St. Peter, Minn. – A pair of goals by Ryan Johnson and an empty-netter by Adam Smyth gave the Gustauvs men’s hockey team a 3-1 victory over Saint John’s in the semifinals of the MIAC Playoffs on Saturday night in front of a packed house at Don Roberts Ice Rink. Thanks to a 4-3 upset victory by No. 4 seed St. Olaf over top-seed St. Thomas tonight in Mendota Heights, the Gusties will host the 2012 MIAC Playoff Championship game on Saturday, March 3 at 7:05 p.m.
The Gustie skaters got off to a fast start, dictating play and controlling the zone throughout the opening portion of the contest. Gustavus had several opportune scoring chances in the first, yet couldn’t get the puck past Saint John’s senior netminder Tony Civello. Gustavus cooled down as the period went on, recording seven shots to Saint John’s nine in the frame.
“Our start was outstanding and I thought that our first five minutes were maybe the best five minutes we’ve played all season,” commented assistant coach Jared Phillips. “That was exactly the kind of start we talked about with our guys coming into the weekend and it was great to see.”
After several near misses in the opening period, coach Phillips thought that the first tally would be a hard-working, greasy type goal. He was right. Junior Ryan Johnson was credited with the opening goal of the game after his centering pass from behind the net ricocheted off a Johnnie defender and past Civello at the 4:51 mark of the second period.
“I just threw it on net and I think it went off the guy’s toe. I had good traffic from my two linemates Dane and Belisle, and I just got lucky,” said Johnson about the goal.
The Gusties would skate nearly the entire rest of the period with a 1-0 lead, killing one penalty in the period, a roughing call against Johnson, at the 9:32 mark.
Momentum quickly shifted in the final minute of the period when a traffic-jam in front of the net led to a Jascha Pettit goal with just :32 seconds left in the period to tie the game at 1-1.
“The most frustrating part of the period was how we finished it. We were unable to get the puck out of our zone, had to ice it, and couldn’t get the right personnel on the ice,w which led to us giving up a goal with 30-seconds left,” said Phillips.
“That’s a terrible way to end a period, but the important thing for us was to realize that there was still 20-minutes left and plenty of time to win this thing. There was a lot on the line and we needed to come back out and try to re-establish what we had going for us in the first period.”
The Gusties didn’t wait long to answer, as Johnson tallied his second goal of the game at the 1:57 mark of the third period, giving Gustavus a 2-1 lead. The goal proved to be the game-winner, Johnson’s second of the year. With two goals tonight, the junior now has a total of nine on the season.
Following the Johnson goal, the slow, complacent play of Gustavus in the remaining minutes mirrored the third period collapses suffered against Concordia and Saint Mary’s. Saint John’s took advantage, maintaining offensive possession for much of the period.
“Its interesting because we played so well against St. Olaf despite never having the lead. Tonight, we get the lead and then seemed to be scared and nervous about making a mistake and giving up the tying goal. At that point, that’s the worst type of mentality you can have,” said Phillips on the play of the Gusties in the third period.
Following a goaltender interference penalty assessed to Zach May at the 18:20 mark, the Johnnies were poised for one final push. A shot from the point by Michael Palmiscno just seven seconds into the power play hit the top-left corner pipe and was initially called a goal. After a deliberation between the referees and goal judge, the play was called a no-goal and Gustavus still led 2-1.
With :21-seconds remaining on the clock, sophomore Adam Smyth sent the puck 125-feet down the rink and into the back of an empty net to bring the game to a final at 3-1. Smyth has now scored a goal in three-straight games and has six goals over the last six contests.
“You’ve got to give our guys credit for pulling out a win tonight despite not having out A-game. It’s a huge compliment to our guys that they were able to find a way to win a game when there was a lot on the line,” commented Phillips.
Freshman goaltender John McLean picked up the first playoff win of his young career by stopping 26-of-27 shots in a complete game. McLean improves to 13-4-2 overall with the win, while his counterpart Tony Civello drops to 4-11-2 after making 17 saves.
Phillips said of the play of his rookie netminder, “John played very well for his first playoff test in the MIAC. He was huge for us at different times, but especially in the later part of the first period when they had a great look with a one-timer from a very good scoring position that John came across to make a big save. I think that was the save that got him into game while also giving our guys a lot of confidence in him. For him to play the way he did tonight was very good to see and we are very pleased with his performance.”
With the win, Gustavus improves to 15-6-5 overall and reaches the 15-win plateau for the fourth straight season. Saint John’s finishes its season at 11-13-2 overall.