ST. CLOUD, Minn. — After a tough regular season and an eighth place finish in the inaugural season of the NCHC last season, Miami still nearly won its way through the conference tournament to the NCAAs, which included a sweep at regular-season champion SCSU in the first round.
This season, the teams have flip-flopped.
A brutal schedule has SCSU near the bottom, while Miami is near the top. But the Huskies knew they were good enough to send a message Friday night, just like the RedHawks did last March.
David Morley scored twice and Charlie Lindgren made 37 saves in a brilliant game as St. Cloud State defeated fifth-ranked Miami 3-1 at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center.
“Chuck stole us that [game],” Morley said of his sophomore goaltender. “We didn’t get the start we wanted. Without [Lindgren], that game was probably a blowout after the first.”
Huskies’ coach Bob Motzko also had nothing but praise for Lindgren.
“Early and often, Charlie held us in the game,” Motzko said. “[Miami]’s a really good hockey team. Our kids battled back.”
SCSU will have to do battle tomorrow night without senior defenseman Ethan Prow, who left the game with arm and shoulder injuries after being rammed into the boards. Motzko quickly declared him out for the Saturday’s game.
Sean Kuraly had the opening goal for Miami, who had a three-game winning streak snapped with the defeat.
“We weren’t ready to play tonight,” said Kuraly. “[St. Cloud State] came out and beat us flat-out.”
“I thought St. Cloud outplayed us in every aspect of the game,” said RedHawks’ coach Enrico Blasi. “Credit to them.”
A scoreless first period saw better skating and overall play by Miami as the RedHawks generated one scoring chance after another, peppering Lindgren with shot after shot. But Lindgren, who came in struggling in his last few starts, stopped all 17 shots he saw in the period. The SCSU offense in front of Lindgren didn’t have too many chances, but did keep RedHawks’ goaltender Ryan McKay busy and he sweated out a few chances generated by Miami turnovers.
The physically entertaining contest continued into the second period and Miami finally drew first blood just over five minutes in. After setting up in the St. Cloud State zone, Kuraly wristed home his 11th goal of the year from the slot to give the Redhawks a 1-0 lead.
After Miami got called for holding on Alex Gacek and added a too many men penalty on top of it, the Huskies capitalized. Kalle Kossila found Joey Benik along the right wing wall and Benik made a brilliant cross-ice pass to Morley, who one-timed it in out front into a wide open net at 13:57 to make it 1-1 after two periods.
“I was just trying to find a dead area,” Morley said when asked to describe his goal. “‘Benny’ made a great pass to me and I was able to get it over the goalie’s pad.”
SCSU came flying out of the gates in the third period and grabbed the lead at 4:09 when Joe Rehkamp buried a rebound in the slot for his first goal of the season.
“He’s been outstanding for us this year,” Motzko said of his senior right winger. “Goal-scoring’s not necessarily his thing, but he’s really had a good year for us. Great to see him get rewarded for us here.”
After SCSU’s goal, Miami seemed to be running out of gas as the Huskies started forechecking harder and putting the RedHawks defense on their heels. Morley clinched it with his second goal of the game with 1:37 left when he wristed the puck through the five-hole of McKay, who finished with 34 saves.
The loss knocked Miami out of a first place tie in the NCHC standings with Minnesota-Duluth, who won 4-1 at North Dakota to move three points ahead of the Redhawks.
Blasi knows that games like this won’t get his squad many victories.
“We gotta play a lot better, work a lot harder and win some battles,” he said.
Kuraly agrees, and knows his RedHawks could be facing their first sweep of the season otherwise.
“We gotta be better in our preparation and compete harder,” Kuraly said.
St. Cloud State picked up only its third league victory of the season, but did move into a sixth-place tie with Western Michigan. The Huskies will go for their first sweep of the season tomorrow night at 7:07 CDT, but they know it’ll be a tough task.
“They’re a good team; they battle hard,” Morley said.