ST. PAUL, Minn. — Friday night was the first time this season that Minnesota took the ice at Xcel Energy Center, which is a short drive from Mariucci Arena.
If everything goes according to plan this season, the Gophers will spend a lot of time there in the season’s second half.
The Gophers defeated St. Cloud State 4-1 in the nightcap of the North Star College Cup and will play Minnesota-Duluth in the tournament’s first championship game at 7 p.m. CST on Saturday.
The Big Ten championships and the NCAA West Regional will be played at “The X” this year, so if Minnesota wants to be successful, it will have to successful on the arena’s NHL-sized ice.
“It’s one of those weekends where you have to look at it just like it’s the end of the year,” Minnesota goaltender Adam Wilcox said. “We’re going to play the Big Ten championships here and the next week, we’re going to hopefully be in a regional here. Just like those games, you need to win two. So we’re kind of treating it like that.”
UMD and Minnesota split a series earlier this season – the Bulldogs defeated the Gophers 6-2 in the last game.
“Last time we played them, they, unfortunately, ran us out of our own building,” Minnesota forward Travis Boyd said. “We’re definitely looking forward to getting another shot at Duluth tomorrow, that’s for sure.”
Nate Condon scored the game-winning goal with about five minutes left in the second period on Friday. It was the fourth goal of the season for the senior captain.
The story of the game, however, was Wilcox and his 38 saves.
“I thought throughout the first half of the game, we were trying to find our game,” Wilcox said. “Toward the end of the game, we were blocking shots and getting sticks on pucks and covering guys in front.”
Boyd got the Gophers on the board first in their home away from home when he beat SCSU goaltender Ryan Faragher in the first period on the power play.
St. Cloud outshot Minnesota 16-9 in the first, but Minnesota carried the 1-0 lead into the break.
“We didn’t come out very strong,” Boyd said. “So maybe getting the first one woke us up a little bit.”
St. Cloud dominated the first half of the second period and tied the game up when Johnny Brodzinski lit the lamp. After the goal, St. Cloud kept its foot on the gas, but wasn’t able to grab the lead.
“I’m really happy with our team tonight,” St. Cloud head coach Bob Motzko said. “We came prepared to play. What killed us was their goaltender was outstanding tonight and special teams.”
Wilcox and the Gophers weathered the Huskies’ storm and turned things around in the last five minutes of the second.
Condon got the lead back for the Gophers when he sniped one past Faragher from the right circle and then Hudson Fasching made it 3-1 Minnesota four minutes later on the power play.
“It’s good for him be because he hasn’t scored a goal in a while,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said. “It was good to see Hudson get a goal.”
Minnesota went 2-for-2 on the power play in the game, while St. Cloud went 0-for-2 with the extra man.
“You’re not going to score every night five-on-five,” Lucia said. “Tonight, we scored one five-on-five goal and two power-play goals, so our game was efficient, but I think we can play better in certain areas.”
Motzko replaced Faragher with freshman Charlie Lindgren at the beginning of the third period. Condon instantly greeted Lindgren with a breakaway, but he deflected the backhand shot wide.
“We gave up three goals on 15 shots,” Motzko said. “We needed to stop pucks.”
Lindgren finished the game with nine saves and no goals against. Seth Ambroz scored his 11th goal of the season when Motzko pulled Lindgren in the game’s final seconds.
St. Cloud State will play Minnesota State in the consolation game at 4 p.m. CST Saturday.