ST. CLOUD – This first-round series has a little bit of a familiar feel for everyone involved.
St. Cloud State won their first Penrose Cup as NCHC regular-season champions in the inaugural season of the conference back in the 2013-14 season, and their first-round foe was Miami. The RedHawks swept the Huskies and nearly ran the table to the tournament title.
SCSU is the regular-season champion once again this season, and once again their opening opponent in the playoffs is Miami. This is a better Huskies team than back then though, and even when they’re not on top of their game, they’re figuring out ways to get it done.
While not pretty for much of the night, top-ranked St. Cloud State got the job done and moved within one win of returning to the Frozen Faceoff after a 5-2 victory over the RedHawks on Friday night at Herb Brooks National Hockey Center.
SCSU was streaky at best in the game, and head coach Bob Motzko was quick to point out he wants to see a better overall performance on Saturday as his Huskies look to complete the sweep.
“[We were] good enough to win. Miami outplayed us tonight,” Motzko said. “Their will, their determination, their fight for pucks was spot on. The game we envisioned us playing tonight-we didn’t see. We gotta be a better hockey team tomorrow.”
Kiefer Sherwood scored and had an assist for Miami, and Grant Hutton had two assists.
The Huskies struck first about six minutes into the contest as they entered the zone on a 3-on-2. Blake Winiecki fed the puck to Jack Ahcan, who was left all alone as he skated to the top of the left circle and fired it home.
Miami was able to knot it up before the end of the period as Sherwood buried his 9th of the season right after their first power play expired.
SCSU grabbed the lead back with a power-play goal by Jimmy Schuldt as he one-timed a blast from the top of the right circle off the post and in behind Miami goaltender Ryan Larkin. Blake Lizotte doubled the lead with under five minutes left in the second period after a 2-on-1 chance with Kevin Fitzgerald and Mikey Eyssimont went wide, which led to a Miami giveaway to set up the goal.
“His motor is carrying us right now,” Motzko said of Blake Lizotte. “It’s almost a nightly thing where we got a young freshman working his tail off.”
The third period started off in favor of the RedHawks, who pulled within one after Gordie Green tipped home a beautiful centering feed from Sherwood in the corner. Momentum swung back in the favor of the Huskies for good, however, after Easton Brodzinski picked up a beautiful drop pass from Robby Jackson on the top of the left circle and lined a laser top-shelf with just over eight minutes left.
“It was a good play by Robby to set me up there,” said Brodzinski, who had a goal waved off earlier in the game. “I didn’t really pick a spot; I sort of just threw it to the net.”
Eyssimont finished the night’s scoring with an empty-net goal with 1:10 left. Larkin made 24 saves for Miami, as did St. Cloud State goaltender David Hrenak.
Game 2 is scheduled for tomorrow night at 7:07. If the Huskies are to finish off the series and end Miami’s season, it starts from the opening drop.
“We just gotta come out harder,” Brodzinski said. “We sorta came out a little lackadaisical. We took it to them for a little bit, but then we sort of let off the gas. Tomorrow, if we just come out and play our game, we’re gonna come out on top.”
SCSU goal at 6:02: Jack Ahcan (3). Assisted by Blake Winiecki (8) and Jacob Benson (9).
MU goal at 15:28: Kiefer Sherwood (9). Assisted by Grant Hutton (13) and Louie Belpedio (2).
SCSU power-play goal at 6:11: Jimmy Schuldt (9). Assisted by Robby Jackson (24) and Easton Brodzinski (10).
SCSU goal at 15:14: Blake Lizotte (7). Unassisted.
MU goal at 4:26: Gordie Green (15). Assisted by Sherwood (18) and Hutton (14).
SCSU goal at 11:39: Brodzinski (13). Assisted by Jackson (25) and Will Borgen (11).
SCSU empty-net goal at 18:50: Mikey Eyssimont (15). Assisted by Kevin Fitzgerald (13) and Ahcan (16).
Power plays: MU 0-2, SCSU 1-3.
Shots on goal: MU 26, SCSU 29.