Game recap and stats from the double overtime thriller between Minnesota Duluth and St. Cloud State are here.
My thoughts on tonight’s game:
-It’s tough to know where to start with this one, but first of all: what a great game. It’s a shame anyone had to lose it, but Minnesota Duluth winning meant that these two teams finished 1-2 in the final Pairwise rankings(and a third Minnesota school, Minnesota State finished third). I haven’t seen much of UMass this year, and I like Minnesota State a lot, but I do think these are the best two teams in the country.
And they delivered tonight. There was some question about how intense tonight’s game might be with both teams having already sewn up #1 seeds in next weekend’s NCAA Tournament. But that was quickly put to rest. These two teams played four intense games in the regular, including a late-season series that left a bad taste in the collective mouth of UMD. The atmosphere also played into a bit, with a very solid, 10,000-person crowd that felt like it was split almost 50/50.
-On the attendance, I might write more about this next week, but attendance tonight was 10,621, which was only 751 people fewer than last year’s second day of the tournament. On the weekend, they only sold 3217 fewer tickets than last year, despite not having North Dakota at this year’s tournament. The Fighting Hawks absence was hardly as devastating as some predicted. Having the two best teams in the country, which also happened to be the two closest teams to St. Paul certainly helped. But also give a lot of credit to the NCHC administration which has done a tremendous job at making this an outstanding event for fans to attend. They really do a first-class job, and I think it’s something that with time, local fans will start to make an annual event, even if their team isn’t in the tournament.
-As for breaking down the game itself, it felt like St. Cloud State had an opportunity to put this one away early. They got on the board first with a beautiful extended sequence in the Minnesota Duluth zone. After a solid 30 seconds attacking the zone, Nick Perbix made an outstanding play to pinch and hold the puck in at the offensive blue line and extended the shift. The Huskies continued to cycle the puck around, eventually drawing a penalty and scoring when Robby Jackson put back a rebound.
On the ensuing And 1 power play, Minnesota Duluth Louie Roehl drove St. Cloud State’s Easton Brodzinski into the boards from behind. The penalty very easily could have been called a major penalty, but the referees opted for leniency giving him only two. Brodzinski would be whistled for a penalty 25 seconds later, and Mikey Anderson tied the game during the 4-on-4.
If the Huskies had gotten a major penalty there and scored a goal or two with the extended man advantage, I’m not sure Minnesota Duluth would have had the fire power to come back.
-It’s a shame his goal was called back because, if we want to be technical about it, it never actually went into the net, but I was about ready to hand Blake Lizotte the 2021 Hobey Baker Award after the way he played this weekend. He was all over the ice and made some absolutely outstanding plays. The near-goal was a thing of beauty where he put two different UMD defenders in a blender and came out of the corner with the puck. The Huskies will have a lot to replace next year, but I don’t think they’re going anywhere for a while.
-The other key stretch in tonight’s game that I thought really helped UMD win this game came in the second period. St. Cloud State buzzed with a lot of heavy pressure in the UMD zone, but never really got any high quality scoring chances. Minnesota Duluth is so fundamentally sound in their own zone, and they don’t really panic. That gave them the opportunity to hang around in this game long enough to pull out a victory.
-It was no surprise that Ryan Poehling didn’t play this evening after crashing head-first into the boards Friday afternoon. His absence loomed over this game, especially as it progressed deeper and deeper into the overtime. St. Cloud State was really only comfortable playing three forward lines, it felt like the ice slowly tilted more and more in UMD’s favor as the game went on longer. SCSU’s forwards just didn’t have the same jump that they once did.
Poehling will be re-evaluated on Monday with his status uncertain for next weekend, but I can’t state enough how huge a loss that would be for St. Cloud State.
Conversely, UMD had to shuffle their lines around a little bit tonight, but I thought some of the guys lower on the depth really made the difference. Obviously Billy Exell had the short-handed goal to tie the game in the third period, but prior to that, guys like Exell and Miller were providing a lot of energy on the ice, especially on the forecheck where they delivered some really big hits. Putting bodies on defensemen like that takes its toll, and possibly played a role in eventually leading to some of the turnovers that turned into UMD goals.