ST. CLOUD – It sounds only fitting that a top-five matchup ends in a tie sometimes, regardless of what the stakes are and how coaches and fans feel about it.
That was the case on Friday night at Herb Brooks National Hockey Center, as the fifth-ranked North Dakota Fighting Hawks and second-ranked St. Cloud State Huskies couldn’t put each other away as they skated to a 2-2 overtime tie in front of 4,631 raucous fans.
SCSU (6-2-1 NCHC, 11-2-1 overall) came into the game in first place in the NCHC standings after sweeping then-No. 20 Nebraska-Omaha on the road last weekend and just one point clear of second-place UND (5-2-2-0, 10-4-5). But the Fighting Hawks were able to secure the extra point to pull even within the Huskies in the standings to raise the stakes for Saturday’s game.
“It was a hard, hard game. And it was a good game,” said St. Cloud State head coach Bob Motzko. “We’re a better hockey team tonight after coming through that. And we haven’t been in any real close games like that where you’re battling back and forth. That’s gonna be the second half of the season.”
North Dakota, coming off a big home sweep of Western Michigan, was able to rally twice after Easton Brodzinski and Ryan Poehling gave St. Cloud State a pair of one-goal leads, answering with tying tallies from Rhett Gardner and Cole Smith respectively.
While nobody got on the board in the first 20 minutes, the stage was already set for an intense weekend series as both teams had chances on the power play and split a total of 22 shots nearly down the middle (12-10 UND).
The Fighting Hawks tried their best to help SCSU take the first lead by taking four early penalties in the second period, but the Huskies couldn’t set up despite a pair of 5-on-3 advantages and being up at least one man for over five minutes. So they decided to take the first lead another way instead as Brodzinski camped out in front of UND goaltender Cam Johnson and tipped a Patrick Newell shot from the right circle not long after the fourth UND penalty of the period expired.
Had any of those power plays been converted, it definitely could have been a very different game, as Motzko knows full well.
“I’d sure like a little different outcome,” he said. “[UND is] a very good penalty-kill team, so you gotta give them credit. But we were fanning on shots. It just wasn’t a good night for us on the power play.”
The Fighting Hawks came right back to tie the game as Rhett Gardner sniped a wrister top-shelf to the left of SCSU goaltender Jeff Smith.
The Huskies reclaimed the lead early in the third as Ryan Poehling picked up an errant UND pass and broke away for the go-ahead goal. But UND answered again as Cole Smith, who hails from Brainerd (about an hour’s drive from the HBNHC) knocked in a rebound for the equalizer three minutes later.
After the 5-on-5 and 3-on-3 overtimes went scoreless, a one-round shootout went in favor of the Fighting Hawks as they gained the extra point and tied the Huskies in the NCHC standings. The final game of the series, which starts at 7:07 on Saturday night, will decide who is in first place in the conference going into the holiday break.
“It’s gonna be tight; it’s gonna be hard-fought. We’ll get our rest, come back and go at it again tomorrow,” Motzko said.
As will North Dakota. After all, what better way to start the Christmas holidays than by going into them in first place in one of the most competitive conferences in college hockey?
SCSU goal at 11:31: Easton Brodzinski (5). Assisted by Patrick Newell (7) and Kevin Fitzgerald (6).
UND goal at 15:16: Rhett Gardner (4). Assisted by Christian Wolanin (10) and Colton Poolman (7).
SCSU goal at 6:15: Ryan Poehling (5). Unassisted.
UND goal at 9:14: Cole Smith (3). Assisted by Johnny Simonson (1) and Wolanin (11).
No scoring; UND won the shootout 1-0.
Power plays: UND 0-2, SCSU 0-6.
Shots on goal: UND 32, SCSU 33.