Coming into Friday night’s game against St. Cloud State, it was going to take a special effort from Minnesota Duluth to hang with the second-ranked Huskies with the Bulldogs missing four regulars from their line-up due to injury. And for two periods, the Bulldogs were able to do that, heading into the locker room after the second period tied 2-2. But ultimately, the depth of talent possessed by the Huskies proved too much, as they scored twice early in the third period and rode that to a 5-3 win.
After a scoreless first period, Minnesota Duluth struck first on a short-handed goal by Karson Kuhlman at 2:29 of the first period. But while still on the same power play, St. Cloud State would answer back with a goal by Jacob Benson.
A key moment in the game came at 10:30 of the second period when St. Cloud State’s Will Borgen collided with Minnesota Duluth’s Mikey Anderson away from the puck. Borgen was given a five-minute major penalty for interference, but Anderson would not return to the game, leaving an already thin bench even thinner.
The Bulldogs did not convert on the major power play, but got another opportunity at a man advantage shortly after and converted when Matt Anderson scored his first collegiate goal.
But once again, the Huskies had an answer. Less than two minutes later, Mikey Eyssimont was tripped up by a UMD defender, but was still able to move the puck to a teammate, and the Huskies converted during the delayed penalty when Will Borgen fired a slap pass off the skate of Ryan Poehling and the puck deflected into the net.
That set up a decisive third period, and the Huskies took early control of the period. Kevin Fitzgerald collected his own rebound and put it back into the net to make it 3-2, and Easton Brodzinski followed that up shortly after when he deflected a shot into the net for his first collegiate goal.
The Bulldogs made it interesting when Sammy Spurrell snuck a low-angle shot under the pad of Jeff Smith with less than three minutes remaining to cut the lead to a single goal, but SCSU captain Jimmy Schuldt iced the game with an empty-net goal for the win.
Minnesota Duluth goalie Hunter Shepard was sensational, making a number of big saves and looking much better than his final line of 28 saves on 33 shots would suggest. St. Cloud State goalie Jeff Smith picked up the victory, stopping 25 of 28 shots.
The two teams meet again tomorrow afternoon at 4:07 to complete their weekend series.
Notes and Thoughts
-St. Cloud State is no picnic to play against under the best of circumstances. Their ability to just grind teams down with offensive possession is really impressive. Add in how short-handed Minnesota Duluth was, especially after Mikey Anderson went down in the second period.
The Bulldogs were hanging around for 40 minutes, but at the start of the third period, it felt like just a matter of time until the Huskies were able to convert.
-Goal tending has been my biggest concern for Minnesota Duluth all year. But despite some meh numbers, I thought Hunter Shepard was exceptional tonight, and played a big role in making sure the question was even in question as long as it was.
The Bulldogs got absolutely bombed in the early stages of the first period, but Shepard made a number of Grade-A saves to keep the game scoreless after the first period. If Minnesota Duluth ever gets healthy, and can get goaltending like they got tonight, they’ll be a scary team in the second half of the season.
-I thought Shepard’s counterpart on the other end, SCSU’s Jeff Smith didn’t have the best game. While three of the goals Shepard gave up were weird deflection plays that he didn’t have much chance on, I thought all three goals allowed by Smith were at least saveable, if not soft.
-The other Bulldog I really liked tonight was Karson Kuhlman. He’s such a great skater, and just makes a lot of tough, veteran plays. He was responsible for both of UMD’s goals tonight as well. His first was a pure hustle play where he caught Jeff Smith napping in his crease and beat him around the net.
On the second goal, Kuhlman beat a St. Cloud State defender wide with his size, drawing a penalty, and the Bulldogs were able to convert on the man advantage. He’d make a tremendous complement to skill guys like Joey Anderson and Nick Swaney, if they were healthy.
-One thing that has really impressed me about St. Cloud State so far is their ability to take a punch. They’ve trailed in four of their six games this year, and have found ways to come back and win them all. To go down 1-0 on a short-handed goal could have been a big blow to them, but they answered right back on the same power play. When they went down 2-1, they ramped up the intensity again and had tied it in less than two minutes. That can be a dangerous game to play, but they’ve got the firepower to do it.
-Kevin Fitzgerald scored a big goal and added an assist tonight, and continues to be one of the most inexplicable stories in the country. Fitzgerald averaged about a point-per-game last season as a 20-year-old with the Aberdeen Wings of the NAHL, which was good for 9th in the league. As a 19-year-old in the NAHL, he had only 25 points, and the year prior to that, spent half the year playing Tier III hockey. That’s not exactly the junior resume of a player you’d expect to see on the first line of maybe the best team in the country like Fitzgerald is right now. He’s maybe not the most skilled, athletic kid, but he really understands what is going on out there, and in a system like St. Cloud State’s, he’s really thriving.
-Here’s Will Borgen’s hit on Mikey Anderson. I could see some supplemental discipline stemming from this.
Shots on Goal: SCSU: 10-12-12-34 UMD: 7-11-10-28
Even strength shot attempts: SCSU: 15-15-12-42 UMD: 10-14-21-45
Prime scoring area attempts: SCSU: 11-10-7-28 UMD: 6-8-6-20
What do the numbers tell us?
St. Cloud State had a significant edge in the first period in terms of possession, and then things evened out in the second period. The third period numbers don’t show how much SCSU controlled the early part of the period where they built their lead. The Bulldogs racked up some shot attempts late, but most weren’t all that dangerous.
2:29 Karson Kuhlman from Mikey Anderson (short-handed) 1-0 Minnesota Duluth
Kuhlman picked up a loose puck near the left goal line. He hustled around the back of the net and beat Smith to the far post to shove in the wraparound goal.
2:48 Jared Benson from Robby Jackson and Jimmy Schuldt (power play) 1-1 tie
Jackson took a shot into traffic from the top of the left circle. The puck deflected off a Bulldog defender in front of the net and onto the stick of Benson at the left side of the crease, and he put the puck into the net.
17:11 Matt Anderson from Riley Tufte and Peter Krieger (power play) 2-1 Minnesota Duluth
The puck bounced to Anderson at the left circle and he put a quick wrist shot over the shoulder of Smith for his first collegiate goal.
18:52 Ryan Poehling from Will Borgen and Kevin Fitzgerald (delayed penalty) 2-2 tie
On a delayed penalty, Fitzgerald entered the offensive zone on the left wing and passed it cross-ice to Borgen. Borgen fired a slap pass that deflected off the skate of Poehling and into the net.
6:33 Kevin Fitzgerald from Ryan Poehling and Mikey Eyssimont 3-2 St. Cloud State
Poehling entered the zone on a rush down the left wing. He found Fitzgerald trailing the play with a cross-ice pass. Fitzgerald’s first wrist shot went off the helmet of Shepard, but he retrieved his own rebound and scored on the second attempt.
8:18 Easton Brodzinski from Patrick Newell and Jack Ahcan (power play) 4-2 St. Cloud State
Newell took a waist-high wrist shot from the point. Brodzinski was parked directly in front of the crease and got a tip on the puck to knock it past Shepard and into the net.
17:02 Sammy Spurrell from Blake Young and Scott Perunovich 4-3 St. Cloud State
Spurrell had the puck along the left goal line and took a low-angle shot that slipped under the pad of Smith.
19:23 Jimmy Schuldt from Jacob Benson and Judd Peterson (empty net) 5-3 St. Cloud State
Schuldt fired the puck from his own zone and was able to hit the empty net to ice the game.