DENVER — St. Cloud State hadn’t played an official game since mid-December. Though the Huskies looked rusty at times Friday night, they beat the Denver Pioneers, 6-3, at Magness Arena. Five St. Cloud players had two points, and goalie Ryan Faragher made 29 saves.
“It wasn’t at all,” said St. Cloud coach Bob Motzko when prompted that it didn’t seem like a 6-3 game. “If they would have won 6-3 I would have thought it was a 6-3 game. We were very fortunate to make some plays. A key power-play goal that we got in the third. We really showed rust. … They played very well tonight, and probably deserved a better fate.”
The six goals was the most Denver goalie Sam Brittain has ever given up in his college career. He had given up five goals in a game six times previously. This also marked the first time since the beginning of November that Denver has given up three or more goals in three consecutive games, a streak that dates to a Dec. 17 game against Massachusetts.
Denver couldn’t have had a better start, and it was from one of the players who returned to the lineup after playing in the World Juniors, Will Butcher. Off an offensive-zone draw, Butcher skated back toward the blue line facing his own goalie. Just before the blue line, Butcher, in one move, spun and got a wrist shot off that beat Faragher low stick side at 1:44.
Denver had the better of the offensive chances for a few minutes after the goal, but St. Cloud State evened it at 7:31 on a sweet give and go. Joey Benik and Jimmy Murray broke in two-on-one, with Murray on the right side of the slot. Murray passed it to Benik at the faceoff circles, and Benik quickly sent it back to Murray, who tapped it past Brittain.
The key to the first period however, was Denver’s defense, as the Pioneers killed off two penalties. St. Cloud had good puck movement, but even when they got the shot off, Brittain was there for the save.
“I give St. Cloud credit,” said Denver coach Jim Montgomery. “They are dangerous offensively. They move the puck extremely well, and they get to the net front and screen your goalie. Our transition to defense wasn’t good enough, but a lot of that is credit to how good St. Cloud is.”
Considering how thoroughly Denver outplayed St. Cloud for long stretches of the second, the Pioneers must have felt snakebit to be trailing at the end of two. Conversely, after giving up a late goal, St. Cloud State must have felt upset to let Denver back into the game.
“If you want to call that strange, I’ll go with you, and you’re right,” said Motzko of the second period. “We were making bad passes, our timing was off, and they kept the momentum going. We lost two one-on-one battles just for the puck, and that kept them alive, and that’s when we took the penalty and they got back on the power play. They were working extremely hard.”
St. Cloud took the lead at 3:31 of the second when Andrew Prochno streaked in with David Morley and got a quick shot off from the top of the left faceoff circle that beat Brittain top corner short side.
Denver regrouped however, and during one stretch kept St. Cloud pinned in the defensive zone for over a minute and just missed a couple of chances from the slot, one of which hit the crossbar. Denver got a power play out of it, but was ineffective with the chance.
“Ryan gave us a chance to win tonight,” said Motzko. “We did get the 3-1 lead, but they had many chances to get back into it.”
St. Cloud got the two-goal lead at 13:54 when Morley, who was in the slot, got a pass from Daniel Tedescho and buried a quick wrist shot.
Denver again put on a lot of pressure, but couldn’t score. A boarding penalty to St. Cloud’s Nick Oliver gave Denver another chance, but the Pioneers were mostly ineffective. However, as the penalty expired, Joey LaLeggia got the puck at the left point and let fly a quick wrist shot that beat Faragher top corner glove side at 17:54.
“I made the one mistake, and LaLeggia made a nice shot,” said St. Cloud captain Nic Dowd. “That was my fault. Other than that, I thought the boys played really well. Faragher is our best PK’er, and he helped us out tonight.”
However, an early Denver penalty negated any momentum the Pioneers had, as the Huskies quickly capitalized. Dowd got the puck on the left side of the crease and got a quick shot off. Brittain stopped it, but the rebound went to Brittain’s left and into the crease. Dowd tapped his own rebound into the open net at 1:52 of the third.
“I think that we put ourselves in a good area,” said Dowd. “We were up by one on the road, and you can’t ask for too much more than that going into the third period. We’ve been in these situations a lot this year, and we’ve had a lot of one-goal games, and we’ve had a lot of games where we’ve had to come back in the third period.”
St. Cloud put the game away right after killing off another penalty. Kevin Gravel carried the puck down the right side and, just before going behind the net, backhanded a pass out to Jonny Brodzinski in the crease, who spun and shot it along the ice past Brittain at 13:29.
“In parts we did (outplay them), but if you look at the whole of the game, we lost the resolve in the third period,” said Montgomery. “As soon as they went up 4-2, I thought we started getting out of character for our team. We took unnecessary penalties, we were taking longer shifts, and we have to learn that it’s a 60-minute game, and just because things don’t go our way, we didn’t have puck luck, if that’s what we’re thinking, we have to stick with it.”
St. Cloud piled on insult to injury at 17:31 when Gravel let fly with a slap shot from the left point that Brodzinski tipped past Brittain’s left pad.
Nolan Zajac got a last tally for Denver with 59.5 second left when he came down the right side and fired a quick wrist shot from the bottom of the right circle that hit Faragher and trickled in five-hole.
“We wanted to stop their defensemen from scoring, and all three of their goals were by defensemen, so we didn’t accomplish that,” said Motzko. “That’s how talented they are. We did make a conscious effort to do that.”