Huskies Never Say Die
St. Cloud State Overcomes Adversity to Advance
by Dave Berger/CHN Reporter
FARGO, N.D. The Michigan Tech band and fans started a countdown at the 9:50 mark of period two, and when the clock reached 10 minutes remaining in the middle frame, a unison shout of “Halftime” erupted from that corner of Scheels Arena.
Luckily for St. Cloud State, all of the engineers in Houghton hadn’t counted on overtime.
In the first two periods of the 2015 NCAA West Regional semifinal, Michigan Tech took the play to its former WCHA foes from St. Cloud State. The black-and-gold Huskies from Houghton were winning puck battles, finishing checks and showcasing the team speed that won them 29 games on the season.
SCSU sophomore goaltender Charlie Lindgren stood tall through 40 minutes, allowing only Tanner Kero’s rebound goal at 7:18 of the first period. Kero, a Hobey Baker finalist, potted his 20th goal of the season by snaring a rebound in the slot and gave Michigan Tech a 1-0 lead.
St. Cloud head coach Bob Motzko admitted that, were it not for sophomore netminder Charlie Lindgren, the score could have been much worse.
“Charlie Lindgren, we all know, is the MVP of the game," Motzko said. "They won a lot of battles; and they were taking it to us, and we had a goalie that said ‘no, I’m keeping you in this until you find yourselves.’”
St. Cloud State junior Jonny Brodzinki suffered a lower-body injury in the first period but remained on the bench. After testing out his legs during a couple of stoppages, he went down the tunnel and the Brodzinski Watch was on.
Late in the first period, St. Cloud State nearly scored on a 2-on-1 but drew a penalty, the only infraction called in the opening frame. SCSU’s vaunted power-play unit couldn’t capitalize, but Brodzinski took a shift and the puck possession St. Cloud enjoyed with the man advantage seemed to settle the Huskies down.
The 67 seconds remaining in the SCSU power play when the second period began proved to be just enough ticks to get the job done, as Kalle Kossila evened the game at 1:06.
That would be all the scoring in the middle frame, as Michigan Tech outshot SCSU, 14-2, but had nothing to show for it on the scoreboard.
“We know that this time of year they’re all going to be close," St. Cloud State junior Ethan Prow said. "And I think going in with that mindset, you know that you can’t give up too many.”
SCSU appeared to take the lead with 2 minutes remaining in the second period. With a puck up in the air near the blue line, Brodzinski tried his best to stay onside as Joe Rehkamp entered the zone and won a battle along the boards. The puck came free to freshman Blake Winiecki, and he wristed one past Jamie Phillips to put St. Cloud up by one.
After the red lamp, the celebration and the noise came the referee huddle and a goal review. As it turns out, Brodzinski was offside by inches, and the game remained knotted at one.
Heading into the second intermission, there was some question as to how St. Cloud State would respond to a goal being taken off the scoreboard.
The Huskies regrouped in the locker room and turned in a gritty third period effort (22 shot attempts, 10 shots on goal), clearly their best of the hockey game.
Despite the pushback from SCSU, it was Michigan Tech that finally got one to stick on the scoreboard. With 9:06 to play in the third period, it looked as if MTU junior forward C.J. Eick had potted the game winner on a nifty line rush into the St. Cloud zone. Dylan Steman’s touch pass at the blue line sent Joel L’Esperance in two-on-one with Eik, and the junior made no mistake on L’Esperance’ backhand pass across the crease.
The outcome of the game turned on a seemingly innocent play in the neutral zone. With 2:18 remaining and MTU leading 2-1, both teams were whistled for a minor infraction on the same play at center ice. SCSU’s David Morley was called for hooking Michigan Tech’s Alex Petan, while Petan was sent to the box for embellishment on the same play. The teams played four-on-four for roughly 20 seconds (Motzko elected to go with three forwards) before netminder Charlie Lindgren made his way to the bench.
It’s not often that hockey fans see a 5-on-4 man advantage situation with an empty net at the other end, but that’s exactly the opportunity that SCSU created for themselves. By the time the clock ticked down near 40 seconds, Michigan Tech had missed the open net on two separate occasions. On a scramble near the glove side of the Michigan Tech crease, Jamie Phillips was unable to cover the puck and got tangled up behind the net. St. Cloud was able to swing the puck around to the open side and Brodzinski lit the lamp for the 21st time this season. The final 37 seconds of the third period wound down without further incident, and the teams headed back down the tunnels carrying two different emotions with them.
“We had a 4-on-4 situation," Motzko said. "Our power play has been awful good all year long for us, and it gave us a chance to get a power play. You want to get (the goaltender) out right away while they’re fresh… If you wait you take the risk of all of the guys being tired and you’d rather have them all together at the same time with as much energy.”
According to Motzko, the team’s fortunes rose and fell with Brodzinski’s presence (and absence) on the St. Cloud bench.
“I thought it (negatively affected our team’s play) when he got hurt and he stayed down," Motzko said. "Guys like that don’t stay down. We were quiet on the bench, and I think (the rest of the team) thought, ‘What do we do now?’ Because he means so much to our team. And I think in the third period, when Jonny really raised his game, our team started to raise the game. I think (his injury) had an effect both ways, down early and (his comeback) really helped us late.
“I thought in the third period, he was outstanding. we’re a little concerned about tomorrow with what happens in the next 24 hours with him.”
The overtime session found both teams firing pucks from every angle. With fewer than 12 minutes remaining in the first overtime, Michigan Tech defenseman Riley Sweeney unleashed a cannon from the right point that whistled wide of the SCSU net. Sweeney had a chance to redeem himself when the puck came out to him again, but he would suffer the cruelest of fates.
Sweeney fell down on the ice just as Joe Rehkamp was pressuring the puck at the point. Rehkamp was able to create a two-on-one with Judd Peterson. Between them, the two had just eight goals in 72 games this season.
Despite their combined lack of scoring touch, they negotiated a rush into the Michigan Tech zone and when Peterson took Rehkamp’s pass and had no lane to return the favor, Peterson put it on net.
“Their defenseman just happened to lose his balance there and Rehkamp jumped all over it and I followed it up went up and Rehkamp slid it back to me on a 2-on-1, and I didn’t have really a lane to get it back to Rehkamp," Peterson said. "I was going to try to get it back to him but I tried shooting it and it got blocked and it came right back to me and the five-hole was wide open.”
“It was great," Motzko said. "I think it’s two weeks in a row that Judd has raised it to another level. He’s gone through some ups and downs, and you could see him really getting better about it, playing with more confidence and carrying the puck through the neutral zone and wanting to attack the net.”
For St. Cloud head coach Bob Motzko, it’s time to turn the page to Saturday's regional final. He’s cognizant of the impact last season’s overtime victory over Notre Dame in the West Regional had on his team (the Huskies lost 4-0 to Minnesota the following day), and the SCSU staff has a different plan this time around.
“The kids are all going to go back to the hotel," Motzko said. "They’re not going to be around here. We were in this situation a year ago. Hopefully we’re going to learn a lesson because we were too amped up (last year), we stayed up way too late. You can be assured that cellphones are going to be turned off. We need to get some rest.”
The Huskies’ will play long-time rival North Dakota in Saturday's final.
"And then you’ve got North Dakota, and we don’t need a scouting report on North Dakota," Motzko said. "We all know what they can do.”