What a strange weekend at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center.
The St. Cloud State men's hockey team split last weekend with the Western Michigan Broncos. The 7-5 loss last night marked the first blemish for the Huskies on home ice this season. The Huskies rebounded on Saturday thanks to a late goal by Easton Brodzinski to take the 4-3 victory. Huskies are now 11-1-1 at home.
That part wasn't the strange part.
The Huskies ended up scoring nine goals on the weekend. Huskies goalie Jeff Smith got pulled on Friday.
For the second leading offense in the country, scoring nine goals isn't strange. Smith getting pulled is a little surprising, but things happen in hockey, so I wouldn't call it 'strange'.
The strangest thing over the weekend was how the collapse happened on Friday. I have never seen a Husky period like that. I tried to think of times where we spectacularly blew a period, but there hasn't been one.
I've been going through trying to remember times when the Huskies collapsed so mightily at home. The only one that comes close was against Denver in December of 2007. (Senior night of the 2012-2013, where the Huskies allowed three goals in the first five minutes with a chance to clinch the MacNaughton Cup was a close second). Up 2-0 late, Rhett Rakhshani single-handedly took the game in his own hand and scored three goals with just over six minutes left in the third to give Denver the 3-2 victory.
This was worse. I'll explain why.
That Denver game was in the mist of a mini-freefall for the Huskies that season. After starting 7-2-2, the Huskies wound up losing the next six straight. That game happened to be the fifth in that stretch. It stuck out so much because it was one where the Huskies were up 2-0 with only six minutes left in the game. That was almost a shock to see a game that went from a way to bust the Huskies out of a slump to a tragic end. It was like when you're trying to push a truck stuck in mud and you think you have it, but at the last second you lose your footing and face plant.
Friday's game wasn't a shock; it was something much more. This team has been rolling along all season. Heck, the first period was another solid period. Goals by Judd Peterson, Robby Jackson and Blake Lizotte helped the Huskies grab a 3-1 lead after one. Huskies answered after an earlier goal by late-WJC cut Hugh McGing. The Huskies scored two power play goals.
Nothing could prepare for one of the worst periods in Husky hockey I can recall.
The Huskies got away from their game late in the first. Huskies ended up down a man after Ryan Poehling's unsportsmanlike conduct/cross-checking combo. It only took 14 seconds into the period before the Broncos took advantage and cut the Huskies lead to 3-2. (The Huskies have been prone to letting in goals after an intermission. Need to either get away from taken penalties late in a period or actually killing them off.) Broncos would end up converting on the power play and scored the next three. The Huskies went from in control to being flat-out embarrassed in just over 12 minutes.
It wasn't just four goals in a period, it was the way the four goals happened. The Huskies were beat in transition in both power play goals and the other two goals were blown coverage on simple coverage mistakes. It looked like a completely different team took the ice after the intermission. It was undisciplined play that we're not used to seeing. Western Michigan came in with a game plan to play the Huskies physical and it clearly rattled the team. Can't get off your game that easily.
The Huskies were down 5-3, but had a clear chance to get back into it during a 1:57 5-on-3 power play. The Huskies squandered that chance with low energy and poor shot selection. It got so bad that period that the Huskies even forgot they were on the two-man advantage for at least 15 seconds. The crowd was pleading with the bench to get the correct number of players on the ice. (I never got the thought process of taking it easy when you have a two-man advantage or, in some cases, a five-minute major. It looks like some teams' at all levels have a thought process of 'Oh, we have five minutes to score' and take the foot off the gas. Those instances should make you want it more, not less.)
Strange. Just so uncharacteristic for this team.
The Huskies rebounded Saturday and played with more discipline to earn the hard-fought 4-3 victory. The Huskies had seven power play chances, compared to just two for the Broncos (which they converted on both). Jackson has continued his hot streak and now has 23 points on the season. Blake Lizotte had really turned it on as of late, accounting for two goals and five assists in the last four games. He also leads all forwards with a +12 rating. Brodzinski is shooting the lights out and current has a 21.1% shooting percentage and leads the team with four game-winning goals.
Both goalies saw action both nights. Smith was pulled on Friday, but he had to come in relief of David Hrenak on Saturday after Hrenak was bowled over in the third. According to Assistant Coach Mike Gibbons, Hrenak is doing well and doesn't sound like he will miss any time. Since Hrenak allowed one goal in relief on Friday and came out when it was tied on Saturday, Smith ended up getting the win on Saturday and not getting the loss in the game he was pulled. Hockey is weird sometimes.
The biggest takeaway about this strange weekend was how the Huskies were able to rebound after Friday's abysmal second period. The team just needs a better response to a physical team. Come March, they will remember games like this one.
The Huskies go into Hockey Day Minnesota just 2-2-2 in its last six games and lead the NCHC by three points over North Dakota. They face a hot Minnesota State-Mankato team that has gone eight of its last 10 games. The Huskies took down the Mavericks in Mankato to kick off the season by a 4-0 score. I'll have more about Hockey Day Minnesota and that come later in the week.