A massive tilt between two top-five teams in the Pairwise Rankings, St. Cloud State (16-6-0, No. 4 Pairwise) and Denver University (19-5-0, No. 3 Ranking) occurred this weekend at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center.
A Zach Okabe power-play goal started off the scoring in the first, with Okabe tallying his 14th goal of the season before the Pioneers responded, scoring their own power-play goal to end period one tied at 1-1. Denver's Jack Devine scored two minutes into the second to make it 2-1. However, the Huskies would go on to record three unanswered goals, with Jami Krannila scoring two goals and Jack Rogers one, flipping the score to 4-2 in St. Cloud's favor. Denver would then claw one back on a Brett Edwards goal before a Veeti Miettinen power-play goal put the Huskies back ahead by two, heading into the final period up 5-3.
The Huskies would add their third power-play goal of the night with 8:04 to go in regulation, with Grant Cruikshank scoring his team-leading 16th goal of the season. A late empty net goal would lead to a 7-3 final, marking a big night-one win for the Huskies against their NCHC rivals.
After a 10-goal game one, game two Saturday night was a much tighter contest with stronger defensive play and only eight total shots in a scoreless first period.
At the 7:32 minute mark of the second period, the Huskies' Jack Rogers broke the deadlock, with Rogers scoring in back-to-back games to put the home team up 1-0. Three minutes later, the Huskies found themselves on their first power play of the game, and they took full advantage of the extra skater, with Zach Okabe recording his 15th goal of the season to increase the lead to 2-0.
A quick whistle from a referee helped keep the Pioneers off the scoresheet late in the second, and in the third period, St. Cloud goaltender Jaxon Castor turned aside all eight shots on net, making 19 total saves in the team's 2-0 victory.
With the series sweep, the Huskies improve to 18-6-0 on the season and move up to the No. 2 spot in the Pairwise Rankings.
Grant Cruikshank, St. Cloud State
The University of Minnesota (17-6-1, No. 2 Pairwise) looked to repeat what happened the last time they faced off against the University of Michigan (13-8-1, No. 8 Pairwise) when they swept the Wolverines on the road back in November (although Michigan was missing several players at the time due to illness).
An almost scoreless first period ended when Jimmy Snuggerud scored a power-play goal with only 36 seconds remaining in the period. With eight minutes remaining in the second, Michigan's Eric Ciccolini tied the game at 1-1. Then, with less than four minutes remaining in the period, a three-goal flurry in under a minute saw the Gophers go up 2-1 on a Matthew Knies goal, before goals from Adam Fantilli and Gavin Brindley only 15 seconds apart put the Wolverines up 3-2 heading into the third.
A one-time blast from Jackson LaCombe with 4:20 remaining in regulation tied the game at 3-3, with LaCombe recording his sixth goal and 23rd point of the season. The game would head to overtime, and with only 8 seconds left on the clock, Matthew Knies buried a rebound to cap off a three-point night and a 4-3 victory for the Gophers. The Gophers outshot the Wolverines 48-34 in the game, with Gopher goaltender Justen Close making 31 saves in his 15th win this season.
Michigan came out firing in game two as they jumped out to a 1-0 lead only 1:36 into the game before making it 2-0 at the 7:45 minute mark. The Gophers got themselves on the board on a Bryce Brodzinski goal only a minute later, with that 2-1 deficit holding into the first intermission.
In period two, an early power-play goal for Aaron Huglen tied the game at 2-2 before Mason Nevers made it 3-2 only 91 seconds later, with Nevers tallying three points on all three Gopher goals. Unfortunately, Michigan responded immediately, with Adam Fantilli recording his second goal of the night to tie the game at 3-3 before Jacob Truscott scored the go-ahead goal with 2:46 remaining in the period, heading into period three with the away team up 4-3.
For the second consecutive night, Minnesota proceeded to find a late game-tying goal, with Bryce Brodzinski scoring with only 2:12 remaining in regulation to tie the game at four and force another overtime.
This time, however, the Gophers were unable to complete the comeback and fell in overtime, with Jacob Truscott scoring 49 seconds in to seal the victory and the series split. With the split, the Gophers moved into the No. 1 spot in the Pairwise Rankings this week ahead of their matchup against Michigan State.
Jackson LaCombe, Minnesota
Holding the No. 14 spot in the Pairwise Rankings in back-to-back weeks, Minnesota State (14-9-1) took on the last-place team in the CCHA standings, Lake Superior State (4-18-2, No. 60 Pairwise), at home.
After a scoreless first period that saw the Mavericks outshoot the Lakers 11-7, Mankato's Christian Fitzgerald tallied the first goal five minutes into the second. With 3:44 remaining in the period, the Lakers tied it at 1-1 after a fortunate bounce off a Mankato defenseman's skate led to the puck ending up in the back of the net.
The Mavericks went on their third power play of the night with about 12 minutes remaining in regulation, and senior forward Ryan Sandelin buried a rebound, his 12th goal of the season, to put the team ahead 2-1. Five minutes later the Lakers retied the game, with Louis Boudon scoring off a 2-on-0, with that tying goal eventually leading to overtime. The Mavericks were able to eke out a win after junior defenseman Akito Hirose cleaned up a loose puck and scored 2:17 into the overtime period.
The rematch on Saturday saw the same two goaltenders start in net, Keenan Rancier for Mankato and Ethan Langenegger for Lake Superior, with both goalies turning aside all shots faced in the first period like the night prior.
The Lakers' Jack Jeffers kicked off the scoring in game two, scoring 2:32 into the second. It would take until the end of the period for the Mavericks to respond, with a deflected puck hitting David Silye in front and finding the back of the net on the power play. Akito Hirose scored the go-ahead goal only 3:46 into the third period, with his second goal in as many nights ending up being the game-winner. David Silye would go on to add a late empty net goal for a multi-point night, scoring his team-leading 17th goal and 27th point of the season.
With the home sweep, the Mavericks have now won six straight games, with Keenan Rancier starting in goal for all six of those games and only allowing nine goals in that span.
An all-NCHC showdown saw Minnesota Duluth (9-12-1, No. 31 Pairwise) travel to Grand Forks to battle North Dakota (9-10-4, No. 23 Pairwise) for a two-game series.
North Dakota's goals leader Riese Gaber kicked off the scoring only 3:36 into the first period, with that 1-0 lead holding until over the halfway point of the second. Grand Rapids native Gavin Hain doubled the lead with 7:59 to go in the middle frame before the Bulldogs pulled one back only 1:25 later when Kyle Bettens ripped home his own rebound.
With the score still 2-1 to start the third, the Fighting Hawks made it 3-1 early in the period off a Louis Jamernik goal. With 6:18 remaining in regulation, Kyle Bettens recorded his second goal of the night to make it 3-2, but the comeback came up short, with Jackson Blake adding a late empty net goal to seal a 4-2 victory.
The Bulldogs finished the game with a 25-22 shot advantage, but Fighting Hawks' goalie Drew DeRidder earned the win.
Game two started with a scoreless first frame, a period in which the Bulldogs outshot the Fighting Hawks 13-3 and controlled most of the play. The team carried that momentum into the second period and went ahead 1-0 only 3:08 in, with Isaac Howard burying his third goal of the season off a Luke Johnson feed.
Late in the second, North Dakota's captain Mark Senden forced a defensive-zone turnover and beat Zach Stejskal cleanly at the other end. That 1-1 score held until late in the game when Minnetonka's Luke Loheit scored the go-ahead goal with only 2:03 remaining, claiming a big 2-1 victory for the Bulldogs.
UMD will hope to carry their momentum from this win into their upcoming series this weekend, when they play the current NCHC leader, St. Cloud State.
Gavin Hain, North Dakota
After splitting their series last November, Bemidji State (9-8-5, No. 27 Pairwise) hoped for a sweep when they faced off against Northern Michigan University (11-11-0, No. 36 Pairwise) at home this weekend.
A sweep looked likely early on in game one when the Beavers went on a scoring frenzy, tallying three goals within one minute before the halfway point of the first. The goals were scored by Kaden Pickering, Eric Martin, and Mitchell Martan, with the Beavers outshooting the Wildcats 16-8 and leading 3-0 after the first.
That score held until late in the second period when White Bear native Lleyton Roed added an insurance goal, scoring his seventh goal and 18th point in his strong freshman campaign.
The Beavers' Mattias Sholl would go on to save all seven shots faced in the third to earn an 18-save shutout, his first shutout and eighth win in net this season.
The Wildcats ended their scoreless streak in the first period of game two, scoring with 8:28 remaining and holding onto that 1-0 lead into the first intermission.
Late in the second, Northern Michigan's Artem Shlaine, a New Jersey Devils draft pick, made it 2-0 on a quick snapshot before the Wildcats increased their lead to 3-0 only 22 seconds later, heading into the third period up 3-0.
Through two periods, the Beavers led in shots 24-17 but were unable to get by goaltender Beni Halasz. Matters only got worse for the Beavers in the third, with Northern Michigan making it 4-0 before the home team finally got on the board, with points-leader Elias Rosen bringing it to 4-1 with 8:46 remaining in regulation. There would be no remarkable comeback in this one, as Aiden Gallagher scored his second goal of the night via an empty net goal to bring the score to 5-1 before Bemidji State added a late consolation goal, ending in a 5-2 loss.
With the split, the Beavers sit in fourth place in the CCHA standings with a 10-9-5 record.
Mitchell Martan, Bemidji State
The University St. Thomas (6-15-1, No. 45 Pairwise) returned home this weekend to play in a Thursday-Friday series against Bowling Green (14-12-0, No. 26 Pairwise), a team that beat the Tommies 3-2 on consecutive nights in their previous series in November.
Only 1:23 into the first, the Falcons took a 1-0 lead, with sophomore forward Austen Swankler assisting on the play and extending his points streak to 17 games. It then took until the 15:50 minute mark of the second period for the Tommies to respond, with Luc Laylin knotting his fifth goal of the season before the Falcons responded only a minute later, heading into the third period ahead 2-1.
The Tommies' Mack Byers scored early in the period to tie the game at two, before also tallying the go-ahead goal with 5:46 remaining to go up 3-2. The team held on late and added an empty net goal to win 4-2, claiming a comeback victory against the current top team in the CCHA standings.
In game two of the series Friday night, the Falcons again scored first, with ex-Minnesota Gopher Nathan Burke tallying back-to-back goals late in the first period to go into the first intermission up 2-0. Those goals marked Burke's 12th and 13th goals of the season, with 22 total points in 28 games played.
In the second, freshman Jake Braccini scored with 6:28 to go in the period to make it 2-1, before Mack Byers tied the game at 2-2 less than a minute later, recording the team-leading 13th goal this season for the Long Lake native. With 7:05 to go in regulation, the Tommies' Tim Piechowski scored the go-ahead goal off a Bowling Green turnover, making it 3-2.
However, the Tommies could not hold on, and with the Bowling Green goaltender pulled, Austen Swankler tied the game at 3-3 with 1:31 to go in the game. The game would officially end in a tie, with neither team scoring in overtime. Still, the Falcons did win the shootout and claimed the additional conference point.
Tommies goaltender Aaron Trotter saved 35 of 38 shots faced in net, improving his goals-against average to 2.97 and save percentage to .903.
Mack Byers, St. Thomas