ST. PAUL, Minn. — Before the first NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinal, top-ranked St. Cloud State might have had reason for concern.
The Huskies had played their opponent, Colorado College, four times during the regular season, and CC had led in each of those games. The two had also tied in their previous outing in February.
“Obviously a playoff battle,” said St. Cloud coach Brett Larson. “In this league, in this tournament, you knew it was going to be tough. I thought CC played hard. You could tell that they’ve been battle tested.”
However, after a slow start, the Huskies rode two assists from Blake Lizotte and a goal and assist from Patrick Newell to a 5-2 win over Colorado College, sending the Huskies into the NCHC championship game and ending CC’s season, as the Tigers are not high enough in the PairWise to make the NCAA tournament.
CC goalie Alex Leclerc looked sharp early, making several saves, including one on Nick Poehling from right in front of the crease. St. Cloud had the better early scoring chances, though shots were even.
Near the midway point of the period. Ryan Poehling of St. Cloud went hard toward the net and appeared lost and edge. He went headfirst toward the boards, bracing himself as he hit with his forearms, and was shaken up and left the ice, possibly with a concussion. He did not return in the game, and his status for Saturday was unknown at press time.
“It was really scary,” said Larson. “Obviously it doesn’t matter who it is, that was a scary moment. He lost an edge, and that’s a scary moment in the hockey game. Everyone was holding their breath on the bench. I can tell you this, he’s going to be OK. We’ll just see how bad the injury is by the morning.”
Right after that, CC went on a power play when Robby Jackson was called for goaltender interference. The Tigers made them pay, as Westin Michaud got a pass from Trey Bradley and released a snap shot short side from the left faceoff dot as he drove the lane, beating Dávid Hrenák at 9:47. Right after CC scored, Jackson was sent back to the box for a 10-minute misconduct.
However, much like every game CC played against St. Cloud during the regular season, they couldn’t hold the lead. On St. Cloud’s first power-play opportunity, Patrick Newell rifled a shot short side at 12:27 from the top of the left circle.
“They’re resilient,” said Michaud. “They’re the best team in the nation; that’s my opinion. There were times when we didn’t play our style and our way and worked hard enough, and it kind of cost us, but there were other times where we were positive and brought it to them.”
St. Cloud then took the lead almost immediately after, as Jon Lizotte intercepted the puck on a clear near the right point and sent a pass to Nolan Walker streaking on the left side of the slot. Walker redirected it past Leclerc at 12:51.
“They’re a team that really plays off momentum,” said St. Cloud State captain Jimmy Schuldt. “We’ve seen that in the four games we’ve played them this season. We made a couple good plays to get a lead, and that was definitely a turning point in the game.”
Later in the period, CC’s Trevor Gooch was called for a five-minute major and game misconduct for contact to the head, giving St. Cloud a golden chance to stretch the lead. However, the Tigers were able to do damage control on their penalty kill, keeping it a one-goal game at the first intermission.
St. Cloud still had a minute of power play at the start of the second period, but the Tigers killed it off. St. Cloud then took consecutive power plays in the first 10 minutes of the second, but CC was unable to convert.
“The game is 2-1, and then it’s 3-1, and I think we had some chances there,” said CC coach Mike Haviland. “I still liked the way we battled. We never quit in the game. We kept coming. They took care of their opportunities, and we didn’t in ours.”
Instead, as play resumed to five-on-five, St. Cloud took the two-goal lead. CC’s Zack Berzolla was unable to keep the puck in the offensive zone, and Blake Lizotte raced up the left boards. He first a shot from the top of the circle that went wide, and it came to Spencer Meier at the right point, and he fired a shot that Berzolla deflected into the air, where Jackson knocked it out of the air and into the net at 9:38.
“I came down the ice; I kind of got a break out of the D zone and missed the net by about five feet,” said Blake Lizotte. “I kind of shook my head on that one. Spencer Meier made a great play, didn’t take any time and threw it at the net, and Robby obviously made an incredible play batting it out of the air.”
The game went slowly, but St. Cloud extended its lead at 7:21 of the third when Jack Ahcan got the puck at the left circle and fired a shot that beat Leclerc five-hole. After a review for potential goaltender interference, the goal stood.
CC did get one chance to get back in it. With Nick Perbix already in the box, Jon Lizotte got whistled for a five-minute major and game misconduct for checking from behind, putting the Tigers on a five-on-three power play for 1:25. Haviland then pulled Leclerc for a six-on-three advantage, but the Tigers only managed one shot on net with that numerical advantage.
With only the major time left, Haviland put Leclerc back in the net, but CC finally capitalized on its special teams chances at 14:47 when Bryan Yoon fired a wrist shot from the center of the blue line that beat Hrenák high glove side.
Right after that, CC had a golden chance from the slot, but Hrenák made the stop, and then Nick Poehling ended any hopes of a CC comeback by beating Leclerc from the left circle with a shot high glove side.