Ten months ago, St. Cloud State got run out of the rink in a 6-1 loss to Minnesota Duluth on March 7 at Amsoil Arena in what wound up being the final game of the 2019-20 regular season.
Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bulldogs men’s hockey team didn’t play a game again in Duluth until Friday night, when the Huskies also returned, stealing a 4-3 victory before a crowd of 0 to retain first place in the NCHC.
UMD (6-4-2) and SCSU (8-4) will meet again at 6 p.m. Saturday in the series finale in Duluth, again with only cardboard cutouts of people and pets in the maroon and gold seats.
“It was different, for sure, not having that emotion and that student section cheering from behind their net in the first and third period,” said UMD senior assistant captain Nick Swaney. “We have to treat it like another home game. Our mentality from Day 1 when I stepped in here freshman year was we don’t lose games at home. That’s something we all have to take to heart, no matter if there’s fans or no fans in the building. We have to know this is our home ice and do whatever it takes.”
Senior assistant captain Kevin Fitzgerald was credited with the game-winning goal for SCSU that came just 2:29 into the third period. The Huskies then hung on by killing a pair of Bulldogs power plays — UMD’s only man advantages of the night.
The Bulldogs scored three goals in the second period to take a brief one-goal lead, however, the Huskies got the one back to tie the game at 3-3 going into the third.
Two of UMD’s three goals in the second were collegiate firsts as freshmen wingers and linemates Luke Mylymok and Blake Biondi scored within 42 seconds of each other to erase SCSU’s two-goal lead from the first period. Mylymok was ejected, however, for checking from behind less than two minutes after he and Biondi tied the game.
Senior wing Nick Swaney put UMD on top with 6:25 to play in the second after a hard shot by junior wing Cole Koepke — a Hermantown native like Biondi — went into the Huskies’ net off the back of Swaney’s skate.
Swaney said while Koepke made a great play on his goal, it was the efforts of Biondi, Mylymok and sophomore center Luke Loheit that paved the way.
“Those were two huge goals for us,” Swaney said. “It got us a lot of momentum. We were fortunate to find that third one too and that all started from their hard work.”
The Huskies took an initial 2-0 lead into the first intermission after getting goals from sophomore center Jami Krannila and sophomore wing Chase Brand, with Brand’s goal coming in the final minute of the period.
Junior center Nolan Walker was credited with the Huskies' game-tying goal at the end of the second after putting a shot on Ryan Fanti that just squeaked past the sophomore UMD goaltender. The puck didn’t cross the line initially, and instead got lost under a sea of bodies piled in the crease. It eventually did get past the line, was signaled a goal on the ice and could not be resolved via a lengthy replay.
“Disappointing. I didn’t think we played a great 60 minutes. We had some moments,” Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin said. “We had a good second until the last minute when we turned the puck over, which led to their third goal. I think that gave them momentum going into the third instead of us carrying that momentum. We never really got on track in the third period.”
Thumbs up to the Bulldogs young fourth line early on
Before Mylymok got himself ejected, he, Biondi and Loheit were having a career night as a forward trio.
Yes, they got the two big goals early in the second period to tie the game at 2-2, but Sandelin and Swaney said the line also generated energy and momentum each and every shift pestering St. Cloud State through much of the first period.
“We know our roles and I thought we did a really good job of playing that tonight and trying to do what we could for our team to win tonight,” Biondi said. “Even before the two big goals, we created a lot of energy for the guys and just get momentum each shift, building off it. Then the goals came.”
Mylymok scored off his own long rebound 2:41 into the second period to get the Bulldogs on the board. He then found himself on a two-on-one breakaway with Biondi, who held the puck and took the shot himself.
It was an unassisted first college goal for Biondi, but he said it wouldn’t have come had Mylymok not been shouting for the puck the whole time, which drew the defenseman to his side. That opened the door for Biondi to take the shot himself.
“It was great to see those guys play well and get rewarded,” Sandelin said. “They gave us a little bit of a spark, there’s no question, because everyone else was sleeping. We got some momentum off those goals and take a lead, but we gave it up at the end of the period.”
Thumbs down to giving up goals late in periods
The Bulldogs surrendered two goals in the final 61 seconds of periods on Friday.
The first came with 47.4 seconds left in the first period to put the Huskies on top 2-0, and the second came with 1:01 to go in the second, tying the game at 3-3.
“We made a bad decision at the end and it ended up in a rush for them and it ended up in the back of the net,” Sandelin said. “We can’t make mistakes like that. You have to read game situations, try and finish the period in the lead.”
Sandelin came off Friday more frustrated with the late second period goal than the first period goal, likely because his team was able to respond to the first and not the second.
UMD came out and scored twice in the opening 3:23 of the second to tie the game at 2-2. In the third, they gave up the game-winning goal 2:29 in.
“The end (of the second) was demoralizing,” Sandelin said. “But you have got to fight through that stuff, you got to fight through adversity. That’s how this league is. You got to put those things behind you. You got to come out and win the next shift and we didn’t win any of the shifts in the beginning (of the third) and the end result is they got the lead. They made it hold up.”
Matt’s Three Stars
3. UMD freshman wing Blake Biondi — Scored his first college goal after tallying a single assist in his first 10 games at UMD.
2. SCSU junior center Nolan Walker — Scored the “demoralizing” game-tying goal late in the second period and had an assist too.
1. SCSU senior wing Kevin Fitzgerald — Recorded the game-winner for the Huskies early in the third period.
St. Cloud State 2-1-1—4
Minnesota Duluth 0-3-0—3
Saves — David Hrenak, SCSU, 6-12-9—27; Ryan Fanti, UMD, 2-13-4—19.
Power play — SCSU 0-2; UMD 0-2. Penalties — SCSU 3-6; UMD 3-17.