Minnesota splits with St. Cloud State, remains five points behind in WCHA

The Gophers played well but ran into a hot Huskies goaltender.

Minnesota defender Nate Schmidt drives down the ice Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013, at the St. Cloud National Hockey and Event Center. Schmidt has scored a goal during each of the past four games.

Jaak Jensen

Minnesota defender Nate Schmidt drives down the ice Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013, at the St. Cloud National Hockey and Event Center. Schmidt has scored a goal during each of the past four games.

Drew Claussen

ST. CLOUD, Minn. — The Gophers and St. Cloud State gave two capacity crowds at the National Hockey and Event Center something entertaining to watch this weekend.

The two teams split their regular-season conference series in St. Cloud, Minn. The No. 1 Gophers won 4-2 on Friday, and the No. 8 Huskies returned the favor with a 4-3 win on Saturday.

Gophers head coach Don Lucia said he wasn’t terribly disappointed with a split in St. Cloud, and he was happy with how his team fought back Saturday.

“I think going in, I was hopeful maybe we’d get three points this weekend,” Lucia said Saturday. “We won [Friday] night and played our butt off tonight, so games like this make you better.”

St. Cloud State goalie Ryan Faragher made 36 saves Saturday, including several difficult ones. He had 38 saves in a losing effort Friday.

“If you get a goalie like that, with the crowd behind him, it’s going to be tougher on our team,” Gophers junior forward Nate Condon said.

Faragher’s saves allowed the Huskies to jump out to a 2-0 lead Saturday. St. Cloud State caught the Gophers on a line change for its second goal of the evening.

“Two of their goals came directly off of our line changes,” junior captain Zach Budish said. “We’ve got to sharpen that up and work on that so it doesn’t happen again.”

Junior Nate Schmidt scored near the end of the second on a 5-on-3 power play to cut the lead to 2-1 after two periods.

St. Cloud responded to Schmidt’s goal with two of its own in the first seven minutes of the third.

The Gophers dominated the final 10 minutes of the game and got goals from junior Nick Bjugstad and Condon, but the three-goal deficit proved to be too much.

Saturday’s game with its streaks and momentum changes was very similar to Friday’s.

Minnesota used its speed to its advantage Friday night and scored both the game-winning goal and another 58 seconds later on a 4-on-4 situation.

Lucia said the team had spent time working on its 4-on-4 play during the off-week that preceded the St. Cloud series.

“It’s one of the things we talked about — we should be a better 4-on-4 team that what we had been,” Lucia said.

The goals that put Minnesota ahead were highlight-reel worthy.

Junior Erik Haula scored the game-winner after receiving a feed from Schmidt and maneuvering around Faragher. Haula, who was back at center for the first time since late December, had two goals Friday.

“It felt great,” Haula said of being back at center. “That’s where I’m comfortable at, and back with the linemates that I’ve been playing with the whole year.”

Schmidt put the game on ice when he found himself alone at the point after a nice feed from freshman Brady Skjei. The St. Cloud native wound up a slap shot from the right circle for a couple of seconds and blasted it off the left pipe and in.

“I couldn’t believe Brady backhanded it all the way from the goal line,” Schmidt said. He said his initial thought was to pass the puck to Bjugstad, but the play wasn’t there, and his only option was to “tee it up.”

The Gophers put three pucks past Faragher in the first period, but two by Budish were waived off after the officials’ review.

The first one was waived off because Faragher’s helmet was knocked off. On the second, the officials determined sophomore Kyle Rau interfered with the goaltender.

The split means Minnesota (19-5-4, 11-5-4 WCHA) gained no ground on the Western Collegiate Hockey Association-leading Huskies. Minnesota remains five points off the lead and tied for third.

However, the Gophers have one more WCHA series remaining than almost every other team in the conference.