MENDOTA HEIGHTS – Usually, when you open a season, you’re tested in many ways.
13th ranked St. Cloud State ended up being tested in more ways than anyone thought they would, but they pulled through by game’s end, and they did it for an injured teammate that is surely proud of their effort in winning it for him.
After Huskies sophomore defenseman Josh Luedtke took a vicious hit to the glass in his defensive zone prior to the game’s first media timeout and had to be stretchered off after nearly 15 minutes, the rest of his team fought through tears to score three times within the next ten minutes, and it was enough to allow SCSU to overcome an emotional night and a good effort by the St. Thomas Tommies for a 3-1 nonconference victory Saturday night at St. Thomas Arena.
As tough as it was watching their teammate and brother being tended to on the ice, head coach Brett Larson and his squad gathered together and promised to bring home a victory for Luedtke.
“I think we played for Josh tonight,” Larson said. “Josh is one of the most respected guys on this team. He’s a really good person - a guy that cares about this program a lot, loves his teammates. There’s no doubt that that kinda lit a fire under our group to want to play for him.”
Larson later went on to say that preliminary reports surrounding the injury were not as bad as initially feared, but he did not have any further information available.
Early on, it was a fierce battle as the Tommies countered the pressure of the Huskies with speed and some timely saves by Aaron Trotter.
Then just before the first media timeout of the night, Luedtke was skating along the near boards after the puck was knocked out of his defensive zone, but was then checked hard into the glass, hitting his head and slumping to the ice. Luedtke remained down for nearly 15 minutes before four paramedics were able to put him on a stretcher and strap him down before wheeling him out of the arena and to a nearby hospital.
“There were tears on the bench – there were watery eyes, probably including mine,” Larson said. “The message was he’d want us to play for him.
“And I just tried to get the guys to take an emotional reset for a second.”
While the Huskies were down a teammate, they became determined to win the game for him. Dylan Anhorn, a senior transfer from Union, scored his first goal in an SCSU uniform at 8:44 and Zach Okabe followed up 24 seconds later with a goal on a 2-on-1 break with Veeti Miettinen following a Tommies turnover.
“We all said it on the bench: ‘we want to do this for him,’” said Anhorn, who also had an assist Saturday.
Freshman forward Adam Ingram scored his first collegiate goal late in the first period on a power play to make it 3-0 after one, a top-shelf snipe through a screen that deflected in off the crossbar. He did it in front of family members, no less – his parents and his grandmother.
“Didn’t really see it go in, but that’s awesome,” he said.
But SCSU just couldn’t put St. Thomas away despite the early onslaught, and the Tommies came within two as Carson Peters put away a Jarrett Lee centering feed late in the second period. St. Thomas showed some fight and were able to get some power play opportunities while the Huskies allowed them to hang around, and head coach Enrico Blasi liked the effort despite the final score.
“I thought our compete level was pretty good,” said Blasi, who enters his second year as Tommies head coach. “It was a good step forward.”
In the third period, the penalties started coming for St. Cloud. They took three in that period alone, and five for the game while allowing a total of four power play opportunities. But the penalty kill was outstanding all game long and did not allow the Tommies to generate many good looks.
“Penalty kill was really good,” Larson said.
With their minds still on their hurt teammate, the Huskies did enough to hold on for the victory over the final minutes, and after speaking with media, Larson intended to head for the hospital to check on Luedtke.
Castor made 10 saves to earn the victory for SCSU, and Trotter made 20 in a losing effort for UST. The teams will meet again Sunday in St. Cloud.
SCSU goal at 8:44: Dylan Anhorn (1). Assisted by Jami Krannila (1) and Zach Okabe (1).
SCSU goal at 9:08: Okabe (1). Assisted by Veeti Miettinen (1).
SCSU goal at 16:02: Adam Ingram (1). Assisted by Anhorn (1) and Miettinen (2).
UST goal at 17:16: Carson Peters (1). Assisted by Jarrett Lee (1).
Power plays: SCSU 1-5, UST 0-4.
Shots on goal: SCSU 23, UST 11.