St. Cloud's Offense Runs Out of Steam
Huskies Fall Short of Repeat Frozen Four Bid
by Ryan Evans/CHN Reporter
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ST. PAUL, Minn. For the second straight night, St. Cloud State was unable to get much of anything going offensively, but this time it proved costly as No. 1-seeded Minnesota rolled to a 4-0 victory — and a berth in the Frozen Four — Sunday at the Xcel Energy Center.
The Huskies were stifled by a Gopher defense that ranks among the best in the country. Coming into Sunday’s West Regional Final, Minnesota ranked third, giving up an average of just 2.03 goals per game. St. Cloud became the latest team unable to penetrate the Gophers’ blue line, something SCSU head coach Bob Motzko credited to Minnesota’s speed on defense.
“They’re very talented (on defense),” Motzko said. “They connected dozens of passes on their breakout. We were just a little flat-footed. A lot of our shots were on the perimeter and we had a hard time getting that second wave deep into the zone.
“They shut a lot of things down. It was a difficult night for us to get anything going.”
The result was that the Huskies, winners this year of the first-ever NCHC regular-season championship, fell short of a second consecutive Frozen Four berth.
By no means did the Huskies come in as a pushover on offense. St. Cloud led the NCHC and ranked third in the nation in scoring this season at 3.68 goals per game. The forecheck just dried up in St. Paul.
After averaging just over 31 shots per game, the Huskies managed to land just 52 on target in two games at the NCAA Tournament. Take away their 16-shot outburst in overtime against Notre Dame and the Huskies managed just 36 shots in 120 minutes of regulation time.
St. Cloud was able to get away with that against the Fighting Irish in its first round win, largely because they managed to never trail in the game, a luxury the Gophers never afforded them. After Minnesota freshman forward Justin Kloos opened the scoring midway through the first period, the Huskies were forced into catch-up mode and their suddenly snake bit offense was unable to compensate.
“They did a good job splitting their defense and they delayed our forcecheck quite a bit,” a highly-emotional Huskies senior forward Nic Dowd said. “We made it pretty easy for them to play and get pucks out. They’re obviously a good skating group as well.”
Minnesota’s defense proved near impenetrable, forcing the Huskies to take low percentage shots from the fringes of the offensive zone. Of St. Cloud’s 24 shots on goal, 17 came from beyond the circles. The Gophers defense was effective in forcing the Huskies to the outside, which made the night a relatively stress free one for Minnesota sophomore goaltender Adam Wilcox.
Unfortunately for the Huskies, junior goaltender Ryan Faragher was unable to bail the offense out for a second-straight night. After making a season-high 39 saves against Notre Dame, Faragher, who came into the regional battling a bug, was pulled in the second period after allowing three goals on 12 shots.
“Faragher was awful sick a couple days ago,” Motzko said. “He was in the hospital with a couple bags of fluid. He gutted it out yesterday and gave us everything he had this weekend.”
Despite the disappointing performance, St. Cloud has plenty to be proud of this season. A year after the program’s first-ever Frozen Four berth, the Huskies won the inaugural Penrose Cup as NCHC regular season champions — their second-straight conference title — won another NCAA tournament game to advance to their third regional final in the last five years and produced a second-straight Hobey Baker finalist in Dowd.
Maybe down the road the Huskies will be able to reflect on those accomplishments, but for now the wound of the loss to Minnesota is still too fresh.
“It’s hard to boast about your program when you lose, but we’re very proud of what we have going,” Motzko said. “There’s a belief in our program and a belief in each other.
“We’ve been building and we’re going in the right direction. We fell short this year with a team that we wish we had one more shot with in two weeks.”