Duluth's Loss is St. Cloud's Gain
by Eric Stromgren/CHN Writer
ST. CLOUD, Minn. One opportunity was lost and another was gained at the end of St. Cloud State's 2-1 win over Minnesota-Duluth at the National Hockey Center on Friday night.
Duluth missed the chance to tie Minnesota for first place in the WCHA standings after the Gophers lost 4-0 to ninth-place Wisconsin in Minneapolis. The Bulldogs fell behind 2-0 after two periods and were shut out on all five of their power plays in the loss.
"It definitely stung a lot," UMD captain Jack Connolly said. "I felt like we came out and didn't play our best hockey the first 40 minutes and we can't dig ourselves a hole like that. We just needed to do a better job getting in front of their goalie because he's obviously pretty solid back there."
Duluth was Minnesota's primary challenger for the MacNaughton Cup heading into the final weekend of the regular season. The Bulldogs still have a chance to be co-champions after the season ends Saturday, but need a win combined with a Gophers loss.
Minnesota would still earn the No. 1 seed in the first round of the WCHA playoffs if that situation plays out.
"There's been a couple games here and there that we've been pretty upset about," UMD's Mike Seidel said. "Definitely I feel like we should have been ready to go especially with what's at stake. We just didn't have it and there's no excuse for it. It's pretty disappointing, that's fair to say."
UMD fell behind 1-0 with 5:15 left in the first period on a goal from Brooks Bertsch, while in Minneapolis the Gophers were trailing Wisconsin 3-0 in the second period. Travis Novak put SCSU ahead 2-0 at 6:51 of the second period.
The score of the Minnesota-Wisconsin game, 4-0 in the second period at the time, was posted on the arena scoreboard midway through the second period.
"I think some guys had it in the back of their minds that they (Minnesota) were down and the crowd cheered after they saw the final score there, but we were just trying to stay focused on our game and we were in a tight hockey game," Connolly said. "We felt like we were still in it. With shots here or there we could have got back in it tonight."
The star of Friday's game was goalie Mike Lee, who finished with 35 saves to earn his sixth win this season. UMD's Keegan Flaherty deflected Wade Bergman's shot with 9:59 left in the game for the only Bulldog goal.
Taking UMD's MacNaughton Cup chances away and denying the No. 1 seed was one motivating factor for the Huskies entering the series.
"We knew what their position was," Bertsch said. "They can take the regular-season championship if we don't show up tonight. To take that away from them, that's always good. You don't want to give that away to anybody. We're here to win every game we can. So be it if we can take it away from them. That's even better."
Even more important to the Huskies was the chance to move up in the standings and earn home ice in the WCHA playoffs. The Huskies entered the night in eighth place and left tied with Nebraska-Omaha for sixth following Omaha's 3-0 loss to Denver and Michigan Tech's 5-2 loss to Colorado College.
If the season ended Friday, the Huskies would lose the tiebreaker with Omaha due to their 0-1-1 head-to-head record with the Mavericks this season.
"We're fighting for our lives right now and we control our own destiny," Bertsch said. "Yeah, we're on the outside looking in and we need a little help. We only control tomorrow night. If we can get four points, that's the best situation we got and we'll see where it plays out. It's go time. It's playoffs and we have to keep rolling."