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MINNEAPOLIS — In a back-and-forth effort between both teams, No. 4 State Cloud State was able to triumph over No. 6 Denver 4-2 on Friday in the NCHC Frozen Four semifinals.
Joey Benik scored a first-period, power-play goal and later added an assist as the Huskies moved into the championship game, where they will play Minnesota-Duluth on Saturday.
See the tournament bracket and get links to schedules and stories at NCHC Playoff Central.
The game got off to an even start, with both teams physically battling and struggling to create any quality scoring chances.
That all changed at 7:45 when the Huskies got the first goal of the game on the power play. Benik beat Denver goalie Tanner Jaillet with an assist from captain Ethan Prow and forward Kalle Kossila to put SCSU up 1-0.
While St. Cloud won a majority of the defensive battles, Denver was able to create some solid offensive opportunities but came away empty in the first period. Huskies goaltender Charlie Lindgren was a key part of Denver’s lack of success as the junior was able to stop Denver’s seven first-period shots.
The momentum continued to fluctuate between the two teams but Denver was able to swing it its way early on in the second period.
After successfully killing a Huskies power play, the Pioneers finally got on the board off the stick of freshman Troy Terry.
From there, Denver continued to fly around the ice and play solid defense by allowing only five SCSU shots on net.
Luckily for St. Cloud, one of those shots turned into a goal.
In a case where the pass was better than the goal, Benik took the puck behind the net and faked as if he was going to attempt a wrap-around shot. Jaillet took the bait and Benik completed a no-look, behind-the-back pass to forward David Morley, who then buried the puck in a wide-open net.
The game continued to be a back-and-forth affair even into the third period. SCSU forward Mikey Eyssimont got the scoring going for the Huskies a minute and 40 seconds into the third. Not 30 seconds later however, Denver rebounded with a goal of its own from forward Evan Janssen to keep the game close at 3-2.
The rest of the period was all Denver as the Pioneers continuously pressured Lindgren and the rest of the Huskies defense.
“Denver came really hard in the third period as you all saw and we stopped making plays,” Motzko said. “That was the only thing is we iced the puck four times and a little nerves got in there and we survived that.”
The key moment came midway through the third period as Denver had three chances at an open net and could not connect to tie the game.
The trend of missing opportunities continued through the third for the Pioneers and St. Cloud was able to put the game away with an empty net goal from Jimmy Schuldt, icing the game at 4-2.
“They bottled us up,” Denver coach Jim Montgomery said. “We have to learn from this and be a little more desperate. I thought we were desperate in the third. I don’t think we were desperate in the first two periods and when you don’t play desperate enough … that’s a great team over there, they are going to neutralize you.”