SCSU (20-12-1, 17-7-1 WCHA) is one step closer to the McNaughton Cup after a 5-3 win over the Michigan Tech Huskies Friday night before a crowd of 4,419 at the National Hockey Center.
After Friday night, SCSU had a three-point lead in the WCHA with 35 points.
North Dakota (18-9-6, 13-6-6) has 32 points and moved into second place with a 4-2 win over Bemidji State. Minnesota (21-7-5, 13-7-5) stayed at 31 points after losing 2-0 to Denver (12-8-5, 17-10-5).
In the opening minutes of the game, the Huskies had an early scare, referee CJ Beauline stopped play two minutes into the first period when a Michigan Tech player banged one off the pipe and nearly made it in. The play was put under review, but no goal was awarded.
However, the Huskies didn’t let the early scare deter them. At the 6:25 mark in the first period, senior captain Drew LeBlanc scored the first goal of the night on a power play given to the Huskies by Michgan Tech’s Blake Pietila.
It was LeBlanc’s 11 goal this season and 43rd point. LeBlanc leads the nation in points and assists (32).
LeBlanc is a candidate for college hockey’s Hobey Baker Award, awarded to the best college player in the nation.
Freshman Kalle Kossila and junior Nick Jensen assisted LeBlanc on the goal.
Although the Huskies were up 1-0, sophomore goaltender Ryan Faragher was the predominant reason the Huskies were able to stay alive for the majority of the game. Faragher finished with 42 saves on the night.
“Faragher is the only reason that the game stayed close. We made far too many mistakes tonight, they had too many quality chances, and hit the post a few times early,” head coach Bob Motzko said of his sophomore goaltender. “We let him down at the end. He was having a great game, it was all his game at 4-0, but then we let him down in the third period.
Senior captain Ben Hanowski scored his 14th goal of the season 1:46 into the second period on a breakaway play where he sent a beautiful wrist shot over Michigan Tech’s Pheonix Copley’s left shoulder.
“We had a 3 on 2 there and the defenseman just kind of tried to take the pass away and left me open. We knew he went down a lot and I just tried to put the puck up, and fortunately it went in,” Hanowski said about his goal on the night.
He was assisted by junior Nic Dowd and Kevin Gravel.
This gave the Huskies a two-goal lead early in the second period and the Huskies didn’t squander it.
Halfway through the period, Michigan Tech evened the shots on goal at 17 apiece, but Faragher continued to hold strong, making save after save for the Huskies.
The Huskies scored their third goal of the game with 5:31 remaining in the period. Freshman Ethan Prow scored on a pass from Dowd.
Dowd and senior Taylor Johnson were awarded assists on the play. The assist was Dowd’s second of the evening.
It was Prow’s third goal of the season, and it put SCSU up 3-0.
The second period still had more magic in its bag for the Huskies though, as freshman Kalle Kossila scored his 14th goal of the season 19:01 into the second period on a beautiful series of passes.
LeBlanc earned one of the assists on the play after making a pass to sophomore Andrew Prochno and Prochno fed the puck to Kossila who sent it easily past Copley.
The goal sent the Huskies into the locker room after the 2nd period with a four-goal lead.
“It was deceiving when it was 4-0, it was not a 4-0 hockey game. The game ended up kinda like it should’ve been,” Motzko said about his 4-0 lead entering the third period.
The third period opened with less intensity than the second for the Huskies. MIU came on strong and fast as soon as the puck was dropped and made the most of each opportunity.
Although Hanowski nearly scored his second goal of the night 4:03 into the third period, Hanowski sent the puck zinging directly at the top bar of the net and almost into the net. The play was put under review, but it was decided that there was no goal on the play.
MTU didn’t remain scoreless the entire game despite Faragher’s best attempts. Milos Gordic put Michigan Tech’s first goal on the board 9:40 into the third period on an assist from Jujhar Khaira.
Exactly three minutes later, MTU got another break on a bad rebound and Bradley Stebner capitalized on SCSU’s mistake, narrowing the score even further to 4-2.
Michigan Tech continued to mount their impressive comeback effort. MTU’s David Johnstone added a third goal on the board for MTU at 14:27 into the period, but the Huskies didn’t let MTU hang around for long.
“That was a scary situation to be in, Kalle [Kossila] was able to get another goal their and thankfully it ended the way it did,” Motzko said of the situation.
Kossila scored his second goal on the evening 15:44 into the period on a bizarre play where freshman Jonny Brodzinski received a pass from Prochno after a stick flew high into the air that may have caused Copley to become distracted, Kossila drilled the puck home, giving SCSU the 5-3 lead.
In the final two minutes of the game, Kossila looked to seal the win with an open net hat trick, and narrowly missed.
“Yes we made some plays, great we got a win, but that was scary,” Motzko said.
SCSU (20-13-1, 17-8-1 WCHA) missed a huge opportunity Saturday night to clinch at least a share of the McNaughton Cup after a devastating 5-1 loss to Michigan Tech (11-17-4, 7-15-4 WCHA).
The loss means the Huskies will not clinch the #1 seed in the playoffs and will not clinch at least a share of the WCHA title.
Instead, SCSU goes into the last weekend of the regular season against Wisconsin with a two-point lead over Minnesota (22-7-5, 14-7-5 WCHA) and North Dakota (18-9-7, 13-6-7 WCHA). Wisconsin, who the Huskies will travel to face this weekend, are four points behind the Huskies. If the Huskies get swept, it is possible for Wisconsin to win the McNaughton cup. The Gophers beat Denver 5-1 to stay within striking distance and North Dakota tied Bemidji State 2-2 to also remain in the race for the cup.
Minnesota-State Mankato split with Colorado College over the weekend to put them at 31 points. MSU-Mankato is now also a viable contender for the McNaughton Cup.
MTU jumped out to an early, dominating lead after Tanner Kero scored the first goal at :28 of the first period. MTU scored another goal at 3:51 of the first period scored by Jujhar Khaira. To make matters worse for the Huskies, MTU made it 3-0 with a goal at 4:23 into the period after Riley Sweeney scored the third goal for MTU in less than five minutes.
The second period was no better for the Huskies, after MTU increased their lead to 4-0 after David Johnstone slipped it by sophomore goaltender Ryan Faragher at the 13:03 mark.
The third period went slightly better for the Huskies, but not much.
MTU’s Alex Petan scored the fifth goal of the game for Michigan Tech at 8:28 of the period.
The Huskies started to make a comeback at the end of the game however, freshman forward Jimmy Murray put one goal on the board for the Huskies at the 17:16 mark of the third period to cut it to 5-1.
The Huskies had a goal reviewed in the final minute of the game, but it was decided that there was no goal on the play.
In the game, SCSU outshot MTU 37-27. Faragher had 14 saves and four goals allowed on the evening.
On the power play, SCSU was 0-of-7 and MTU was 0-of-2.
The Huskies travel to Wisconsin next weekend to try to win the McNaughton Cup. The Huskies have never won the McNaughton cup and it is their last year to do so, as they will be joining the NCHC conference next season.
On the bright side, the Huskies are guaranteed home ice during the weekend of March 15-17 for the first round of the WCHA playoffs.