You wish you could have gotten the monkey off your back and the win at the same time,” Stepan said.
While Stepan broke his funk, the Badgers fell deeper into one, allowing the Huskies to pounce.
Junior Garrett Roe quickly answered, reclaiming the lead for good on a breakaway goal at 2:25. Roe threaded defensemen Justin Schultz and Cody Goloubef like a hot knife through butter, but allowed the puck to get too far ahead of him. Gudmandson came out of the crease with the intention to clear, but his clearing pass went right to Roe’s stick, who flicked the puck easily into the vacated net.
“It was a gamble,” Gudmandson admitted, who finished with 19 saves. “The goals I let in were just mistakes.”
Added UW coach Mike Eaves: “It took the crowd out of it right away. They were into it, and it hurt. It was one of our errors that cost us a goal. That was a faux pas by our two defensemen.”
St. Cloud State’s two goals in the final 89 seconds made the difference, as forward Ben Hanowski scored on a bang-bang play in front of the net and Tony Mosey found a crack in Wisconsin’s penalty kill for a wide-open goal, bumping the lead to 4-1.
“This was kind of a four-point game in the WCHA and we let that get away,” Street said, as the Badgers dropped to 0-7-2 when trailing after two periods. “They are an opportunistic team and they took the most of their opportunities, and we didn’t capitalize on our chances.”
When Brian Volpei knocked one in off the left post and in at 15:07 in the final period, fans in the three levels of the Kohl Center couldn’t pick up their coats and head for the exits fast enough, the utmost satisfaction to a visiting locker room hungry for its first win at the Kohl Center.
“It wasn’t pretty at times,” Motzko said, “but we weathered some storms and ended strong when we had to be.”