St. Cloud State did its part. Now, if the Huskies could just get some help.
After competing its first sweep of the conference season, and second overall, with a 7-0 win over Alaska-Anchorage in front of 6,286 fans at the National Hockey Center Saturday night, the Huskies moved back to two games over .500 in the WCHA (12-10-4) and into striking distance of the fifth and final home spot when the league playoffs start in two weeks.
They will need some help to capture that spot, and their road ahead isn’t an easy one, with a home-and-home series with Minnesota lingering a week away to close out the year. Nonetheless, the two wins were a boost for a team that had just lost three of four points to eighth-place Wisconsin a week ago.
“It was kinda tough sledding there for a little bit,” said Jon Cullen, the Huskies’ captain. “I don’t know if it was confidence or what, but I know now that it will be high heading into next weekend. Guys know what’s at stake.”
Meanwhile, Anchorage will head back north with the worst regular-season record in over 30 years of WCHA hockey. Their winless campaign hasn’t been duplicated since Colorado College didn’t win a game the entire 1961-62 season.
Like most of the games Anchorage has played this year, this one didn’t get off on a good note. After a scoreless 14 minutes in which the Huskies peppered UAA netminder Kevin Reiter like a stale piece of corn, they got two in the final 5:55 of the first.
Joe Motzko got the first one after his attempted wraparound went off Reiter’s mask as he was diving back to make the save and Cullen got the second, swiping home a loose puck after it slid off Motzko’s stick on an attempted shot.
St. Cloud put the game out of reach in the first five minutes of the second with three quick strikes. Joe Jensen scored on a pretty backhand just 21 seconds in. Mike Doyle scored on a partial breakaway at the 3:18 mark and Matt Hendricks got some help from an Anchorage defender just 1:19 later. Matt Gens took a shot from the slot that Reiter saved, but after Hendricks slid a shot towards the net, Daron Underwood accidentally put it into his own net.
“If we can get a goal first it’s amazing what it does for our bench,” said UAA head coach John Hill. “But when they got those two in the first and then three more right away in the second it was like, ‘Come on now, guys, let’s play for Kevin (Reiter).”
They tried, but after Ryan LaMere added a power-play goal 6:19 into the third and Dave Iannazzo, who also had two assists, roofed one over Reiter’s glove on a breakaway midway through to close out the scoring, the Seawolf bench looked more like a row of mannequins than a hockey team.
Jake Moreland, Reiter’s counterpart on the other end, made 25 relatively easy saves to pick up the shutout, his second of the year and the team’s second straight.
“We knew we had to have this win,” said Iannazzo, who along with Doyle didn’t dress Friday but returned with a refired engine in his 5-foot-8 frame. “The only way things are going to go our way is if we come in and work our tail off and hopefully we learned that.”
But it still might have been too late, though the win moved St. Cloud into a three-way tie for sixth place with Denver and Minnesota-Duluth. The Bulldogs still play Sunday afternoon at North Dakota before finishing with two at home against Michigan Tech. Denver has a home-and-home with top-ranked Colorado College, while the Huskies do the same with the defending national champs.
“We would like to have a little help but obviously it’s out of our control,” said St. Cloud head coach Craig Dahl. “It’s not the best situation to be in but that’s the way it is.”
“If you look at this season, we’ve beat just about everybody,” said Cullen. “And we know we can play with anybody so we just have to play our game and play well like we did tonight.”
If they do that, they should be all right.