ST. CLOUD – “I’m happy to be home.”
Home is the key word here as St. Cloud State head coach Bob Motzko’s words probably rang true for all the team’s fans as well.
Mikey Eyssimont scored twice and added an assist and Blake Lizotte added three assists as the top-ranked Huskies began the new year with a 5-2 victory over the 10th ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers on Saturday night at Herb Brooks National Hockey Center.
It was a good return home for Motzko, who recently led the U.S. World Juniors hockey team to a third-place finish in Buffalo and came back just in time for the critical nonconference series. He couldn’t be happier with how his team played with his assistant coaches doing most of the game-planning for the weekend.
”I was a spectator. I give my staff great credit; our guys were ready to play tonight,” Motzko said. “Their detail was strong; I thought our penalty-killing was excellent. All four lines had great legs tonight; we were on top of pucks. It was as good as our team has played. Our defensemen were really solid.”
“It’s definitely different not having Bob here, but it was a really good week of practice,” Eyssimont added. “Every day was up-tempo. It’s a long week when you don’t play until Saturday, but our coaches prepared us well with some longer practices at the beginning of the week and shortened it up at the end.”
SCSU kept its home record unbeaten with the victory and handed Minnesota their 4th straight loss in St. Cloud dating back to 2013. The Gophers also lost their fifth straight in the series with the defeat. Minnesota head coach Don Lucia talked about the game afterward.
“They were the best team we’ve seen this year. We’ve played some of the top teams, but I think what separates them is the depth,” Lucia said. “They have four lines of guys that can make plays and are a threat offensively.”
The Gophers got the all-important first goal just 2:34 into the contest as Mike Szmatula cashed in on a 2-on-1 break with Brent Gates, ringing one in off the far post.
SCSU didn’t take long to respond, however, getting the equalizer on a Robby Jackson power-play snipe from the top of the right circle just over six minutes later.
The Huskies came out flying in the second period, dominating the first half of the frame and scoring twice to go up 3-1 after 40 minutes. Eyssimont gave St. Cloud State the lead with a pretty goal, taking a drop pass from Patrick Newell, skating up the goal line, faking out and skating around Minnesota goaltender Eric Schierhorn before depositing the puck behind him.
”Coming out of the zone, both my linemates had a lot of speed. Newell did his thing with the slide drop passes and [I] picked it up, made a play and it found its way in,” Eyssimont said.
Easton Brodzinski joined in on the fun to give SCSU a two-goal lead by banking one in from behind the net and off the back of Schierhorn. A slashing penalty against Minnesota’s Darian Romanko was called on top of it and it was one of a combined six penalties called in the period with each team getting three. The Huskies finished with four penalties and the Gophers were called for five.
“We need to be more disciplined. I thought we took too many penalties,” Lucia said. “We just have to be better tomorrow.”
Eyssimont’s second goal of the night pushed the St. Cloud lead to three as he came in 3-on-1 but decided against passing the puck after missing out on an earlier opportunity. He took it himself and beat Schierhorn five-hole.
”I had a good chance with Brodzinski earlier that game on a 2-on-1 and made kind of a poor pass that got intercepted,” Eyssimont said. “This time the defenseman was kind of in the same position, so I figured I was gonna try to shoot this one. I’ve been trying to score five-hole in practice more, and it worked in the game.”
Gates brought Minnesota back within a pair after he tipped home a Steve Johnson shot from the left point. Tyler Sheehy rang one off the post minutes later, but that was as close as the Gophers would get for the rest of the game. Jack Ahcan finally capped the scoring with a rebound goal with seven minutes left.
The Huskies (13-2-3) will try to complete the home-and-home sweep of the Gophers (12-10-1) at 6:00 on Sunday night at 3M Arena at Mariucci.
MINN goal at 2:34: Mike Szmatula (7). Assisted by Brent Gates (8).
SCSU power play goal at 8:49: Robby Jackson (8), Assisted by Mikey Eyssimont (12) and Jimmy Schuldt (17).
SCSU goal at :50: Eyssimont (7). Assisted by Patrick Newell (8) and Blake Lizotte (7).
SCSU goal at 5:36: Easton Brodzinski (7). Assisted by Kevin Fitzgerald (8) and Jackson (12).
SCSU goal at 1:27: Eyssimont (8). Assisted by Blake Lizotte (8) and Jack Ahcan (9).
MINN goal at 7:06: Brent Gates (7). Assisted by Steve Johnson (9).
SCSU goal at 12:59: Ahcan (2). Assisted by Newell (9) and Blake Lizotte (9).
Power plays: MINN 0-4, SCSU 1-5.
Shots on goal: MINN 23, SCSU 34.