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College men's hockey: Huskies relieved to earn split against UMD

Clint Austin / Minnesota Duluth goaltender Hunter Shepard (32) stops a shot by St. Cloud State forward Sam Hentges (19) during Saturday's game at Amsoil Arena.

There was a relieved smile on Brett Larson's face after Saturday night's game at Amsoil Arena.

That's because Larson's St. Cloud State men's hockey team picked up a win for him in his hometown in his first trip back as a head coach. The top-ranked Huskies rallied to beat Minnesota Duluth 4-2 for a split in their NCHC series.

"Definitely feel better going home now," said Larson, whose team leads the NCHC regular-season title race by four points. "Those three points were huge at this point of the year. And it had that feel out there.

"You could tell that it was a big game on the line. Both teams were playing hard."

And the Huskies did it by doing some things that few teams have been able to pull off against the reigning defending national champion. The Bulldogs had gone 11-0 in games in which they had scored first this season and had won 16 straight dating to last season.

Minnesota Duluth led 2-0 after a power-play goal by Justin Richards at 13:37 of the first period.

But the Huskies scored two goals in a 1:11 span at the end of the first period to tie the game at 2.

"I think the biggest thing was we showed some composure, when things looked like they could get pretty ugly there early," Larson said. "The guys didn't panic. As far as our growth and maturity as a team, we stuck with it even though we were down. I think that's a big step for us."

Spencer Meier scored his first collegiate goal on a power play at 17:51 to cut the deficit to 2-1. Minnesota Duluth had killed 33 straight penalties going into the game. It was the first power-play goal that the Bulldogs had allowed in nine games.

Then Jimmy Schuldt scored off a turnover at 18:40 to tie the game.

Easton Brodzinski scored at 4:25 of the second period on a nice move in front of the net to give the Huskies their first lead of the series and then Robby Jackson scored a rebound goal at 18:01 of the third period to put the game way.

Jackson said that the Huskies were happy to bring Larson back to his new home with a win.

"You could tell he was really happy after the game," Jackson said. "This one meant a lot to him, for sure.

"He did a great job downplaying it all weekend, talking about how this weekend was about us and not him and he told us that on Monday. I think that was really big for the guys that there was no extra pressure on us."

Lineup shuffle

St. Cloud State played the game without two of its centers, who were both injured in Friday's game. Sophomore Kevin Fitzgerald (upper body) and junior Jacob Benson (lower body) both did not play because of injury.

That caused a number of lineup changes for the Huskies. Larson spotted Minnesota Wild draft pick Sam Hentges at center and Nolan Walker moved from wing to center for most of the game. Blake Lizotte and Ryan Poehling played center throughout the game and the top line of Jackson-Lizotte-Newell stayed intact for most of the game.

The rest of the game was a lot of juggling.

"Lizotte is coming back from (an upper-body) injury and Ryan Poehling coming back from playing seven games in 11 nights (at world juniors) and I just tried to spot a couple centers in here and there," Larson said. "I kind of liked the line in the middle of the game with Hentges, Brodzinski and Miller.

"It was interesting because you could try some different things and I think it helped the guys because all the forwards were in the game."

Larson said that Fitzgerald is going to be out a while. He said that Benson is likely to come back from his injury quicker than Fitzgerald.

The Huskies play second-place Western Michigan in an NCHC series next weekend at Herb Brooks National Hockey Center.