The Gophers needed a test like this.
A top-five opponent, at a neutral site, on a smaller sheet of ice, in a tournament setting.
Each of these factors challenged the No. 1 Gophers but failed to overwhelm them in a 4-1 victory over St. Cloud State on Friday night in front of an announced 14,388 fans at Xcel Energy Center.
The Gophers advanced to the inaugural North Star College Cup championship game against Minnesota Duluth at 7 Saturday night.
“Our game was efficient,” Gophers coach Don Lucia said. “I think we can play better in certain areas than what we played tonight, but any time you beat a quality team like St. Cloud State you have to feel good about that.”
He feels even better about the Gophers’ power play.
Hudson Fasching and Travis Boyd each scored a goal and had an assist to fuel a very efficient power play. Fasching fed Boyd for an early power-play goal and 1-0 lead. Late in the second period, Boyd’s slap shot set up Fasching for a second power-play goal.
The cushion was enough for Gophers goaltender Adam Wilcox, who finished with a career-high 38 saves and an assist. He saved 16 shots in the first period.
The No. 5-ranked Huskies (12-5-4) outshot the Gophers 39-29 but continued to be turned away by Wilcox. Even one of the nation’s top goal-scorers, Jonny Brodzinski, struggled to find the net. It took jamming the puck three times and Wilcox falling for him to record the Huskies’ only goal.
“I thought we played really well tonight. We got crushed on the special teams battle, their goalie was good, and we gave up three goals on 15 shots and that was the game,” St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko said. “[Wilcox] uses his body. He stands up. He doesn’t let any soft ones in.”
Nate Condon scored the go-ahead goal at 14:24 in the second period. A shot fake cleared his path to the goal and his slap shot found the net.
The Gophers (18-2-3) added another goal minutes later, killing any confidence the Huskies built with their game-tying goal just seven minutes earlier. Seth Ambroz added an open-net goal in the closing minutes of the game.
Throughout the week Lucia pointed out the strengths of the well-rounded Huskies. He knew it would be the best opponent his team had faced in a while. He was right based on the first period.
The Gophers were outplayed most of the opening 20 minutes. The power play was their saving grace.
“It’s starting to roll now, which is definitely helping our team,” Boyd said about the power play.
St. Cloud State’s Brodzinski scored the Huskies’ lone goal with his brother on ice, but the Gophers’ Michael Brodzinski won family bragging rights. It was the first meeting of the siblings in opposing college uniforms.
Jonny Brodzinski has scored 12 goals on the season for the Huskies.
“I knew St. Cloud State was gonna come pretty hard from the start,” Wilcox said. “They average like 35 shots a game, so I knew they were going to have shots and have some good rushes there in the first period and they did.”
St. Cloud State also knew it wouldn’t be easy to get back past Wilcox, and it wasn’t.