One night after a hard-fought overtime victory over Notre Dame, St. Cloud appeared to have little left in the tank to put up much of a fight against the top-seed Minnesota. The Gophers prevailed with a stress-free 4-0 win to win the West regional and advance to the 2014 Frozen Four.
Here's my thoughts from the game tonight:
-It was a slow start that doomed the Huskies. Minnesota dominated the early part of the game, out-attempting St. Cloud 20-8 in the first period. It was only a matter of time before the dam broke for St. Cloud and it did at 11:09 of the first period when Justin Kloos picked up the puck off a scramble in front and scored a pretty wraparound goal.
-They didn't necessarily face the stiffest of competition, but Minnesota did what they had to do by completely suffocating their opponents and building first period leads. It was a very complete effort from Minnesota tonight, with all four forward lines outplaying their St. Cloud counterparts. That was huge, because there was no match-up St. Cloud could put on the ice that would allow them to get the puck out of their zone for an extended period and break up Minnesota's momentum. A team can only play defense for so long before something sneaks through.
-St. Cloud would pick up their effort after giving up a goal, but it's just too difficult to win in the NCAA tournament after giving up the first goal of the game.(More on that later this week.) Add in that they were playing a juggernaut in Minnesota and this game was all but over early on.
-St. Cloud came out with a much better effort in the first few minutes of the second period, but credit the Minnesota defense for doing a very effective job of slowing down St. Cloud through the neutral zone, and not allowing St. Cloud to generate any offense off the rush. It was very hard for St. Cloud to get anything going offensively tonight.
-Seth Ambroz's rebound goal to put Minnesota up 2-0 after St. Cloud started strong in the second period was a real back-breaker. St. Cloud had been playing well, and maybe if they tie the game up, it gives them some life. Instead, they face a near insurmountable 2-0 lead, and it didn't feel like the Huskies had enough gas left in the tank to try and mount a serious comeback
-And Minnesota is not a team that you want to be out of gas against. Because they can do this to you. Or they can do this to you.
-On Saturday night, I talked in my recap about how Notre Dame wanted to slow down St. Cloud's difficult forecheck by being deliberate with a lot of D-to-D passes in their own end to take St. Cloud's first forechecker out of the play. The Irish did okay with that, but Minnesota put on a clinic on how to neutralize a very good St. Cloud forecheck with D-to-D passes in their own zone.
-A very disappointing end to what should be remembered as a fantastic season for St. Cloud. They had some big skates to fill after what they lost from last year's Frozen Four team, and they did that and then some. A huge part of that was the decision of Nic Dowd to come back for his senior season, and you could certainly the gratitude St. Cloud head coach Bob Motzko had for Dowd's decision.
-Unfortunately, two really bad losses to Minnesota are going to be a very bitter pill for the Huskies to swallow. They've made some huge strides in the past two seasons, but wins over Minnesota on a big stage like this probably would have made a bigger impression outside of central Minnesota.
-This was the final collegiate game for St. Cloud seniors Nic Dowd, Kevin Gravel, and Cory Thorson. They were tremendously fun to watch for four years, and left an indelible mark on St. Cloud's program. Bob Motzko said they made both the hockey program, and the university as a whole a better place.
-My personal All-tournament team ballot: Nate Condon, Justin Kloos, Nic Dowd, Brady Skjei, Mike Reilly, Adam Wilcox, Nate Condon(Most Outstanding Player) The only tough decision was which Gopher to pick. It was a very balanced overall effort from them. The final voting for the All-tourney was exactly the same as my ballot, with the exception of Kloos being named Most Outstanding Player.
-Minnesota plays North Dakota in two weeks. I hope the internet can handle it.