ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Nick Jensen entered Friday with one goal on the season.
At the end of the night, Jensen was the hero in the offensive end in St. Cloud State’s 5-2 win against Denver at the National Hockey and Event Center.
“It’s just hockey, the puck bounces right to me and I get the shot,” Jensen said. “You have to wait for your opportunities.”
Jensen scored the go-ahead goal at the 10:40 mark of the third period and added some insurance 6:15 later. The junior defenseman and assistant captain scored six goals last season, but scored once in 22 games this year.
He scored both goals Friday from nearly the same spot – the first one from the top of the slot with Denver goaltender Juho Olkinuora out of position. Jensen made a nice move to get around a Denver defenseman and wrist a shot from the inner half of the left circle on the second goal.
“He’s been working so hard and he had some frustrations in the first half of the season,” said SCSU coach Bob Motzko. “He really worked hard on getting open for a shot and he got it through tonight.”
SCSU has now won four straight WCHA games, all of them at home.
The victory got the Huskies back on track after they went 1-3 at home against last-place teams Rensselaer and Northern Michigan in nonconference play, but SCSU played with different energy Friday.
“Those first two weeks after break, we were just unplugged,” Motzko said. “We just forgot about the Northern series and moved on. There was more emotion tonight, getting back in league play.”
Added SCSU forward Nic Dowd: “We have to get back into a playoff mode and playing conference games gets us in that mode. Today was a good marker for us.”
The Huskies piled on Olkinuora before the midway point of the first period, forcing the sophomore to make 13 saves by the 10-minute mark.
Olkinuora finished the game with 33 saves.
“Olkinuora kept us in the game early and gave us a chance to get settled in,” said Denver coach George Gwozdecky. “That’s what he’s been doing for us lately.”
After a scoreless first period, Zac Larazza managed to get his stick on the puck as it floated toward the SCSU goal after David Makowski sent it in from the right half-boards.
But the Pioneers sloppiness with the puck caught up to them quickly and Olkinuora couldn’t bail Denver out all night.
Cory Thorson tied the game at one for the Huskies when he tipped a shot by Ethan Prow past Olkinuora midway through the second period.
With 1:34 left in the period, Dowd won a physical battle for the puck, using his body to gain separation from a Denver player near the point in the defensive zone and skated around Denver defenseman Josiah Didier at the blue line.
Dowd raced in and beat Olkinuora five-hole on the backhand for his 10th goal of the season.
“We weren’t very good defensively,” Gwozdecky said. “Whether it was defensively or we had the puck on our stick. You can’t do that against a good offensive team like St. Cloud.”
Denver tied the game on a rush early in the third period when Ty Loney shot the puck on SCSU goalie Ryan Faragher’s pad and Nick Shore was there to clean up the rebound.
But Jensen took his two successful wrist shots, Nick Oliver added an empty-netter and Faragher finished with 23 saves.
Drew LeBlanc, the Division I leader in assists, extended his streak of consecutive games with a point to 12. The playmaker has just one goal in that stretch.
For Denver, the loss was the first since Dec. 15, when the Pioneers completed their eighth straight game without a win. Denver was 4-0-1 since Christmas.