ST. CLOUD – They were unable to defeat the defending NCHC and national champion Denver Pioneers in November. While able to get a point on Friday night, they still didn’t have a win.
One win over DU was all the Huskies needed to win the regular-season title, and thanks to a tremendous third period, they got it.
Ryan Poehling scored a tiebreaking goal on a breakaway with seven and a half minutes left, and Jon Lizotte added a late empty-net goal to seal a 4-2 victory for #1 St. Cloud State over #3 Denver on Saturday night.
The Huskies are conference champions for the third time under head coach Bob Motzko, and they have their second-ever Penrose Cup as NCHC regular-season champions. They won the inaugural NCHC regular-season championship in 2013-14 as well, and this has to feel just as sweet.
“It was a heck of a hockey game that we were all treated to tonight,” Motzko said. “Both teams laid it on the line. That’s a championship team over there that knows how to win, and we had to bounce back tonight. I’m proud of our guys.”
“The whole weekend felt kinda like a playoff series,” Ryan Poehling said. “It’s tough playing two games like that in a row.”
Jarid Lukosevicius and Blake Hillman had goals for Denver, which was unable to get the late equalizer despite tremendous pressure and the extra skater on with 2:55 left after an SCSU timeout.
Despite the loss, DU head coach Jim Montgomery was pleased with how his team came to play.
“I thought we were a better hockey team than we were last night,” Montgomery said. “We have to play with more purpose and more determination like we did tonight and good things will happen for us.”
Denver was the stronger team in the first period as they forechecked well and generated scoring chances throughout, but it was St. Cloud State getting on the board first once again. On the lone power play of the period for the Pioneers, Robby Jackson picked up a DU turnover, came in 2-on-1 with Judd Peterson and snuck it in behind Denver goaltender Tanner Jaillet. Jarid Lukosevicius made sure that lead didn’t last though, as he tied it up right after the advantage expired.
Needing to get a spark going, the message needed to be sent to St. Cloud State in the first intermission, and they got that message from Motzko.
“He said at the end of the game he wants to see that trophy in our locker room,” Poehling said. “That kinda fired the guys up.”
The Huskies grabbed the lead back early in the second period as Jacob Benson fought off a Pioneers defender and wristed home his 7th of the year from the left circle.
St. Cloud State appeared to go up 3-1 early in the third period, but the goal, a tip-in out front from Easton Brodzinski, was waved off after it was determined Brodzinski interfered with Jaillet as their skates collided.
Needless to say, the crowd was disgusted, and they became even more disgusted not long after the waveoff as Blake Hillman tied the game for Denver with a blast from the slot off the post and in behind St. Cloud State goaltender David Hrenak. Motzko took the blame for the goal, claiming a mixup with a line change threw the team off just long enough.
“I messed up,” Motzko said. “I was still trying to keep our fourth line out there to keep putting pressure.”
The Pioneers, energized by the equalizer, went back to their tenacious forecheck and put the Huskies on their heels. Then Jimmy Schuldt forced a turnover in the SCSU zone, fed a streaking Ryan Poehling up the middle and he skated in and beat Jaillet stickside to put the Huskies up for good.
“Ryan was great all weekend,” Motzko said.
Jon Lizotte added his empty-netter with 39.4 seconds left and the celebration began. Not a bad way to send off seniors Mika Ilvonen, Blake Winiecki and Judd Peterson on Senior Night at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center.
“You can’t write it any better for them,” Poehling said.
“What a way to go out,” Motzko added.
“They deserve the Penrose Cup, they were the best and most consistent team in the NCHC, so congratulations to them,” Montgomery said.
Hrenak made 25 saves for SCSU and Jaillet made 29 for DU.
The Pioneers (11-6-5 NCHC, 17-8-7 overall) are still #5 in the Pairwise Rankings and have their sights set on a #1 seed. They conclude the regular season next week with a home series against Miami. St. Cloud State (15-4-3, 21-6-5) will finish up their regular-season slate with a road series in Grand Forks against North Dakota.
SCSU shorthanded goal at 14:43: Robby Jackson (15). Assisted by Judd Peterson (12).
DU goal at 16:13: Jarid Lukosevicius (15). Assisted by Henrik Borgstrom (23) and Dylan Gambrell (26).
SCSU goal at 2:34: Jacob Benson (7). Assisted by Jimmy Schuldt (25) and Jon Lizotte (10).
DU goal at 5:30: Blake Hillman (3). Unassisted.
SCSU goal at 12:25: Ryan Poehling (9). Assisted by Schuldt (26).
SCSU empty-net goal at 19:20: Jon Lizotte (4). Assisted by Mikey Eyssimont (20).
Power plays: DU 0-2, SCSU 0-4.
Shots on goal: DU 27, SCSU 33.