Union, ranked 10th overall in the USCHO poll, scored a pair of first period power play goals to jump out to an early lead and never looked back en route to a 4-1 victory over the #1-ranked St. Cloud State Huskies.
Union's Max Novak got the scoring started at 15:01 of the first period when he deflected a Mat Bodie shot from the point that also bounced off a St. Cloud defender and into the net. A minute and fourteen seconds later, the Dutchmen were back on the power play, and big forward Eli Lichtenwald batted a rebound that hit St. Cloud goalie Ryan Faragher and bounced past him into the net.
The Huskies would make a game of it when Joey Benik's shot from the high slot snuck through traffic for his fourth goal of the season. The Huskies threatened multiple times to score in the late second period but could not get the equalizer, and would get no closer on the evening.
The Dutchmen answered back early in the third period when Mat Bodie's shot from the point found its' way through a tangle of bodies and past Faragher. Nick Cruice added an insurance goal midway through the third period and the Huskies were unable to answer back.
Union goalie Alex Sakellaropoulos was strong in net, stopping 34 of 35 shots, including a number of key stops early in the first period, and late in the second period to hold Union's lead. His counterpart, Ryan Faragher, stopped 25 of the 28 shots he faced, before giving way to back-up Charlie Lindgren after Union's fourth goal. Lindgren made six stops.
The win improves Union's record to 12-3-2 on the season, while the Huskies drop to 11-2-2. The two teams will meet again on Saturday evening to conclude their two-game series.
15:01- Max Novak from Mat Bodie and Daniel Carr (power play) 1-0 Union
A shot from the perimeter deflected off Novak and a St. Cloud defender and found its way into the net.
16:15- Eli Lichtenwald from Mat Bodie and Matt Wilkins(power play) 2-0 Union
Faragher stopped the first shot from Bodie at the point, but Eli Lichtenwald used his big frame to get position and get the rebound. Lichtenwald's shot bounced up over Faragher and into the net.
10:29- Joey Benik from Niklas Nevalainen and Kalle Kossila (power play) 2-1 Union
Benik circled with the puck to the top of the slot and fired a shot through traffic that beat a screened Sakellaropoulos.
0:43 - Mat Bodie unassisted 3-1 Union
On the first shift of the third period, Bodie took a shot from the point that Carr deflected past Faragher.
11:40 - Nick Cruice from Daniel Ciampini 4-1 Union
The Dutchmen cycled the puck through the St. Cloud zone, and Ciampini found Cruice alone in the slot. Cruice fired a quick, hard shot to beat Faragher.
-I was pretty excited to get to see two teams ranked in the top ten face off tonight, and was treated to a pretty strong game. St. Cloud is a notoriously bad Friday team, and they certainly didn't play their best here tonight, but I came away extremely impressed with what I saw out of Union. There's not a lot of standout talent in their line-up, but this is a very deep team. They play smart, solid hockey, and get a lot of traffic in front of the net. All six defensemen were extremely solid all night long, and Alex Sakellaropoulos was very good when he needed to be, and made some very key saves. The Dutchmen definitely deserve to be considered among the best in college hockey this year.
-The turning point in this game clearly came during a stretch of play late in the first period. St. Cloud was in the midst of arguably their best stretch of play, setting up what almost felt like a power play, even though they were five-on-five at the time. But that came to a halt when Ethan Prow was whistled for an offensive zone interference penalty. With the man advantage, Union scored to take a 1-0 lead, and used that momentum to build a 2-0 lead less than two minutes later.
The crowd wasn't very pleased with the call on Prow, but it looked like the right call. Prow pretty clearly set a pick for Nic Dowd, allowing Dowd what would have been a clear shot from the point. If the play hadn't generated such a clear scoring chance, the officials might have let it slide as incidental contact, but when it set up Dowd so nicely, a call had to be made.
-For the first half of the second period, St. Cloud looked like they were just barely treading water. Ryan Faragher made a couple strong saves to keep it a 2-0 game, and it looked like Union's inability to get that third goal would be another turning point when Joey Benik scored a power play goal midway through the second period to make it a 2-1 hockey game. The Huskies peppered Sakellaropoulos with shots in the second half of that period, including a couple half-breakaway saves, but could not get the equalizer.
-It still felt like St. Cloud was in a good position heading into the third period, even though they were down by a goal. Benik's goal, and the strong end to the second period seemed to give the Huskies some jump, and there was some really good energy from the home crowd. But Union took all the air out of the building with a goal just 38 seconds into the period, when Mat Bodie's shot made it through traffic and into the net.
After that, the Huskies didn't seem to have much of an answer, but I was still impressed at how Union played with the lead. Rather than being content to sit back and try and protect the lead, they kept attacking, winning the even strength shot battle in the third period, and adding on an insurance goal that ended up not meaning much, but would have looked critically important if St. Cloud could have found a way to sneak a second goal through.
-Speaking of even strength shot attempts, St. Cloud ended up with a slight Corsi edge of 58-47 in even strength shot attempts, which works out to about 55% to 45%. That feels a little misleading though. St. Cloud's edge stemmed from a big second period, where they out-attempted Union 28-14. The first period(14-14) and third period (19-16 Union) were very close, and if anything, I'd have given the edge to Union, especially in the third period. Add in that the Dutchmen won the special teams battle 2-1, and that with neither team giving up a lot of grade-A scoring chances, the game really came down to who got luckier with tips/deflections/screened shots getting through to the net, and Sakellaropoulos seemed to get lucky on a few tipped shots, whereas Faragher didn't.
-I'll have a lot more on Shayne Gostisbehere next week, but the big story for me was that he really didn't need to log that much ice time tonight. With Union holding the lead for 45 minutes of the game, the Dutchmen were able to rotate all three pairs of defensemen pretty equally, and if anything, senior captain Mat Bodie did the most heavy lifting in terms of ice time. It's always tough to estimate, but I'd put Gostisbehere at about 20 minutes of ice time, and less than that if I'm off at all. That could play a factor tomorrow if Union needs to shorten the bench and play him more.
-6'6" freshman Eli Lichtenwald ended up with the game-winner tonight. What a difference situation can make for a player. Lichtenwald was a pretty average USHL player that sort of floated between forward and defense, and stayed in the league because of his size, but never had the quickness and skating to be a real impact player. He ended up finishing last year with the Nipawin Hawks of the SJHL when he couldn't hold his USHL roster spot as an overager and an import player. Fast forward to this year, where Lichtenwald is centering Union's top line, and his big frame is a key component of the Dutchmen power play. His goal tonight gives him a 6-6-12 scoring line in 10 games this season. He still lumbers around the ice quite a bit, but for a guy that couldn't find a spot in the USHL in the second half of last year, he's quickly become a very effective college player, and it's early, but if he continues to score like that, he'll draw some NHL attention at that size.