HOUGHTON, Mich. — Looking to regain their one-point advantage over St. Cloud State in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association standings in the race for home playoffs, the Michigan Tech Huskies won a true dogfight in every sense of the word over the visiting Huskies, 3-2, Saturday night at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena.
Blake Pietila broke a 2-2 tie for Michigan Tech with just 1:38 remaining in regulation when he blasted a shot from the left circle past St. Cloud goaltender Mike Lee. The goal, his ninth of the season, was assisted by captain Brett Olson and freshman defenseman Justin Fillion.
“I don’t really know how I got so open,” said Pietila. “I knew I had to shoot it there, and ended up getting it upstairs and beat the goalie.”
In a penalty-filled opening frame, Michigan Tech earned a four-on-three power play opportunity when St. Cloud (14-16-4 overall, 11-12-3 WCHA) took a bench minor for too many men on the ice. Michigan Tech sophomore winger Milos Gordic fired a shot that rebounded out to assistant captain Steven Seigo at the point. Seigo’s long blast eluded St. Cloud goaltender Mike Lee at 12:39. Freshman winger David Johnstone also assisted on the goal.
“Usually when we start well, that’s when good things happen,” said Olson. “Hopefully, tonight’s win will give us a little start of the snowball.”
Michigan Tech (14-16-4 overall, 11-11-4 WCHA) freshman center Tanner Kero and St. Cloud defenseman Tim Daly took matching minor penalties in the waning seconds of the opening frame. Looking to take advantage of the open ice, St. Cloud struck 1:42 into the second period as center Nic Dowd buried a pass from winger Jared Festler behind Michigan Tech goaltender Josh Robinson.
“They had more intensity, more determination,” said St. Cloud coach Bob Motzko. “We battled hard in the third, and it just comes down to one critical mistake.”
Looking to break the tie, Michigan Tech captain Brett Olson received a pass in front of Lee at the 9:11 mark. He attempted to deke Lee to his backhand, but Lee stood his ground to make the stop.
“We’ve gone a few weeks now without a win,” said Michigan Tech coach Mel Pearson. “I thought it was very important for us to get a win for a lot of reasons. Not just staying in the home ice playoff chase, but just to give us a reward for all the hard work that the players have put in.”
Lee was forced to come up big again with 2:32 left when David Johnstone took a pass in front of him. David Johnstone made a quick move to his backhand, but his shot somehow managed to kick back out in front of the net, rather than in.
Michigan Tech finally struck gold when senior winger Alex MacLeod skated in between the hash marks of the offensive zone circles and beat Lee with a low wrister at 17:38. The goal, MacLeod’s sixth of the season, was assisted by Jacob Johnstone.
“It was huge getting the win for us,” said MacLeod. “We need to get some momentum going into the playoffs. [This was] all-around a great team effort.”
Motzko urged his troops to respond early in the third period, and they nearly did just three and a half minutes in when defenseman Andrew Prochno blasted a shot past Robinson. However, the puck, in defiance, hit the post instead of the twine. A St. Cloud forward had a chance at the rebound, but couldn’t quite get his stick on the puck.
St. Cloud did manage to even things up a minute and a half later when defenseman Nick Jensen took a pass from captain Ben Hanowski and fired a low shot that eluded Robinson at 4:58.
Looking to build off that momentum, St. Cloud had another great chance to score a few minutes later when Dowd carried the puck into the offensive zone on a two-on-one. Robinson didn’t buy Dowd’s attempt to wait him out, and came up with one of his 18 stops for the night.
After Pietila’s goal, Motzko pulled Lee in favor of the extra attacker, but Michigan Tech wouldn’t be denied on Senior Night, as it kept St. Cloud from getting any pucks through to Robinson.