The day before his team got set to play No. 3 Wisconsin in the WCHA Final Five semifinals, St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko decided to start freshman Mike Lee in goal for Friday’s game.
Never mind that Lee finished the regular season a dismal 6-7 with a 3.03 goals-against average, or that junior goaltender Dan Dunn was named to the All-WCHA third team Thursday with a 12-4-2 record.
“Mike’s had some freshman moments, and our league will do that to you,” Motzko said Thursday. “But he’s building confidence.”
The confidence has showed. In his last three games going into Friday, Lee’s save percentage was .934 — most recently, two WCHA first round wins against Minnesota State last weekend.
Lee was nothing short of spectacular in the Huskies’ 2-0 win against the Badgers Friday. He finished with 37 saves in his second career shutout.
“It was a hard fought playoff game,” Lee said. “They got their shots but so did we. I thought our kind of play was sound.”
Lee came up big for the Huskies in the first period when he faced 12 shots before the first intermission. None were bigger than his stops on Jordy Murray and Michael Davies midway through the first period.
Murray grabbed the puck to Lee’s left and walked in on the crease, but Lee was there for the stop and the rebound ended up on the tape of Blake Geoffrion’s stick. Geoffrion caught Lee out of position out of position and centered the puck to Murray, who wasn’t ready for it as the puck slid through the crease.
Minutes later, Lee had to move to his left to rob Davies with his right toe.
“We kind of made it easy for him because we didn’t really put pucks on net,” Davies said. “But he played well.”
Lee had to make only five saves in the second period but the Huskies needed his best efforts in the third. The freshman, who led Roseau to the Minnesota Class AA State title two years ago in the same building, stopped 20 Wisconsin shots Friday to cling to the shutout.
A Brendan Smith shot rang off the right pipe with around 90 seconds remaining.
“I think he played really well but sometimes being lucky is part of the game,” Smith said. “I think today, he had a little bit of Irish in him.”
Lee’s save percentage after the Wisconsin game: .921 with a 2.61 goals-against average as he continues his three-game winning streak. Lee stood tall in the third period Friday, despite losing his stick a few times in the waning minutes.
“I think we’re going to tape it to my blocker tomorrow,” Lee said.
The Huskies were in the closing seconds of their fifth successful penalty kill when SCSU forward Garrett Roe lost his stick. The puck squirted to the halfboards as Roe tried to beat Smith to the puck.
He dove head-first into the boards with a swiping motion at the puck to clear the zone as his helmet cracked against the boards.
Roe was taken off the ice on a stretcher but no further updates were available.
“It was a big loss,” Huskies forward Tony Mosey said. “We had to get closer and play harder. Other guys had to step up.”
Final Five Follies
The Huskies broke a four-game Final Five losing streak in advancing to the finals, while the Badgers lost their fourth semifinals game since 2006. Wisconsin hasn’t taken better than third in the tournament since 2000, when it lost to North Dakota in the final.
The Huskies will play for their second Final Five title in school history. SCSU beat the Sioux in the 2001 championship game and lost when the two teams met again in the finals in 2006.