College Hockey:
St. Cloud State wins WCHA regular-season title with win over Wisconsin

— Knowing his team had great forwards, great defensemen and a lot of depth, freshman Jonny Brodzinksi knew St. Cloud State had a chance to make an impact in his team’s final season in the WCHA.

He knew it despite his team being picked to finish sixth in the league’s preseason media poll and without him having skated in one game.

“We thought we were going to be a really good team and a contender,” said Brodzinski. “Since day one, we really thought we were going to be up there.”

On Friday night, No. 8 SCSU got to the peak of the league’s mountain, scoring three goals in the third period for a come-from-behind 4-2 victory over No. 14 Wisconsin in front of 3,863 fans at Veterans Memorial Coliseum to clinch at least a share of the MacNaughton Cup.

Two of those four goals came from Brodzinski, who leads the team with 19 goals and leads the nation in goals for a freshman.

He got the Huskies (21-13-1, 18-8-1 WCHA) on the board with a power-play goal at 10:40 of the second period to tie the score at one and tied the score at two at 1:11 in the third period when his shot caromed off a UW defenseman and into the net.

“[Nineteen goals], that’s one heck of a year for a freshman,” said St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko.

The Huskies didn’t lead until there was 3:35 remaining in the game after junior assistant captain Nick Jensen’s fourth of the season trickled over the goal line, but it was enough to win the program’s first WCHA regular-season title before leaving next season for the new National Collegiate Hockey Conference.

“It’s a goal on everybody’s team,” said Brodzinski, as the Huskies clinched the conference’s top seed and will host Alaska-Anchorage next week in the league playoffs. “Coming as far as this team has, it’s a great honor and it’s something we’ve worked for this entire year. I’m glad we got it.”

Wisconsin (16-12-7, 12-8-7) needed a multitude of things to go its way in order to win its first MacNaughton Cup since 2000, one of which was sweeping the Huskies for the first time since Nov.30-Dec.1 2007. Now, the Badgers can finish no higher than fourth place, but can still finish as low as seventh, meaning they could spend next weekend on the road.

Wisconsin clinches home ice with at least one point Saturday night, but is now 0-6-1 against SCSU since February 2011.

“We’ve been do-or-die for two, three months,” said UW winger Tyler Barnes. “We’ve had a late push all season. Nothing is lost at all. It was a tough one tonight, got a couple bad bounces and just have to come back and refocus.”

Continuing its program celebration of 50 years in the modern era, Wisconsin dubbed the final series of the regular season ‘Throwback Weekend.’ Kicked out of its usual arena due to high school boys state tournament, UW returned to its former home rink for the first time in eight years – a rink in which fans saw UW become a national power by winning five of its six national championship when it served as its home ice from 1967-98.

The energy the Badgers gleamed from the building was tangible early. Already skating without Derek Lee (knee) for the second straight weekend, Wisconsin was stretched thinner when assistant captain Ryan Little was shown the gate at 6:12 in the opening period for checking from behind. It didn’t appear to be an issue, though.

Wisconsin killed off the penalty, including another 1:44 of penalty time, and got Joseph LaBate to zing a wrist shot past St. Cloud State goalie Ryan Faragher on the power play at 14:34 to take the opening lead.

Barnes answered Brodzinski’s first goal with his tenth of the season at 13:36 of the second, but Wisconsin could never tack on another tally despite multiple close chances against Faragher (26 saves).

That made things tougher for Wisconsin sophomore goalie Joel Rumpel, who allowed one goal on fluky deflection and another after Jensen’s shot trickled between a gap in his pads.

“I guess my foot wasn’t on the post and it squeaked in on me,” said Rumpel of Jensen’s goal. “Totally my fault. Would like to have that one back.”

Although sitting in a three-way tie for fourth place in the Pairwise, Motzko isn’t ready to start preparing for the 16-team NCAA tournament quite yet.

“We’re a bubble team,” said Motzko. “We’ve got too much to play for. If we screw up in the next two weeks, it’ll sting. We’ve got to enjoy this for a short time.”

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