St. Cloud State salvages split with UND in men's hockey

ST. CLOUD, Minn. - There's been plenty of change in the last 14 years. North Dakota and St. Cloud State have combined for five head hockey coaches, three nicknames, two arena renovations and nearly a generation of players. Yet one thing always se...

ST. CLOUD, Minn. – There’s been plenty of change in the last 14 years.

North Dakota and St. Cloud State have combined for five head hockey coaches, three nicknames, two arena renovations and nearly a generation of players.

Yet one thing always seems to be the same when these two teams meet in the National Hockey Center: No one can get a sweep.

North Dakota found that out Saturday night when it fell flat in a 6-1 loss to the Huskies in front of 5,487 fans, who watched St. Cloud State hand UND its most lopsided defeat since the 2008 NCAA Frozen Four.

Six different players scored goals, including Grand Forks native Jacob Benson, as St. Cloud State prevented the Fighting Hawks from finishing off a two-game sweep.

The last sweep in the National Hockey Center during this series was in November 2011 by St. Cloud State. UND hasn’t done it since November 1998, and it will have to wait at least another year.

The season as a whole has gone smooth for the Fighting Hawks, who lost for just the second time in 14 games under first-year coach Brad Berry. But the weekend series also raised a few concerns for a squad that entered the weekend ranked No. 4 nationally.

Up front, the line of Drake Caggiula, Nick Schmaltz and Brock Boeser continued to dominate. They generated chances all night and were in on Troy Stecher’s second period goal. That trio has 22 points in the last four games.

But UND isn’t getting much from its other lines.

Caggiula, Schmaltz or Boeser have been involved in 15 of UND’s last 17 goals – a stretch that spans five games and two-and-a-half weeks.

The only goals UND has mustered in that span without those three were a bad-angle shot by Luke Johnson for an overtime winner against Miami and a rebound goal by Rhett Gardner against the RedHawks.

“We have good players within our lineup,” UND coach Brad Berry said. “It’s about playing a system that’s conducive to goal-scoring and that’s driving the net, shooting pucks from outside and getting those greasy goals. I think we have to get back to that.”

In net, UND has some decisions to make about a starter. Matt Hrynkiw, who has been tremendous in filling in for the injured Cam Johnson and Matej Tomek, was pulled Saturday after allowing three goals on six shots. Johnson returned to the ice for the first time since Oct. 16, and says he’s ready to go if he’s called upon.

“It felt good to get back in there,” Johnson said. “Obviously, it was tough circumstances, but it felt good to be in there.”

Johnson, who strained his groin, allowed three goals on 13 shots – all deflected pucks. Two of them were deflected by his own defensemen.

UND also has questions on special teams, where it ranks fourth in the NCHC on the power play and last in the penalty kill. On Saturday, UND went 0-for-3 with the extra man, while the Huskies scored two power-play goals. The first one was key.

Soon after UND cut the Husky lead to 3-1 late in the second period, the Fighting Hawks pressed for the tying goal. But Trevor Olson was called for an interference major and Niklas Nevalainen made it 4-1, essentially icing the game.

“I think that was the big turning point of the game,” Berry said. “We took the five-minute major. We didn’t get a clear when we could have. Then, they put the puck in the back of the net and it’s 4-1. That was a disappointing point in the game.”

FIRST PERIOD: 1, SCSU, Newell (Jackson, Nevalainen) 14:11.

SECOND PERIOD: 2, SCSU, Tedesco (Widman, Russell) 5:40. 3, SCSU, Morley (Newell, Lizotte) 8:46. 4, UND, Stecher (Boeser, Schmaltz) 14:21. 5, SCSU, Nevalainen (Winiecki, Schuldt) 18:35 (pp).

THIRD PERIOD: 6, SCSU, Prow (Benik, Kossila) 16:15 (pp). 7, SCSU, Benson (Lizotte, Murray) 19:05.

SAVES: UND, Hrynkiw 2-3-x–5, Johnson x-5-5–10. SCSU, Lindgren 8-4-16–28.

Schlossman writes for the Grand Forks Herald