The nation’s top-ranked team trailed early and wasn’t sharp all the time, but St. Cloud State’s talent and tenacity took over as the Huskies defeated Colorado College 5-2 on Friday in the first semifinal of the NCHC Frozen Faceoff at Xcel Energy Center.
Patrick Newell and Nolan Walker scored goals 24 seconds apart in the first period for St. Cloud State, which advanced to Saturday night’s championship game against Minnesota Duluth. The Huskies (30-4-3) also got a highlight-reel goal from Robby Jackson in advancing to the conference tournament final for the second consecutive year.
“We were fortunate to weather some big pieces of adversity within the game,’’ St. Cloud State coach Brett Larson said. “Once we got through those, we were able to settle down a bit.’’
The biggest piece of adversity came in the first period, when Huskies second-line center Ryan Poehling caught an edge and went head-first into the boards near the Colorado College goal. The junior from Lakeville skated off the ice with assistance of teammates and did not return to the game.
“We’ll evaluate him in the morning,’’ Larson said. “Really scary. … I can tell you this: He’ll be OK. We’ll see how badly he’s injured [Saturday].’’
David Hrenak made 31 saves for the Huskies, who are expected to be the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament and land in Fargo for the West Regional next Friday and Saturday.
Colorado College was playing its fourth game in seven days after finishing a 2-1 series win at Western Michigan on Monday. The Tigers fell to 17-19-4 and dropped into Saturday’s third-place game.
If the Tigers were fatigued, it didn’t show early. They hung with the Huskies and scored the game’s first goal on a power play, with Westin Michaud snapping a shot past Hrenak at 9:47, 19 seconds into the man advantage.
St. Cloud State responded by shifting the game’s momentum.
Michaud was called for a faceoff violation at 12:08 of the first, and the Huskies quickly pounced. Patrick Newell blasted a shot past Tigers goalie Alex Leclerc 19 seconds into the power play to knot the score 1-1.
The score didn’t stay tied for long. Nolan Walker – playing center between Nick and Jack Poehling in Ryan Poehling’s absence -- gave the Huskies a 2-1 lead 24 seconds later, off a pass from Jon Lizotte.
“When they can strike, they strike,’’ Tigers coach Mike Haviland said of the Huskies. “They get the power-play goal and right after that the second one. Shows you what kind of team they are.’’
Jackson boosted the Huskies’ lead to 3-1 at 9:38 of the second on a pretty play when he batted Spencer Meier’s shot out of the air and past Leclerc. “Crazy goal,’’ Larson said.
After defenseman Jack Ahcan increased the Huskies’ lead to 4-1 at 7:21 of the third, Colorado College had a great opportunity to get back in the game. With Nick Perbix already off for hooking, Jon Lizotte received a five-minute major and game misconduct for checking from behind. The Tigers pulled Leclerc, making it a 6-on-3, which the Huskies killed. Defenseman Jimmy Schuldt’s diving clear was key.
“That was actually really fun,’’ the Hobey Baker Award candidate said.
Added Larson, “When Jimmy dove, you could feel the whole energy go through the bench.’’
Though CC’s Bryan Yoon scored with 58 seconds left in the major, cutting the lead to 4-2, Nick Poehling answered with 3:13 left to set the final score.
“This isn’t a mistake why this team is No. 1 in the country for the majority of the year,’’ Haviland said.