Boston, MA- St. Cloud State rightly secured a top ranking in the nation through their first five games. They trailed only twice in five games, won all of them, and shut out their last two opponents, Northern Michigan and Boston College. Northeastern, meanwhile, earned respect but secured nothing permanent through five games. They beat Sacred Heart twice, lost narrowly to Union twice, and opened their conference schedule with a road win at UMass Lowell. On Saturday night, the two Huskies met at Matthews Arena with one looking to sweep their Boston weekend and the other looking to score a defining win. The teams combined for a magnificent early-season game and the hosts emerged with a critical victory.
Northeastern controlled the pace of play in the first period, outshooting St. Cloud 11-5 and peppering goalie Jeff Smith. Unfortunately for the hosts, St. Cloud’s senior goaltender from Maple Ridge, British Columbia, was excellent, stopping every shot. The most notable came early in the game when he slid across his front to rob Bobby Hampton with his glove hand. Shortly thereafter, Blake Lizotte pinged a shot off the left post to stake St. Cloud to a 1-0 lead 5:12 into the game. Momentum fully switched to Northeastern when Jack Ahcan decked Liam Pecararo into the boards. Pecararo did not return to the game and Ahcan served a five-minute major penalty. Northeastern failed to score on the major but skated hard with the nation’s second-ranked team into intermission.
The teams were even for the first half of the second period, trading power plays and decent looks at the net. St. Cloud appeared to silence the Matthews crowd when Jack Ahcan whipped a rebound by Cayden Primeau for a 2-0 lead. Northeastern finally broke through when Eric Williams redirected a puck through Smith and drew an elbowing penalty on the same play with 1:38 left in the frame. The hosts carried the power play into the intermission down 2-1.
Northeastern failed to score on the power play to open the third, but kept the pressure on Smith. Biagio Lerario cracked the code with a shot that ate up the St. Cloud goalie and tied the game. Shortly after, Lerario almost gave Northeastern the lead, but Eetu Selanne hit Smith into his net and the officials called goalie interference. St. Cloud claimed momentum and outshot their hosts 12-6. But Cayden Primeau played his best and Northeastern got one final shot through Smith. Eric Williams whipped a long pass from his defensive end to Zach Solow. He dropped the puck to Grant Jozefek and the junior from Chester, NJ, sniped a puck top right corner of the net to claim the lead with 6:25 left to play.
Primeau highlighted his performance by robbing Nick Poehling with his own diving glove save. Brett Larson pulled Smith from the net, but St. Cloud couldn’t get the equalizer. Lincoln Griffin blocked a shot from the point before clearing the puck to center ice. Matthews cheered their team’s 3-2 victory over the nation’s second-ranked team.
The loss was St. Cloud’s first of the season. It was their first game not scoring a power play goal and their first loss in two all-time matchups against Northeastern. Huskies Head Coach Brett Larson was complimentary of his opposition and disappointed by his own squad.
“I thought Northeastern played very well,” Larson said. “They’re fast, they push the puck up the ice really quick, they put you under a lot of pressure off the rush. “I didn’t think we handled that as well as we wanted to. And at the other end, we didn’t handle the puck well at all. When you don’t manage the puck well against a team that transitions like that, you’re gonna be in trouble.”
When speaking on his goalie’s performance, Larson was complimentary.
“I thought he played very well,” Larson said. “They had three or four Grade-A chances. He kept us in there when he needed to. Unfortunately, we didn’t play well in front of him.”
The 5-1 St. Cloud Huskies begin NCHC play next weekend with a two-game road trip to Colorado Springs to play Colorado College. Puck drop against the Tigers at the Colorado Springs World Arena is at 7:30 pm on Friday and 6 pm on Saturday.
Northeastern improves to 4-2 with an outstanding weekend. Head Coach Jim Madigan was elated after the game.
“I’m really proud of our guys,” Madigan said. “You’re playing the Number 2 team in the country and obviously, we knew what they did over at that other school in the heights of Chestnut Hill. So in the first period, we were a little in awe of them. But we settled into the game. We came in after the first period and knew we could skate with this club. I thought we took an important step this weekend and we’re learning how to win one-goal games.”
Primeau recorded 25 saves on 27 shots faced.
Boston’s Huskies play a home-and-home against the rival Boston University Terriers next weekend. Puck drop on Thursday at Matthews Arena and on Saturday at Agganis Arena is 7 pm.