St. Cloud, MN – From the drop of the puck on Saturday in the series finale you knew this was going to be an intense game. The fifth place Huskies were looking to mastermind a five-point weekend and the top-ranked North Dakota Fighting Hawks had no intentions of yielding any more league points to the squad from the Granite City. What you ended up with was a highly charged classic NCHC battle between two teams that have dominated the Penrose Cup since the formation of the NCHC. With crushing hits, 77 minutes of penalties and strong goaltending on both ends of the ice, the announced crowd of 5775 was treated to another classic outing between these two teams. In the end, the underdog Huskies found a way to withstand lengthy stretches of pressure by the Fighting Hawks to snare a one-goal win and a badly needed five-point weekend. For North Dakota, they’ll leave St. Cloud simmering a bit and placing on hold a Penrose Cup celebration for perhaps next weekend when they face Western Michigan on home ice.
“We thought the first period was our best period of the weekend” said Brett Larson. “I thought we did a good job of defending the danger areas. They were in our end a lot but we didn’t give them a lot of second and third opportunities around the net. For the most part, David saw the shots and was able to make the saves when we needed him to. I think David calmed us down in those moments. Obviously, they are a really good team and we had to bring our absolute best to have a chance.”
“I think we got hemmed in there in the second period and just came out flat-footed” said Jack Poehling, who had three goals on the weekend. “That’s not going to work for us – we just have to figure out a way to get rid of those periods. Our heart kept us in this game. We’ve been through a lot of ups and downs and we care about each other. We all believe in ourselves and that’s one thing that has been carrying us. That’s the one thing I love about this team.”
David Hrenak was proud of his teammates. “It was a crazy finish. I’m really proud of our team. Most of the shots were from the outside and our guys did a good job of covering players in front of the net to cover their sticks and to cover the rebounds. It’s really exciting to see our team coming together.”
With the nation’s second leading scorer, Jordan Kawaguchi scratched for the Saturday game, the Fighting Hawks suffered another blow to their offense early in the contest. First-year forward, Shane Pinto, who is tied with Kawaguchi for the team lead in goal scoring with 15 was assessed a five-minute major and game misconduct for a crushing hit along the boards on the Huskies Ondrej Trejbal 3:11 into the contest. But, contrary to Friday, when they were unable to score on a five-minute major in period three, the Huskies did convert 3:35 into the penalty on their first shot on the advantage. Jami Krannila fed Chase Brand positioned below the goal line and he made a quick pass through traffic to Spencer Meier who was parked at the dot in the left circle. Meier unloaded a quick shot that beat Thome glove side high for a 1-0 SCSU lead.
The Huskies had another glorious opportunity with 2:42 to play as Jack Ahcan danced around some UND defenders and had a point blank shot on Thome in the low slot. But somehow, Thome made a highlight reel save to keep the score at 1-0.
In a period full of penalties, four more were called the balance of the period – two on SCSU and two on UND with neither team able to capitalize. In a solid first period of play, the Huskies attempted 15 shots on goal with 8 hitting the mark and 3 blocked by the defense. SCSU outshot the Fighting Hawks 8-4 for the period.
The Fighting Hawks came out with more vigor in period two and evened things up 12:32 into the period on a goal by Colin Adams, his 11th of the season. On what looked like an innocent play off a two on two, Adams took a shot from the top of the right circle and it appeared to deflect off Ahcan and past Hrenak to tie the game at 1-1. Subsequent penalties at 15:44 to Brodzinski for hooking and Hentges at 19:49 had the Huskies on their heels but they were able to survive the period without any additional damage. In a dominant period in shots on goal, the Fighting Hawks attempted 29 shots on goal with 9 blocked by the SCSU defense and 12 stopped by Hrenak. Shots on goal for the period were 13-6 in favor of UND.
The third period was a lesson in puck control as the Huskies were hemmed in their zone defending for much of the period. The Huskies only had five shots on goal in the period (two from center ice). The game winning goal was scored off of one of the few rushes up ice by the Huskies at 5:54 of the period. Perbix broke the puck out of the zone and off a three on two, fed Nick Poehling at center ice who backhanded a pass to Jack Poehling streaking in on his left. Poehling took a full slap shot from the left circle that beat Thome clean glove side with a blistering shot for the unlikely 2-1 lead. There were two other opportunities to follow by Perbix and Hentges one on one with Thome but both were unable to get the puck past the UND goaltender.
North Dakota continued to mount extended lengths of pressure in the SCSU zone but Hrenak was playing with confidence and making the saves he needed to make and the Huskies defenders were content to chip the puck out of the zone requiring UND to mount another attack. Thome was eventually pulled for the extra attacker with two minutes remaining and UND had one final flurry as time ran out. A shot on goal after the horn blew by Matt Kiersted set off a brief melee resulting in a number of roughing and misconduct penalties to four of the participants.
North Dakota dominated shots on goal for the period by a margin of 13-5. For the game, UND outshot SCSU 30-19. In a solid defensive effort, the Huskies blocked 14 shots and Hrenak turned aside 29 of 30 shots on goal to see his record improve to 11-8-6. Peter Thome of the Fighting Hawks stopped 17 of 19 shots. Faceoffs were dead even at 24 wins apiece. Final penalty minutes were 43 on North Dakota and 34 on SCSU.
Stars of the Game: #1 Jack Poehling (SCSU) #2 David Hrenak (SCSU) #3 Collin Adams (UND)