The St. Cloud State Huskies flexed its goal-scoring muscles to take the third annual North Star College Cup, beating Minnesota State 5-4 on Saturday and Bemidji State 5-2 on Sunday.
The Huskies have extended its unbeaten streak to six games, the longest of the season. They have had a four game win streak four separate times throughout the season.
Here is a rundown of the games in the NSCC.
St. Cloud State 5 Minnesota State 4
The Huskies power play went 3-for-4 against a normally effective Maverick penalty kill and was the difference when senior Jimmy Murray scored on a beautiful passing play late in the third period.
But it was Mikey Eyssimont’s night as he scored two goals and assisted on another. It looks like the light bulb turned on for the freshman, as he has six goals and nine assists during the month of January.
Maverick junior Zach Stepan also notched two goals and had an assist on the losing effort. Freshman starter Jason Pawloski was pulled after he allowed three goals in 10 shots. Junior reliever Cole Huggins didn’t fair much better, letting in two on 12 shots and taking the loss.
This wasn’t a game where the Huskies were clicking on full cylinders. That may be surprising to read after scoring five goals, but allowing four is something that is very uncharacteristic for this team. They need experience where they battle from drop to end horn. Minnesota State gave them that.
Bemidji State 4 Minnesota 2
Senior Markus Gerbrandt had two goals and an assist, including the game winner with about four minutes left in the game for the Bemidji State Beavers to pull ahead of the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
Sophomore Michael Bitzer played solid in goal, allowing two goals on 32 shots. The biggest barrage happened in the third period, when the Gophers flung 16 shots toward Bitzer.
The Gophers opened up the scoring early when junior Connor Reilly scored just 3:33 into the contest.
I was surprised on how many rebounds Bitzer gave up during the game and the Gophers’ inability to capitalize on the situation. Credit to Bemidji State for not giving the Gophers many second chances, but usually that many rebounds isn’t s recipe for success.
Minnesota State 3 Minnesota 2
It was senior Teddy Blueger’s turn to have two goals and an assist in a game as his point total rose to a team leading 24th point of the year. Huggins made 21 saves on the night.
The lone bright spot for the Gophers on the weekend was junior Justin Kloos. Of the four goals scored by the team, Kloos had a hand in every single one of them, having two goals and two assists.
While a non-conference game, this has major pairwise implications for the Gophers. A win would have put them in 14th and in pretty good position to make the NCAA tournament. Instead, the loss puts them at 20th. It’s looking increasingly likely the Gophers will have to win the Big Ten tournament to make the NCAA tournament. The Gophers are 2-13 in the last 15 games against teams from the state of Minnesota.
St. Cloud State 5 Bemidji State 2
The Beavers may have been defending its title, but the Huskies scored four the first two periods to coast to the championship.
Senior Joey Benik scored his team leading 16th and 17th of the season in different fashions in the first period. Benik found a soft spot in the middle of the slot when a shot from senior David Morley bounced off the end boards and Benik was able to shovel the puck backhanded past Bitzer.
Benik’s second goal came off on an odd man rush when freshman Patrick Newell laid a perfect pass to Benik, who leaned into a slap shot and ripped one past Bitzer.
Bitzer’s night was quick. He allowed four goals on only 12 shots. Junior Reid Mimmack allowed one goal 12 shots in relief.
A bigger story is what happened late in the game when freshman Dan Billett took a five-minute major for kneeing Husky freshman Robby Jackson in the final minutes of the game. Jackson did not return and his status for next weekend is questionable.
The fourth line for the Huskies has been playing very well over the past few weeks and it would be a big blow for them if he were to miss significant time.
Billett may get a suspension on the play, but nothing has been announced.
I like this tournament. People can point to the attendance and say how a generous 10,993 isn’t enough to sustain it, but it needs time to grow. The old WCHA Final Five didn’t start out as marquee event. It evolved and grew into one. This needs time to evolve.
The biggest change I would make is having the losing team sit out the next year instead of just a rotating member not named the Gophers sit out. I understand the non-conference scheduling for next year would be tricky as games need to be planned out, but that would add a lot more drama to the consolation game and would increase attendance. I think it would be tough to pull off, but doable. It would make it the most unique event in college hockey.
Three teams in three years have won this tournament. Only two teams have won the Beanpot in 22 years.
That is it for me. I’ll have a weekend preview on Thursday night. My shift is over.