ST. CLOUD, Minn. – Second-ranked St. Cloud State is unbeaten on home ice this season and for good reason.
The Huskies rode a six-minute stretch in the second period to withstand an otherwise-strong North Dakota effort, defeating the Fighting Hawks 3-1 to improve to 9-0-1 this year at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center.
North Dakota held a distinct advantage in most statistical categories, outgaining the Huskies in shots on goal (35-18), shot attempts (84-41) and faceoffs (29-25). But St. Cloud State took advantage of a brief second-period lull by the visitors and scored three times in a span of 6:24 – two of them one minute apart – to reclaim sole possession of top spot in the NCHC heading into the Christmas break.
Robby Jackson opened the scoring on a rebound goal 2:09 into the second period, then Mikey Eyssimont scored twice in a 60-second span at 7:33 and 8:33, the second coming on the power play, to stretch the Huskies’ lead to 3-0.
Sophomore forward Cole Smith got UND on the board with six-tenths of a second remaining in the second period, but the hole was too deep for the Fighting Hawks, who enter the Christmas break three points behind the Huskies and with a 10-5-5 overall record.
“There was about five, seven minutes there in the second period where we kind of got away from our game,” said Smith, who has scored a goal in three straight games. “A high-scoring offense like that, they took advantage of it. That’s something in the second half we’re going to have to take out of our game if we want to win these big ones. We just got away from doing the little things right.”
UND certainly wasn’t lacking for chances on this night, not with the Fighting Hawks outshooting the Huskies 26-9 over the final two periods. But Shane Gerisch was stopped by SCSU goalie David Hrenak on a third-period breakaway, Austin Poganski hit the post in the first period, and Hayden Shaw had a point shot deflect off the cross bar in the final frame.
The Huskies also blocked a whopping 30 shot attempts.
It added up to frustrating first-half finale for fifth-ranked North Dakota.
“Besides a few minutes there in the second I thought we played really well,” said senior forward Trevor Olson. “They’re a good team, they’re a fast team, and if you have some breakdowns they’re going to score on you and that’s exactly what they did. We can take a lot from this game into the break.”
The first of Eyssimont’s two goals was originally ruled no-goal on the ice. Eyssimont slid the puck into the net while one of his teammates was already completely inside the cage. But after video review, it was determined that no interference occurred on the play and the Huskies found themselves leading 2-0.
Exactly one minute later, Eyssimont slipped behind the UND defense and received the puck on top of the crease. He deftly outwaited UND goalie Cam Johnson and tucked it around him for his sixth goal of the season.
UND captain Austin Poganski said that six-minute stretch nullified what he considered to be a strong team performance the rest of the game.
“We might have been too comfortable with our first period and came out a little slow,” said Poganski of the second-period blip. “When you’re playing against a good team and they see you’re kind of down a little bit they’re going to take advantage of it. It was hard for us to catch up.”
Smith did his best to give UND some life when he knocked home a Gabe Bast rebound in the dying seconds of the second period. It was his third goal in as many games and his career-best fourth of the year.
“I just feel confident out there,” said Smith. “I think that’s huge when you can play with confidence on the ice. I just like to stick around the net. I think I’ve gotten a lot of bounces where I just sit around the net and the puck’s just been laying there.”
Smith’s goal was part of a 15-shot second period for the Fighting Hawks, but Hrenak was otherwise equal to the task. He finished with 34 saves and helped his Huskies vault back to the top of the conference standings.
“Our team has grown a lot since August. We’re building as a team,” said UND head coach Brad Berry. “This was a heavy, hard weekend against a good team and I thought we passed the test. I know the result wasn’t what we wanted tonight. Tonight we came up a little short. I’m not disappointed in the effort.
“It got away. That’s a good team. They capitalized in a couple of areas there tonight.”
UND is now idle until Dec. 30 when it hosts the U.S. Under-18 Team in exhibition action. Conference play resumes the following week with a home series against Omaha.
“I think we’re a team that’s taken a step each weekend and we’ve grown as a team a lot. That’s all you can ask from the first half,” said Poganski. “I think when we’re playing hard, fast hockey that’s when we’re at our best. If we stay out of the box like we did tonight, I like our chances against anybody.”
Notes: UND went 0-3 on the power play while the Huskies were 0-2 … Eyssimont (2 goals), Hrenak (34 saves) and Jon Lizotte (2 assists) were selected the game’s three stars … SCSU defenseman Jimmy Schuldt had eight of the Huskies’ 30 blocked shots. Colton Poolman had a team-leading three of UND’s 12.