Huskies Craft 2-0 Victory Behind Lee's 37 Saves
by John Gilbert, for WCHA.com
SAINT PAUL, Minn. – A game that could well have flared into a high-scoring shootout wound up being the complete opposite here Friday (March 19) afternoon, and freshman goaltender Mike Lee stymied a sometimes dominant Wisconsin attack to lift St. Cloud State to a 2-0 semifinal victory and a spot in Saturday night's 2010 Red Baron WCHA Final Five championship game.
Lee was sharp in stopping all 37 Wisconsin shots, and got the goal he needed to win when Ryan Lasch converted on the only successful power play of the game in the final minute of the second period. Travis Novak put a lid on the victory with an empty-net goal in the final minute of the third period, sending the league's No. 3 seed, St. Cloud State (23-12-5) on to the championship. Wisconsin (24-10-4) was the No. 2 league seed and will play in the 2 pm third place game.
Because both teams have explosive offenses, and because the two goaltenders playing have had their inconsistencies, the game figured to be a possible shootout.
"It’s our fourth time to the Final Five in five years," said St. Cloud coach Bob Motzko. "Our whole game plan was that we wanted to play on our toes. We wanted a shootout, like the 8-7 game we had here a couple years ago."
It was anything but, and the Huskies played much of the game on their heels, rather than their toes. Both power plays have been potent, but while each side had five opportunities, the only goal came on a set play that was as perfectly executed as the rest of the game's were in disarray. Tony Mosey, in the right corner, worked a give-and-go by passing to Garrett Roe on the end boards, then gliding to the net for Roe's return pass and a quick shot. Wisconsin goaltender Scott Gudmandson blocked the shot, but the puck trickled in behind the goaltender, and Lasch, stationed at the left edge, stepped in and shot the puck the rest of the way in with :53 seconds remaining in the second period.
It was Lasch's 19th goal of the season, and 45th point, giving him 179 career points, which ties him for the school record, with more games to come. Wisconsin netminder Scott Gudmandson, who made 20 saves, was also solid when he needed to be.
“That's the way he's been playing, and I hope he continues,” said Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves, who quickly disagreed that his team started the game with a lack of fire possibly because they – and St.Cloud – are ranked high enough in the PairWise computer figures to be assured of a spot in next week's NCAA tournament. “This is a competitive group,” said Eaves. “I don't care if it’s tiddlywinks, these guys don’t want to lose. I don’t think the PairWise mattered.”
Nevertheless, there seemed to be a lack of desperation as the game became one of cautious defensive containment. In fact, after getting their 1-0 lead, the Huskies seemed disinterested in offense. The shots on goal were 17-17 after two periods, but the Badgers pressed their attack all over the ice in the third period, at one time volleying 18 out of 19 shots, including a 5-0 edge during a St. Cloud State power play, as they gained a 37-22 margin for the game.
Lee, only a freshman, maintained his poise and didn't seem to mind being pelted by shots. Four times in the third period he lost his goalie stick, one time playing with a defenseman's stick that was handed to him. He shrugged it off. "They were going to tape it to my blocker," Lee said.
Someone asked him if he could think of a big save, and Lee had the perfect response: “When you get a shutout, every save is just as important, and the next save is the most important.”
Motzko listened to the exchange and said: “Mike has shown before that he can play this way and stand tall when we need him most. When he plays like this, he gets stronger as the game goes on.”
Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said he thought the Badgers had overcome a shaky start to play a strong game.
“I was disappointed at the way we came out,” said Eaves. “The first seven minutes, we made a lot of turnovers at the blue line, and some other mistakes. I’m not sure whether it was us or the way St. Cloud was playing. But we had 21 shots in the third period, we just couldn’t solve the riddle of getting the puck by Mr. Lee.”
When the Badgers came out flying in the third period, the Huskies seemed to shrink away from any offensive ideas. Part of that might have been a reaction to losing Garrett Roe, who joins Lasch as the top-scoring veteran duo, with a freak injury. Wisconsin was setting up on a powe-play three minutes into the third session when Roe, who was scrambling to help the penalty-kill despite having dropped his broken stick, raced out toward Brandan Smith at the right point. Roe dived in an attempt to smother Smith’s shot attempt, but Smith sidestepped, and Roe slid headlong into the side boards. He was taken from the ice by stretcher, although Motzko said he was telling attendants he didn’t want the stretcher, and the Huskies, while very concerned, had hopes he would be OK.
“It was a big loss, because Garrett is such a big part of our offense,” said Mosey. “We had to come together, and everybody stepped up.”
Motzko said his team didn’t generate much offense, but he thought his Huskies united with the loss of Roe.
“Our team has been very resilient all year long,” Motzko said. “After he was hurt, I know the rink looked tilted, but I noticed our emotions picked up on the bench. Guys were standing, and talking, and I think they were much more into it.”
The Badgers were rushing and shooting all through the third period, but the Huskies seemed to settle for playing in their own end and stubbornly holding off the Badgers. With 1:42 remaining, Eaves called time out with a face-off in the St. Cloud zone, and he puilled Gudmandson for a sixth attacker. Only then did the Huskies hustle after the puck in the offensive zone, and Mosey battled three Badgers for possession deep in Wisconsin’s end. Travis Novak came to help out, found the puck popping loose and put it into the empty net from 15 feet.
“It was a big relief to get that two-goal lead,” said Mosey.