OMAHA, Neb. — Coming into the weekend, No. 3 St. Cloud State had not earned a road sweep since Dec. 11-12 against Western Michigan.
On Saturday, the Huskies got an early lead and never let go of it, going on to defeat No. 11 Nebraska-Omaha 6-3 for the series sweep.
Like Friday, the Huskies got on the board first and it came from St. Cloud’s fourth line. Blake Winiecki backhanded a puck that rebounded from a shot by Robby Jackson at 5:02 in the opening period.
Winiecki scored twice on the night and Jackson and Jacob Benson each chipped in a goal to make a solid fourth-line effort on the weekend.
“With our line, we’re really happy with how the weekend went for us and most importantly, is getting two wins,” Winiecki said. “I think we felt real good with how we connected.”
Omaha took a timeout immediately following the first goal, with Mavericks coach Dean Blais sensing the urgency of that moment in the game.
“We just needed a wake-up call but too late, puck’s in the net,” Blais said. “It was either take that timeout or the game’s going to completely crumble.”
Although the first period ended at 1-0 and Omaha outshot the Huskies the rest of the period to get to an 11-10 advantage, St. Cloud was the team to add pressure.
In the second period, Patrick Russell and Ethan Prow each scored goals less than two minutes apart to make it a 3-0 game with 7:50 to go in the period.
With the game getting out of reach, Omaha didn’t wait long to claw back in. Just 44 seconds after St. Cloud’s third score, Luke Nogard gave the Mavericks a jolt with a goal after deflecting a shot by Ryan Galt at 12:54.
Then with less than a second to play in the second period, Fredrik Olofsson thread the needle on a pass to a rushing Jake Guentzel, who flipped the puck over Charlie Lindgren to make it a one-goal game with less than a second remaining in the period.
While Omaha entered the third with momentum, St. Cloud was the first to land a punch. Winiecki scored his second goal of the game when he cleaned up on a blast rifled inside by Benson.
But again, the Mavericks answered.
Guentzel slapped a shot that tumbled into the air above Lindgren and then drifted down into the crease where it trickled into the net for the captain’s second goal of the night. It came just seconds after Omaha was on the power play.
After allowing the Mavericks to get within one goal twice since the 3-0 start, St. Cloud finally scored the dagger. Winiecki skated to the left side of the net and beat Evan Weninger to make it 5-3.
With an empty Omaha net, Judd Peterson launched a shot deep in the defensive zone to make it 6-3.
St. Cloud improves to 25-6-1 and is tied with North Dakota for the No. 1 spot in the conference.
St. Cloud coach Bob Motzko was thrilled to see the team play much better on Saturday.
“I’m just happy — we haven’t had that effort in a while,” Motzko said. “We needed to get it back. We needed to feel that again. We needed to have it to win tonight.”
The Mavericks have now lost six of their last eight home games and have slipped to the 11th spot in the PairWise rankings.
“Tough circumstances, you get down 3-0, fight back 3-2 they go up 4-2. Fight back again 4-3, and then fourth line goes and gives it away,” Blais said. “They had more depth than us on that line.”
The battle on the fourth line was key, as a combined four goals over the two nights were to St. Cloud’s advantage.
“They were outstanding, making plays again and you see it coming, too,” Motzko said. “It’s not a surprise for us. We’ve seen it coming out of that group. [Winiecki]’s been strong all year and a smart hockey player, something we desperately needed.”
Despite two losses it wasn’t all bad for the Mavericks, as they played some of their best hockey Friday and showed a comeback effort Saturday not yet seen this season.
“It didn’t seem like we did anything different,” Blais said. “It wasn’t all bad, because a lot of guys battled. but unfortunately, we didn’t have enough guys battling. We didn’t have team battling.”
The Huskies now are primed to make a serious run for the NCHC regular-season title, as the team from top to bottom is firing on all cylinders.
“We’ve had good depth all year and confidence is such a critical factor,” Motzko said. “They got to score points to gain confidence and it’s definitely been a big bonus for us to have that kind of depth.”