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Hockey Over The Holiday

Checking in with the surging St. Cloud State men’s team, along with the rest of the college hockey standings.

UMD's Olivia Wallin was stopped at the crease by Gopher goaltender Skylar Vetter. Backchecking was Abbey Murphy, who scored one of two Minnesota short-handed goals in a 3-1 victory. (MHM Photo / John Gilbert)

Even the National Hockey League closes up for a few days around Thanksgiving, but college hockey? No way. The holiday season is when the various leagues and top teams are hitting peak stride, with some big conference and non-conference games.

One of the big series finds St. Cloud State — the most surprising team in the NCHC, if not the whole country — at home on its Herb Brooks National Hockey Center ice to take on perennial CCHA contender Michigan on Friday and Saturday.

The Huskies sputtered through their non-conferemce schedule with a meager 2-4 record, but now we suspect St. Cloud State coach Brett Larson was using those non-conference games precisely as they were intended, to work newcomers into his lineup and juggle units for the regular season.

That suspicion gains credibility when you check out the Huskies once the shooting started in the NCHC. Forget the 2-4 start, because St. Cloud State has zoomed through six games to take sole possession of first place, most recently disassembling University of Minnesota Duluth with the same sure-handed force that might have been deployed to disassemble that Thanksgiving turkey on your platter.

Huskies bite the Bulldogs
Scorewise, both games on the big rink at St. Cloud lived up to the intense rivalry tendencies of Huskies-Bulldogs games over the last decade, although this time both games saw some uncommon rough stuff to end both of the St. Cloud victories last Friday and Saturday night, by 2-1 and 6-5 scores.

The first game was scoreless until Jack Reimann scored late in the second period for St. Cloud State, and UMD’s Matthew Perkins scored midway through the third period to tie the game 1-1. That put Joe Molenaar in the spotlight. Molenaar has been a trusted, loyal soldier throughout his career at St. Cloud State, but he’s never given Larson reason to expect big goal numbers. Until this year. Molenaar, who scored only two goals last season, scored the game-winner with 2:19 remaining against UMD. It was his fifth goal in the last four games. 

The first game boiled over in lost tempers in the final minute as a couple of 5-on-5 scraps broke out. The second one came at the final horn and ended with UMD captain Luke Loheit switching from peacemaker to aggressor, delivering a face-to-face cross-check that earned him a 5-minute major, game misconduct and, because the official time of 20:00 didn’t leave much for punishment, he was also suspended for the next game (last Saturday).

Unlike the defensive shutdown battle, both teams hit the ice running in game 2, and it veered back and forth. Jack Rogers staked the Huskies to a 1-0 lead at 1:46. But Blake Biondi, getting a chance to center the injury-ravaged first line, scored on a power play at 8:56 for a 1-1 tie. Veeti Miettinen — who Larson *did* expect to score this season — regained a 2-1 lead for the Huskies on a power play at 17:46, only to see Anthony Menghini tie it 2-2 in the final second of the opening period.

That pattern resumed in the second period when Tyson Gross gave the Huskies their third lead of the night at 10:38, but UMD defenseman Owen Gallatin countered that in the last minute of the middle period for a 3-3 standoff.

St. Cloud State broke through for two goals in a row to open the third period, with Kyler Kupka scoring at 0:39 and Miettinen at 3:20 for a 5-3 cushion. That made eight goals in Miettinen’s last eight games. UMD battled back for a goal by Quinn Olson to cut the deficit to 5-4, but Jack Ingram made it 6-4 with 2:56 remaining. The Bulldogs weren’t about to concede, and with 1:48 to go, Gallatin scored his second of the game to cut it to 6-5. But the Bulldogs, who never led, couldn’t get the equalizer and went down to extend their exasperating streak to 0-7-1 in their last 8 games.

A look at the men’s hockey conference standings
With their early growing pains providing valuable experience, the Huskies sit in first place alone with a 6-0 conference record, leaving North Dakota (4-0) second in NCHC standings. North Dakota, however, can take satisfaction from moving up to the No. 1 rank in the U.S. College Hockey Online rankings.

St. Cloud State stays at home on its Olympic-sized — 200 x 100 feet — ice surface to take on Michigan, which like Minnesota, is finding it a challenge to string victories together in the Big Ten. The Wolverines, bristling with new talent, is only 2-4-2 in the Big Ten. The top three in the Big Ten are Michigan State (5-0-1),Wisconsin (4-2) and Notre Dame (3-1-2). Michigan State, definitely the surprise team in the Big Ten, swept Wisconsin 4-2 and 3-2 to make the Badgers’ stay at No. 1 short as they plunged to No. 6. The Spartans visit Mariucci Arena this weekend to face Minnesota.

In the CCHA, the standings show nearly everybody tangled up and deadlocked. Bemidji State lost 5-1 at Minnesota State Mankato. In their second game, Bemidji State came back to rally from a 5-2 first-period deficit to cut the deficit to 6-4 after two, then rallied for three unanswered goals late in the third period to escape with a 7-6 victory. Jackson Jutting scored at 13:58 and Lleyton Roed tied the game at 14:48 before Jutting scored the game-winner at 15:46. The three goals in the span of 1:48 was enough for the victory and the hop into first place in the CCHA.

It doesn’t get easier for Bemidji State, as the Beavers make a Thanksgiving weekend trip to its closest Hwy. 2 rival — North Dakota. Another pair of CCHA highlights this week show Michigan Tech at MSU Mankato, and St. Thomas is at home to face Lake Superior State.

Women’s hockey updates
In the WCHA women’s competition, Ohio State swept Wisconsin in a battle of undefeated league-leaders, winning 3-0 and then 2-1 on Hannah Bilka’s short-handed goal at 1:17 of overtime. Jennifer Gardiner, who scored the first goal in the second game, had two goals in the 3-0 opener.

Minnesota swept two games at Duluth, both by 3-1 counts, with Abbey Murphy scoring a goal in both games and Peyton Hemp scoring an empty-netter with 0:15 left. Hemp also scored the final goal in the second game. 

The WCHA gets a chance to flex its power this weekend with an array of games against Eastern foes. UMD stays home in AMSOIL Arena to take on Colgate, which is ranked No. 2 in the country behind Ohio State.St. Lawrence is at Ohio State. Minnesota and St. Thomas travel to Washington D.C. for a weekend tournament. The Gophers face Harvard on Friday afternoon and Cornell on Saturday afternoon. Flip-flop those opponents and days for the Tommies as they face Cornell and Harvard.

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