Article written by Blake Theisen
Not too often will you get 47 shots on goal and not win a hockey game, but that was the Huskies fate on Tuesday night. In desperate need of every NCHC conference point possible, the St. Cloud State men’s hockey team (15-11-4) suffered another missed opportunity with the Duluth Bulldogs (15-13-4) in town.
“We had 47 shots tonight,” quipped Husky Head Coach Brett Larson following Tuesday’s shootout loss. “We were just trying to think of a negative after the game. I think one of our best 57-minute games of the year. You can’t ask for much more of the team other than the way they played tonight.”
Ryan Fanti stole the show inside the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center for Duluth. Just named as a semi-finalist for the Mike Richter Award (awarded to the NCAA’s best goaltender). Fanti the Huskies and the country exactly why he deserves that nomination.
“He was pretty good,” Larson said with a chuckle. “Now the one thing we wanna look at the tape is are we getting to his eyes? We got a lot of shots, but was he seeing most of them? Sometimes as a coach you gotta go back and look at the tape and see if there’s an area where we can keep getting better.”
Eleven of the Huskies 47 shots on Fanti came on the man powerplay and one on a penalty shot too. Late in the first period, Jami Krannila forced a turnover shorthanded and was slashed from behind forcing his breakaway shot to go wide. The Huskies elected to take the penalty shot rather than the 2-minute minor that would have evened up the ice at 4-on-4. It didn’t matter though as Fanti made a smooth glove save as Krannila elected to shoot low glove side on the penalty shot.
The special teams battle was one that Duluth controlled all evening. The Bulldogs received the games first three powerplay chances and were able to click on that third chance. Early in the 2nd period, it was Connor Kelley with his 2nd goal of the season who broke the deadlock.
“Tonight we gotta go look back and look at the penalties too because we can’t give them that many power plays,” Larson said of his team’s lack of discipline. “They ended up winning the special teams game tonight, one to nothing, and then that was the difference as far as the tie.”
The Huskies finally caught their break about eight minutes into the second period. Duluth defenseman Louie Roehl got into a kerfuffle with St. Cloud’s Easton Brodzinski after a whistle. Just as things had settled down, Roehl took one last shot at Brodzinski and grabbed him by the facemask. After a short review, the officials handed Roehl a 5-minute major and a game misconduct.
The powerplay though proved no different for SCSU.
“At the beginning of that five-minute major, I just thought gosh we’re moving it really slow,” said Larson. “The powerplays been and we’ve had a lot of puck tempo. I thought we ramped it up a little bit better from there but on that one we passed a couple shot opportunity’s early.”
Those first three minutes of that powerplay were really the only time all game where the Huskies weren’t noticeably better than Duluth on Tuesday. St. Cloud outshot the Bulldogs in every period. 16-10 in the first, 13-6 in the second, 16-5 in the third period, and 47-26 on the night as a whole.
It was the 33rd shot of the game for SCSU that finally beat Fanti. Kevin Fitzgerald batted the puck out of midair right in front of Fanti to tie the game at 1.
“I think I had two whacks at it,” said Fitzgerald. “Okabe made a good play. He bought some time and saw they were changing. Okabe made a nice play to take the puck behind the net and then just put it out front for me.
“If that were me, I probably would have just dumped it in and went off.”
Looking to seize the momentum, the Huskies continued to bestrew Fanti but to no avail. Fanti willed his team to a lackluster overtime and eventually to the shootout.
“It looked like a safe three on three to me. Almost like neither team wanted to make a mistake and each team kind of wanted to stay above the other team,” Larson said.
Brodzinski was the only Husky to score in the shootout. The Bulldogs scored on their first two shooters and sent SCSU back to the locker room losers in the shootout and his Bulldogs back to Duluth with two of three possible points.
Although a great effort by St. Cloud State, they now have just one win in their last 10 games. That stretch also includes all four ties by the Huskies this season.
The shootout loss puts St. Cloud in a tough spot now moving forward in the NCHC standings. Trailing Duluth now by five points, the Huskies more than likely have to win all of their final four games of the season, two of which are in Duluth, if they want to host the opening round of the conference playoffs. An opening round that likely has them playing this same Duluth team in a best-of-3 series.
“We’re going to see these guys a couple more times at least down the stretch here,” said Larson when asked about the increasing reality that these two teams will play each other a lot down the stretch. “They’re probably all gonna be games just like the last two where they’re one goal games, so if there’s any way we can get a little bit better we gotta find it.”
These two teams meet again in just a couple of weeks. Duluth plays host to the Huskies at Amsoil Arena on March 4th and 5th in a weekend series that could decide who hosts who in that first round NCHC series.
Right now, SCSU sits one point ahead of Nebraska Omaha and five behind Duluth. The schedule for Omaha is far more difficult than that of its two counterparts. The Mavericks host No. 3 Denver and No. 6 North Dakota. The Huskies get to play host to 7th place Colorado College, whom they swept on the road in November. Duluth travels to last place Miami who they took four of six points from a little over a month ago.
The Huskies and Bulldogs both have seemingly more favorable matchups this upcoming weekend that could pave way for a showdown at Amsoil Arena in two weekends. Until then, the Huskies, like defenseman Nick Perbix pointed out, need to hold up their end of the bargain and take care of Colorado College this weekend.
“Our backs are against the wall. You know it. We know it. Everybody knows it.”
The Huskies welcome the Colorado College Tigers (9-18-3) to town this weekend for their final home series of the regular season (and potentially of this campaign as a whole).
The two teams met back on November 5th and 6th in Colorado Springs. The Huskies took five of six points that weekend beating the Tigers 3-2 on Friday night and 4-1 on Saturday.
Colorado College is coming off a strong weekend at home vs. Miami sweeping the Redhawks. Both games were won in overtime, 4-3 and 3-2 on Friday and Saturday night. They bring with them this week’s NCHC Freshman of the Week: former St. Cloud Norseman/Blizzard forward Brett Chorske.
This weekend’s series will kick off on Friday night with a 7:30 p.m. puck drop and will wrap up on Saturday with a 6:00 p.m. start from the Brooks Center.
Odds and Ends
- Easton Brodzinski and Nolan Walker struggles continued on Tuesday night. Neither scored a goal pushing their drought to 10 games each and over a month since either has scored in a game (Brodzinski’s shootout goal does not count on official NCAA stats). After the game, Brett Larson pointed out that Brodzinski had five shots on goal tonight but was also quick to bring up that he also took three penalties.
- Freshman Mason Salquist took a scary hit into the boards in the third period on Tuesday night. The play was reviewed. Larson said that the play was reviewed for a 5-minute major for checking from behind, but that the play wasn’t deemed enough for a major. He did feel however that it could have been a 2-minute boarding call initially. Plays that are reviewed for a penalty where none was called can only be overturned for a major penalty. Larson indicated that Salquist should be okay after the hit knocked him out for a few minutes.
- David Hrenak had a bounce back game for SCSU in Tuesday’s tie. Hrenak stopped 25 of 26 shots between regulation and overtime, including a couple of Grade-A looks for Duluth. “He didn’t get a ton of work throughout the night,” Larson said. “But when an opportunity came, they got a few good chances and he kept us in there when he needed to.” The most notable save came with 7:31 left in the third period with Hrenak stopping Duluth’s Blake Biondi on a breakaway to keep the game tied at 1-1.