While Saturday's game ended with the same 5-1 score as Friday night, there seemed to be some distinct differences in the two games. On Friday, St. Cloud jumped out to a 3-0 lead 15 minutes into the game, and cruised to an easy win. On Saturday, it was a very tight hockey for the first two periods before St. Cloud was able to score two early goals in the third period, and Minnesota State kind of unraveled.
For Minnesota State, the biggest problem so far this year has been finding a way to play good, consistent hockey for an entire 60-minute game. They were able to mask and overcome that problem a bit against less talented non-conference opposition, but that just isn't going to work against WCHA competition. Perhaps this weekend will serve as a bit of a wake-up call, after they escaped with a win and a tie in each of their previous two series against non-conference opponents.
Meanwhile, St. Cloud State looked like a team capable of competing with the upper echelon of the WCHA this year, even without the services of their best player, Ben Hanowski, tonight. One of the big keys for St. Cloud this year will be how goalie Ryan Faragher can take them. He was excellent tonight when he needed to be, especially during a stretch in the second half of the second period when he made three or four key stops to keep Minnesota State off the scoreboard and maintain a lead for his team.
I'll have a more in-depth article coming later this week, but Nic Dowd was just dominant. He had a goal and an assist show up on the score sheet, but where he really made the difference in this game was winning nearly every battle along the boards. He was also really good in the face-circle. Last year, he looked like a player with a lot of promise, and tonight he looked like a player that had taken that next step. We might be talking about him as one of the best in the WCHA if he continues to perform like this.
Finnish freshman Kalle Kossila looks like the real deal as well. European players coming to North America for the first time are always wildcards, but Kossila seems to have had no problem adjusting. He's got some really slick hands that should allow him to put up a lot of points this year.