U to meet St. Cloud State in Final Five

by Tim Nichols

Minnesota men’s hockey coach Doug Woog was a little wary of having to play St. Cloud State in the first round of the WCHA playoffs. But the Gophers dodged that bullet by drawing Alaska-Anchorage, which the Gophers promptly swept 4-0 and 1-0.
But here come the Huskies.
St. Cloud State’s sweep of Wisconsin at the Kohl Center 5-2 and 3-2, along with No. 1 North Dakota’s 10-0 demolition of upset-minded Minnesota State on Sunday, means the Gophers will face the Huskies Thursday in the play-in game of the WCHA Final Five.
The winner will play the Sioux, which has a bye in the opening round of the Final Five, in the semifinal round. Denver and Colorado College will meet in the other semifinal.
After Minnesota’s final regular season series with Wisconsin — which assured the Gophers of meeting Alaska-Anchorage in the playoffs — Woog expressed some concern about the prospect of facing the Huskies.
“It’s better that we don’t have to play St. Cloud State (in the first round),” Woog said. “You don’t have to deal with the emotional end of playing St. Cloud State. They beat us, and it makes their season.”
The Huskies, the only road team to advance to the Final Five this season, will get that chance at 7:05 Thursday at Target Center.
Minnesota is 1-1-2 against St. Cloud State this year. The one win, however, was recent goaltending juggernaut Adam Hauser’s first shutout. The freshman from Bovey, Minn., registered two more shutouts in the first round sweep of Alaska-Anchorage.
The Gophers’ defensive scheme against the Seawolves played a part in Hauser’s success. Minnesota knew where everyone was on the ice the entire game and took care of the puck. That will be critical when they take on the opportunistic Huskies.
“We’ve worked all week on getting the puck out,” freshman John Pohl said. “We worked on our bounce passes, beating the traps.”
The newly defensive Gophers need to be extra stingy against St. Cloud State, a team with a flair for last-minute dramatics.
St. Cloud State just seems to have the knack for frustrating the Gophers, whether it was Jason Goulet’s game-winning goal with 16 seconds in regulation on Oct. 24, or Lee Brooks go-ahead goal late in the third period of a 4-4 tie on Feb. 19.
Win or lose, the Huskies are sure to put the scare in the Gophers.
Minnesota has a limited playoff history with St. Cloud State, but when the teams have met in the postseason, it’s been good for the Gophers.
In the 1993-1994 season, Minnesota defeated the Huskies 3-2 in overtime to win the Broadmoor Trophy. Three seasons later, the Gophers beat St. Cloud State 5-4 in overtime to advance to the finals of the WCHA Final Five.
Woog must have had a feeling that Minnesota and St. Cloud State would hook up in the play-in game after Saturday’s 1-0 Gophers victory.
“Playing St. Cloud State is very possible, it wouldn’t surprise me,” Woog said. “I think we could use the smaller rink to our advantage.”
The home-ice advantage will probably go to Minnesota, since Target Center is only a stone’s throw from the University. And the Gophers, for the first time all season, have the look of a winner.
“We’ve been pushing all year to make something significant (happen),” Woog said. “Finally, down the stretch, it happened.”