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Minnesota Tops St. Cloud State in Defensive Battle

Goldy skating Matt Christians/SBN College Hockey

MINNEAPOLIS – While offense was the key factor in the Saturday game between the Golden Gophers and the Huskies, defense and goaltending made the difference on Sunday night.

A Darian Romanko goal early in the third period proved to be all the offense necessary to decide a winner as #10 Minnesota snapped a five-game losing streak to #1 St. Cloud State with a 2-0 victory at 3M Arena at Mariucci. It was the first victory in the series for the Gophers dating back to November 1, 2014.

“When you play St. Cloud, everybody’s gotta be involved. I thought everybody dug in tonight,” Minnesota head coach Don Lucia said. “It was a hard-fought game.”

Defenseman Ryan Lindgren was back in the lineup for the Gophers after an equipment issue kept both him and teammate Casey Mittelstadt from playing up at St. Cloud, and his presence gave Minnesota a huge lift defensively as the Huskies were shut out for the first time this season and suffered just their third loss overall.

“When you have your best defender back in your lineup, it makes a difference,” Lucia said.

Mat Robson got the start for the Gophers in net over Eric Schierhorn, and Robson stopped all 34 Huskies shots to earn his second collegiate victory.

“[I feel] pretty good,” Robson said. “Obviously this is a big win for our team. A step in the right direction, to say the least. We’re gonna enjoy it tonight, but obviously we gotta get back to work and use it as a stepping stone towards the rest of the season.”

Forward Ryan Poehling returned for SCSU after the same equipment issue kept him out of the first game of the series as well. David Hrenak made 19 saves for the Huskies, who had 20 shots blocked but played well offensively in the final two periods despite the zero on the scoreboard. Head coach Bob Motzko couldn’t be prouder of the overall effort, but did address an area needing some fixing.

“We played our tails off. Our guys battled their rear ends off,” Motzko said. “Our power play is rusty; that was one of our issues tonight. We gotta go back to work and get some fundamentals on our power play. Could we have had a better fate? Could’ve, but Minnesota played hard tonight.

“Ryan Lindgren was a huge injection into their lineup tonight. He was a defenseman that they needed to battle us down low, and I thought he was a big difference for them.”

Strong goaltending and defense defined the first 20 minutes of the game. Minnesota did get two power plays in the frame, but to no avail as SCSU continued its outstanding penalty kill for the series. They finished 6-for-6 on the penalty kill in the series while Minnesota was 7-for-8.

Mikey Eyssimont appeared to give the Huskies the first lead with his third goal of the weekend with three minutes left in the second, but it was eventually waved off after a crazy sequence of events beginning with a review for a man in the crease. The goal stood after the review, but then Minnesota challenged for too many men on the ice, and they won the challenge after replays showed the Huskies did indeed have too many skaters.

Motzko had a brief discussion with the referees after the decision was made, but believes the right call was made in the end.

“My guys were mad. I said, ‘Hey, I don’t wanna lose a game at the end of the year on that play.’ I’m okay with the call,” Motzko said. “I don’t know if [the referees] got to it the right way, but I’m okay with that call.”

Early in the third period, the Gophers finally broke through first as a bad SCSU clearing attempt was snared by Darian Romanko and he connected from the slot on a top-shelf wrister.

“[Romanko] scored a big goal tonight. Happy for a guy that does everything right,” Lucia said.

Heavy pressure at the end of the game wasn’t enough to help the Huskies avoid the defeat, and Mike Szmatula scored into an empty net with 38.6 seconds left to seal it and get the crowd of 7,917 roaring.

Not only did Minnesota break a five-game losing streak to archrival St. Cloud State, but they also completed nonconference play with a 9-3 record. Now they can shift their focus back to Big Ten play, where they have 12 games left against the other six teams in the conference. Doing well in those games, as well as playing better on the road, will be the key to success for the Gophers down the stretch.

“When you look at our season right now, we did a great job [in] nonconference. We talked about how difficult our nonconference schedule [was],” Lucia said. “We see everybody one time through. This was an important win for the Pairwise.”

SCSU (13-3-3) fell to 6-1-2 in nonconference play and they get back to NCHC play next week when they host Western Michigan. Minnesota (13-10-1) returns to conference play next week with a home series against Michigan.

Scoring summary:

First period:

No scoring.

Second period:

No scoring.

Third period:

MINN goal at 3:10: Darian Romanko (2). Unassisted.

MINN empty-net goal at 19:21: Mike Szmatula (8). Assisted by Jack Ramsey (4).

Power plays: SCSU 0-3, MINN 0-2.

Shots on goal: SCSU 34, MINN 21.