For the second straight week, a mediocre effort on Friday night doomed the top-ranked Gophers.
After creating chances throughout the first 50 minutes of the game but not converting, two late goals by Tom Serratore and Kyle Rau weren't enough as St. Cloud State (6-5-2, 4-2-1 WCHA) beat Minnesota (10-3-0, 7-2-0 WCHA) 4-3. Ryan Faragher, a freshman who took over the starting goaltender job when Mike Lee was sidelined with a lower body injury, continued his outstanding play by turning away 40 shots and Ben Hanowski added a goal and two assists for the Huskies.
Hanowski put Minnesota in a hole early as the junior scored on Gophers goalie Kent Patterson 3:52 into the game. The goal, which was a result of a Ben Marshall turnover, gave St. Cloud State confidence that they and the boisterous National Hockey Center crowd did not give up all night. Nick Bjugstad tied the game at one for Minnesota eight minutes later but Faragher and the Huskies were able to keep them in check despite being outshot in the first period 17-7.
Penalties played a large role in the opening twenty minutes. Bjugstad's tenth goal came on the man advantage right after a 5x3 expired. St. Cloud State had their own two-man advantage towards the end of the period and made the most of it. With Nick Larson going off for unsportsmanlike conduct and Nate Condon already in the box for tripping, Hanowski was able thread a cross-ice pass through to Cam Reid and he did not miss the wide-open net to make it 2-1 St. Cloud State after one.
The second period was all Huskies as Faragher stopped multiple chances and Minnesota missed a few more. Offensively St. Cloud State added two goals in the first 7:12 to make it 4-1. In what has been a rare occurrence this season, Patterson gave up a big rebound to a wide-open Nic Dowd and he made the senior goalie pay for his 5th goal of the season.
Jared Festler added what ended up being the winning goal two and a half minutes later. Hanowski once again caught the Gophers penalty kill napping as he fed a wide-open Festler and the Little Falls native did the rest. Festler was able to go against the grain on an overaggressive Patterson and his move paid off for the Huskies.
Minnesota was finally able to get past Faragher in the third period after a few more missed chances. With 5:01 left, Tom Serratore tipped a Ben Marshall shot through his legs and past the St. Cloud State goalie. That goal, along with the Huskies going into a shell, gave the Gophers a second wind and Kyle Rau added his ninth goal of the season two minutes later. Rau scored in the middle of a scrum right in front of Faragher and his second effort made the difference.
Unfortunately for the Gophers, there was not enough second effort for most of the game. Minnesota had plenty of opportunities - they outshot St. Cloud State 43-18 - but could not take advantage of them like the Huskies. Special teams, which has been a strength all season, was also an issue Friday. Minnesota was only able to go 1-5 on the power play while St. Cloud State scored twice in five chances and made their in-state rivals pay for bad penalties.
In the end, what best sums up the game for Minnesota is the Huskies' third goal. After a Gophers scoring chance resulted in an odd-man rush the other way for St. Cloud State, Zach Budish made a great backcheck to break up the chance. However, that was not the end of the play and while Budish and Minnesota stood around, the Huskies were able to get the puck and an open man scored on a rebound.
Unfortunately for Minnesota, they aren't going to win too many games standing around.
The two teams meet again at Mariucci Arena tonight at 7:00 PM. The game is on the Fox Sports North Alternate Channel. For more Gophers coverage be sure to check out The Daily Gopher.