ST. CLOUD – Well, if we’ve learned anything before the holiday break, it’s that there is going to be quite a battle in the NCHC this season.
#2 St. Cloud State will be feeling pretty good going into Christmas for now, though, as they rode a pair of Mikey Eyssimont goals and a 34-save performance from freshman David Hrenak to a 3-1 victory over #5 North Dakota on Saturday night at Herb Brooks National Hockey Center.
“It was entertaining,” Huskies head coach Bob Motzko said. “Both teams played their tails off.”
When describing Hrenak’s excellent performance, Motzko said, “When he’s relaxed, he looks awful good in there. He just makes things look easy.”
Robby Jackson also scored for the Huskies (7-2-1 NCHC, 12-2-1 overall), who reclaimed first place in the conference with the victory.
“We know playing Nodak, it’s always a different type of beast,” Eyssimont said. “We have to play fast and we have to play harder. It’s also NCHC, and every game is tough.”
First place has to feel pretty nice for Motzko and the Huskies. But as anyone will tell you at this point in the season, there’s a long way to go.
“I like it, but I’m more how we played,” Motzko said. “We had one blip in the first half in the weekend out to Denver, and we rebounded from it. We put ourselves in a good position. I like being there, but it’s only December. We’re not even at the halfway mark of our league.”
As for Hrenak, who got his first taste of the tremendous North Dakota attack after being informed he would start earlier Saturday, there’s a possibility that he will face Motzko when the World Juniors begin in less than three weeks. Motzko will coach Team USA and Hrenak will be playing for his native Slovakia, and the teams will face each other on December 28, the third day of the event. How will that fare, you may ask?
“Every game will be hard; I’m really excited I can go,” said Hrenak, who found out last week he was selected to the Slovakia roster.
But he thinks he got a good tune-up from a very good UND team, to say the least.
“I can say that was probably the hardest game for me [in] my hockey career,” he said.
Cole Smith had a goal and Cam Johnson made 15 saves for the Fighting Hawks (5-3-2-2, 10-5-5), who had 30 shots blocked on the evening.
"Tonight, I'm not disappointed in the effort and the compete. Obviously, the result [I am],” North Dakota head coach Brad Berry told the Grand Forks Herald. “Tonight, we came up a little short. It was about a two- or three-minute span where we gave up a couple of goals. You have to play a 60-minute game to win against a good team.”
Like on Friday night, the first period went scoreless. But the floodgates opened in the second period as the Huskies scored three times in a span of 6:24 to soar ahead of the Fighting Hawks. First, Jackson buried a rebound of an Easton Brodzinski shot. Then after Kevin Fitzgerald was hooked by UND defenseman Matt Kiersted, an Eyssimont shot hit traffic and went in to give the Huskies both a 2-0 lead and a power play, which led to Eyssimont’s second goal. It was the first power play goal of the weekend for SCSU in seven tries, and they went 1-for-8 overall in the series.
North Dakota pulled within two with just a mere 0.6 seconds left on the second period clock as Smith got his second goal of the weekend, but despite 26 shots in the final two periods-including outshooting SCSU 11-3 in the third and 26-9 in the final 40 minutes-the Fighting Hawks left St. Cloud without a victory for the first time since November 2001 when Dean Blais was their head coach, according to Brad Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald. And it took 34 of their 35 shots to be saved and 30 more blocked to do it.
“If you have some breakdowns, they're going to get on you. That's exactly what they did,” Trevor Olson said to the Grand Forks Herald. “We can take a lot from this game going to break.”
North Dakota is off until December 30 when they host the U.S. Under-18 team in exhibition play. They then return to conference action on January 5-6 when they host Omaha. St. Cloud State, meanwhile, is off to Princeton for a nonconference series on December 29-30.
SCSU goal at 2:09: Robby Jackson (7). Assisted by Easton Brodzinski (3) and Jon Lizotte (5).
SCSU goal at 7:33: Mikey Eyssimont (5). Assisted by Kevin Fitzgerald (7) and Jon Lizotte (6).
SCSU power play goal at 8:33: Eyssimont (6). Assisted by Jacob Benson (6) and Blake Winiecki (3).
UND goal at 19:59: Cole Smith (4). Assisted by Gabe Bast (6) and Trevor Olson (3).
Power plays: UND 0-3, SCSU 1-2.
Shots on goal: UND 35, SCSU 18.