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St. Cloud State Tops Omaha 4-1 in Series Opener

Matt Christians

Robby Jackson scored twice as #7 St. Cloud State held serve on home ice to keep pace with North Dakota atop the NCHC league standings with a solid 4-1 win over #6 Nebraska Omaha.

Jackson opened up the scoring at 14:34 of the first period when Omaha turned the puck over as they were trying to exit their own zone. Two passes later, Jackson was wide open at the left circle and his high wrist shot beat Omaha goalie Kirk Thompson to put the Huskies ahead 1-0. St. Cloud State would extend their lead less than a minute into the second period when Judd Peterson finished off another pretty passing play to make the lead 2-0.

Omaha would answer back, however, when Jake Guentzel's shorthanded breakaway goal cut the lead in half. The Mavericks would press hard for the tying goal but they closest they would come was a golden opportunity taken away when St. Cloud State goalie Charlie Lindgren made a sprawling glove save to stop Guentzel on a 2-on-1.

St. Cloud State's Jimmy Murray put the Huskies back in front by two goals with a breakaway goal late in the second period, sending the Huskies to the second period locker room leading 3-1. Robby Jackson would add a final insurance goal at 12:56 of the third period to bring the game to its' final score.

St. Cloud State goalie Charlie Lindgren made 26 saves for the victory, while Kirk Thompson made 22 saves in the loss.

The Huskies move to 6-1-0 in the NCHC, tied with North Dakota for first place in the league, while Omaha drops to 3-3-1 in league play. The two teams meet again tomorrow evening at 7:07 for the second half of their series.

Notes and Thoughts:

-This started out as the typical Omaha game. St. Cloud State controlled the play in the Omaha end of the ice for large stretches of the first period, but could not get anything through the wall of defenders the Mavericks kept planted in front of their net. But it was Omaha that was picking up the the higher quality chances by taking advantage of transition opportunities for odd-man advantages.

A couple key differences swung things in favor of St. Cloud State tonight though. First, the Huskies were able to get the first goal. All college hockey games, but especially ones against a team that can really lock things down like Omaha, change so much depending on who scores first. The Mavericks had to be a little more aggressive and couldn't be as solid defensively, and the Huskies didn't need to be as aggressive and risk opening themselves up to make mistakes.

And second, the Huskies are a good team playing good hockey right now. The Mavericks gave them a lot more time and space than they had against North Dakota, and the Huskies took advantage of that by making the extra pass and generating a ton of high quality opportunities. Kirk Thompson made some nice saves and the Huskies hit four posts(including three by Joey Benik), otherwise, this score could have been ugly.

-You could see why Dean Blais said he hated that some teams play on Olympic-sized ice tonight. The Mavericks are great at keeping their defensemen in tight around their own net and limiting opportunities. The Huskies took advantage of the deep corners on the wide ice  all night though. The Mavericks gave them too much time to operate with the puck in the corners, and their defense got stretched out and pulled away from their own net a few times, giving St. Cloud State some great opportunities.

-St .Cloud State freshman Robby Jackson got moved up to the first line, presumably for defensive purposes as St. Cloud State tried to match up the Jackson-Kossila-Russell line against Omaha's top line all night. And he ends up scoring twice, including that critical first goal of the game.

I said in my preview that St. Cloud State's success tonight was dependent on how they controlled Omaha's top line. Pope-Guentzel-Ortega had their chances, but at the end of the night, the Huskies top line scored twice, while Omaha's only did once. If the top lines are even, St. Cloud State is going to win most nights because they're as deep in terms of scoring as anyone in college hockey right now.

-I'm sure some people will scratch their head about Kirk Thompson getting the start in goal for Omaha tonight. Four goals allowed on 26 shots drops his numbers for the year to 3-2-1 3.13 .886, while counterpart Evan Weninger is 8-1-0 1.91 .948.

But it's really tough to place the blame on this one for Thompson. I thought he was solid despite the ugly numbers because he faced a very high number of Grade-A scoring chances. The team in front of him just wasn't very good. Still, I'd expect Weninger to see the start tomorrow night.

-Omaha is just not a very good team once they fall behind. Once they fell behind 3-1 heading into the third period, they were pretty much done. The Mavericks offense relies so much on transition and odd-man rushes and once those disappeared as St. Cloud State grew very conservative in the third period, there just wasn't much pushback by UNO. They had just 11 shot attempts in the third period, which is astoundingly low for a team trailing by two goals.

It's too bad this was only a 40-minute hockey game because the first two periods were really fun up-and-down hockey.

-Jake Guentzel was the best player on the ice for either side. He's just so smart and always in the right position. A big reason Omaha's transition offense works so well is because Guentzel is in the right spot to create a lot of odd-man opportunities, and he's so good at getting open and creating space for teammates that UNO converts on a high percentage of them.

-St. Cloud State's Judd Peterson went hard into boards in the second period and did not return with what looked like an upper body injury. That's a huge loss for St. Cloud State. Peterson is a third liner with 10 goals on the season. Take out Omaha's top four forwards and the rest of their forward have a combined 10 goals on the season.

Fancy Stats

Shots on goal: SCSU:`8-10-8-26    UNO: 9-14-4-27

Even strength shot attempts: SCSU: 18-19-18-55-56.1%   UNO: 14-18-11-43-43.9%

Prime scoring area attempts: SCSU: 7-8-7-22   UNO: 6-8-6-20

What do the numbers tell us?

Even though the shots were in Omaha's favor all night, the shot attempts say St. Cloud State had the advantage in possession all night. The third period numbers are very surprising in that usually you'll see the trailing team control play a little more as they try to even the score, but Omaha wasn't able to tonight.

Final Scoring

First Period

14:34 Robby Jackson from Kalle Kossila and Will Borgen 1-0 St. Cloud State

Borgen made a strong play at the blue line to hold the puck in the zone as UNO tried to clear it. He knocked the puck to Kossila, who passed to an open Jackson just inside the left face-off dot. Jackson's high wrist shot beat Thompson over the glove to the upper right corner.

Second Period

0:44 Judd Peterson from Daniel Tedesco and Jimmy Murray 2-0 St. Cloud State

Murray caught a long stretch pass at the UNO blue line that allowed him to enter the zone. He dropped the puck off to Tedesco in good position, who decided to make the extra pass across the ice to Peterson who had a wide open net from just inside the left face-off circle.

2:52 Jake Guentzel from Justin Parizek and Ian Brady (short-handed) 2-1 St. Cloud State

A St. Cloud State defenseman mishandled Parizek's clearing attempt at the blue line allowing Guentzel to  pick up the puck and come in on a breakaway down the right wing. His high snap shot on the breakaway beat Lindgren to the blocker side.

16:41 Jimmy Murray from Ethan Prow and Jimmy Schuldt 3-1 St. Cloud State

Prow made a long cross ice pass from his own zone to the far blue line to a wide open Murray, who was coming off the bench. Murray made a nice catch of a tough pass and came down the right wing on a semi-breakaway. He cut across the front of the net and made a nice move to his backhand, where he scored high to left side of Thompson.

Third Period

12:56 Robby Jackson from Kalle Kossila and Nathan Widman 4-1 St. Cloud State

Kossila worked the puck out of the left corner to Jackson in front of the net. Thompson got a pad on Jackson's first shot, but Jackson had time to ram the rebound into the net.