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Liam Finlay entered Saturday’s game against the St. Cloud State Huskies with three goals. By the end of the night, he had six.
“It was fun; our whole team played so well,” said Finlay. “I have to give credit to my linemates of course; they gave me some pretty easy goals.”
No. 1 Denver, whose offense has been held to less than five goals only four times in 14 games over the second half, won its ninth game in a row with a dominating 7-2 performance on senior night against No. 18 St. Cloud State.
“All the underclassmen and all the guys on the team played great tonight,” said Denver senior captain Will Butcher. “Guys went out there and said they were going to do it for you guys. It meant a lot to us; we’ve put in a lot of work these past four years.”
Denver struck first when Evan Janssen, who was honored at the start of the evening with the rest of his fellow seniors, got the puck down low off the boards after Dylan Gambrell sent it to him. Janssen got the puck to the right of Jeff Smith and passed it over to Finlay at the left post, and Finlay lifted it into the open net at 9:33.
St. Cloud got the first power-play opportunity on a horrible call when Will Butcher checked Mikey Eyssimont behind the goal line. As the two bounced off the boards, Eyssimont wrapped his arm around Butcher and hauled him down on top of him. Butcher got called for holding. St. Cloud couldn’t score on the ensuing power play, and in fact Denver had the best chance, but Gambrell was unable to corral the puck with a looming open net.
After holding strong on a long shift where St. Cloud had several good chances, Denver struck late when Tariq Hammond got the puck along the left-side boards and fired a shot on net that Matt Marcinew, standing in the slot, deflected in with the shaft of his stick at 18:13. The goal was reviewed for several minutes for a possible high stick before the call stood. St. Cloud State then challenged the call for a possible offside violation, but the call again stood.
“I was really disappointed in the first period,” said St. Cloud coach Bob Motzko. “We made two real bad plays, and they capitalized on them.”
Early in the second period, Henrik Borgström showed why he might be the best offensive player in college hockey. He got the puck at the top of the slot with defenseman Will Borgen standing between him and a shooting lane. Borgström toe dragged around Borgen like he was standing still and drove down the lane, holding the puck until he was just outside the crease, then lifted a quick wrist shot top corner stick side at 4:38.
“In the second period, Borgström makes a great play, and we got our heads down,” said Motzko. “It’s the first time this year where we’ve been out of the game and I didn’t like how we handled it. We stopped making plays, we played dejected, and I didn’t like that. That hurts.”
“He scores a goal, and everybody in the building is like, ‘Did I just witness that,” said Denver coach Jim Montgomery. “You have to think about the feeling, the confidence he gives us, and he saps confidence out of the other team, because they know they have to play him. They were much superior than us in the first seven minutes of that second period, and even after Borgström’s goal they kept coming at us, and then we started playing the proper way. Borgström’s goal relieved a lot of pressure.”
St. Cloud got one back at the midway point of the period on a power play when Eyssimont got the puck down low in the right circle and ripped a perfect snap shot past Tanner Jaillet at 9:20.
St. Cloud had a few good shifts where it pressed and might have gotten back in the game, but Denver’s second line squashed it when Finlay rushed up the left side and dropped a pass to Gambrell, who was trailing, then cut across the crease. Gambrell cut to the slot and got a good shot off that hit the post, and Finlay got the rebound and lifted it into the open net at 12:41.
The PA was still announcing the goal when Denver struck again, as Matt VanVoorhis got the puck near his own blue line and sprung Emil Romig up the right side. Romig raced in and beat Smith short side with a wrist shot from the right faceoff dot at 13:04.
That was all on the night for Smith, who was replaced by Zach Driscoll. Driscoll couldn’t staunch the bleeding though. Adam Plant fired a shot from the left point that went wide of the net and caromed off the back boards, and Finlay, stationed at the right post, picked it up and fired it into the open net at 18:17 before Driscoll could slide back over. The goal led to a showering of baseball hats on the ice.
“I’m a small guy and I have to get to those areas,” said Finlay. “I think that’s something I wasn’t doing a good enough job of in the first half. It’s something I have to keep up.”
Colin Staub made it 7-1 at 10:51 of the third when he poke checked the puck free in the neutral zone and raced up the right side boards, cutting toward the net hard and beating Driscoll five-hole with a backhand shot.
“The development of our team confidence five-on-five was something that needed to happen in the second half, and it has happened just like last year,” said Montgomery. “It’s throughout the four lines, and a lot of D-men. 21 (Michael Davies) was a plus-6 tonight. We’re getting it from everyone.”
St. Cloud got one back late in the game when Jack Poehling carried the puck deep on the right side of the slot and slid a pass over to Blake Winiecki on the left side, who beat Evan Cowley top corner stick side at 15:48. Cowley, a senior, had replaced Jaillet at the start of the third period.
The weekend sweep of St. Cloud puts Denver four points up on Minnesota Duluth in the race for the Penrose Cup, awarded to the NCHC regular season champion. Denver can clinch it with one win against Omaha next weekend.
“It’s a goal we set at the beginning of the year, three championships: Penrose, NCHC championship, and national championship,” said Butcher. “We have our goal right in front of us Friday night.”
No. 8 Western Michigan 5, at Colorado College 1
After a disappointing tie and three-on-three overtime loss Friday, the No. 8 Western Michigan Broncos put together a strong game to defeat Colorado College, 5-1. Western Michigan got on the board first with a power-play goal. Off a draw, Jade McMullen carried the puck behind the net skating toward the left circle, but spied Frederik Tiffels charging down toward the right post and fed him the puck, and Tiffels one-timed a snap shot into the open net at 10:03 of the first. Matheson Iacopelli made it 2-0 midway through the second period on a beautiful play by defenseman Luke Bafia, who got the puck deep in his own zone at the end of a long shift and threw it toward Iacopelli in the neutral zone, who raced in alone and beat CC goalie Alex Leclerc with a quick wrist shot at 7:08. Cam Lee made it 3-0 with a blast from the left point right off a draw at 11:04. CC got one back with a power-play goal at 12:41 when Luc Gerdes got the puck near the left circle and fed Trevor Gooch through the crease, who one-timed it into the open net, but that was as close as CC got. Corey Schueneman made it 4-1 at 17:50 of the second with a brilliant snap shot from the top of the right circle on a power play, and Hugh McGing completed the scoring at 4:21 of the third. Ben Blacker made 27 saves in the win.
Omaha 3, at No. 16 North Dakota, 0
Omaha finally figured out how to hold North Dakota in check offensively, after the Fighting Hawks had scored 22 goals in their previous three games against the Mavericks. The defensive effort was rewarded with a 3-0 win. David Pope got Omaha on the board at 8:45 with a power-play goal with a slap shot blast from the right point that beat Cam Johnson short side. Riley Alferd made it 2-0 in the third period just after Omaha goalie Evan Weninger had made several big saves during a North Dakota power play. Austin Ortega sprung Alferd up the left side, and from the left circle, Alferd ripped a snap shot top corner stick side at 5:43. North Dakota pulled Johnson with nearly three minutes to go, but it backfired when Omaha scored an empty-net goal. Ryan Jones got the puck deep in the Omaha zone after Weninger made a save and banked it off the boards to the neutral zone. Ortega picked it up and raced in and scored at 17:59. Weninger made 22 saves in the win, and Ortega had three points.