St. Peter, Minn. – Although Head Coach Brett Petersen didn’t require the late 19th century classic the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde as the Gustavus men’s hockey team’s pre-season reading, the Gusties have routinely played as if they had a split personality throughout their 2011-12 campaign. Saturday’s MIAC Playoff Championship game was no different, as the Gusties used a fast start and a three-goal first period to jump out to an early 3-0 lead. Despite being outshot 31-to-12 in the final two periods, rookie goaltender John McLean was up to the challenge, keeping the Gusties on top by stopping 39-of-41 shots in Gustavus’ up and down 4-2 victory over St. Olaf.
With the win, Gustavus improves to 16-6-5 overall and earns the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference’s automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament. The clock struck midnight for the Oles as they conclude their 2011-12 season at 13-9-6 overall.
If you were going to be late to the game, finding a good place to stand to watch was your only option tonight. With nearly 1,400 Gustavus and St. Olaf fans packed into a standing room only arena, the largest crowd ever to witness a hockey game at Don Roberts Ice Rink, the atmosphere in the building was electric from start to finish.
The Gusties (Dr Jekyll) used that electricity and put together one of their best periods of the season. Gustavus controlled the offensive zone for much of the first period, recording 17 shots to St. Olaf’s eight and grabbing a three-goal lead.
“It was a great way for us to start. I thought we played off the energy of the crowd and used that to our advantage. After we got the first one, we just kept our foot on the gas pedal and really tried to take it to them. That was an important aspect of the game and it turned out to be a huge factor tonight,” said assistant coach Jared Phillips.
After St. Olaf’s Brian Hickey was sent to the penalty box at the 3:31 mark of the first period, junior Dane Erickson put Gustavus on top 1-0 after redirecting an Andy Pearson shot from the left circle into the back of the net at 5:13.
Three minutes later, it was Erickson scoring once again, this time from Ross Ring-Jarvi and Nate Paulsen, to put Gustavus up 2-0. The junior now has six goals on the season after recording the first multiple-goal game of his career.
Rookie Jack Walsh put the finishing touches on the period with a goal at the 15:32 mark, putting Gustavus up 3-0 heading into the first intermission. After taking a beautiful no-look pass from Ryan Johnson from off the left boards in stride, Walsh followed his initial shot and was rewarded with a put-back goal at the 15:32 mark. Walsh’s goal, his first since Dec. 9, 2011 against Concordia (Wis.), turned out to be the game-winner, his second of the season.
“For a guy like Jack Walsh to score a goal after battling back from some injuries and getting back on the ice after missing last weekend is huge for us. When our fourth line has seen the ice down the stretch, they have taken advantage of the opportunity and that is great to see late in the season like this,” said Phillips of the top to bottom contribution of Gustavus’ four-line attack.
As we learned from the regular-season finale between these two teams two weeks ago, even a three-goal lead is not safe in a rivalry game. With seven seniors in its starting lines, St. Olaf wasn’t going down without a fight, taking over control and completely dominating the second period. The Oles outshot the Gusties 19-to-7 in the frame, hitting two pipes and forcing McLean to come up several key saves.
After killing off an Alex Gallen tripping penalty, the Gusties (now in Mr Hyde mode) weren’t so fortunate after Ryan Johnson was flagged for interference at 8:35. Ole Charlie Raskob cut the lead to 3-1 with a wrister through traffic from the top of the umbrella on the power play.
“John made some big saves and we were very fortunate to still be up 3-1 after the period. We weren’t happy with the way we played, but the guys realized how lucky they were to still have the lead heading into the third,” said Phillips.
In what was a pair of big momentum shifts from St. Olaf to Gustavus within the opening five minutes of the third period, Gustavus saw itself on top 4-2 with 15-minutes to play. St. Olaf’s Jeff Harris cut lead to 3-2 at 3:28, and sophomore Gustav Bengtson put Gustavus back up two goals at 4-2 with a low wrister that sailed through an open window and past St. Olaf goalie Steve Papciak at the 4:27 mark.
“We got outshot pretty bad in the second period and a lot of those shots were from right in front of John. That’s unacceptable in a championship game like this, but I thought we came out and got back to what we did well in the first period. By making their D play defense, that allowed us to get some pucks to the net and Gustav was rewarded with a big goal,” commented Phillips.
After an opening five minutes of the third period in which Gustavus was channeling the good Dr Jekyll, Mr Hyde started to rear his head in the heart of the period. Sophomore Ilya Kravtchouk was charged with a five-minute major penalty at the 7:53 mark and thanks to an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty charged to St. Olaf’s Ross Trousdale at the same time, the Oles had roughly three minutes of major penalty time to work with. The Gustavus penalty killers came out with a Dr Jekyll type attitude and stepped up to the challenge, shutting down the Ole power play to hold on to a two-goal lead with seven minutes left on the clock.
St. Olaf finished 1-for-4 with 10 shots on the power play, while Gustavus went 1-for-2 with two shots.
Determined to not give up a three-goal advantage in the final frame, Gustavus matched St. Olaf’s intensity in the final five minutes of the game, not sitting back in the defensive end and counter-attacking on all of St. Olaf’s rushes.
By the final buzzer, the Golden Gusties threw their gloves in the air and mobbed goaltender John McLean underneath the concourse where a new MIAC Playoff Championship banner will soon be hung. A credit to the never-give-up attitude of St. Olaf who outshot Gustavus 41-to-30 by the end of the game, treating MIAC fans to one another memorable playoff title game.
The stellar playoff run of Steve Papciak came to an end after suffering the loss in a 26-save performance for the Oles. He ends his season at 4-2-1 overall.
Said Phillips of the first star play of his rookie goaltender, “John got a game puck tonight which was well-deserved. In the last two games, John has really kept us in it. Even though he is just a freshman, John gained a lot of experience with his playoff run in juniors last year and I think you are seeing him rely on that experience to step up and shine right now. He was the difference tonight, no doubt.”
It was fitting that McLean’s best performance would come when the Gusties needed it the most. The frosh netminder steered away a season-high 39 shots on the evening – 31 of which came in the final two periods. The 6’8” goalie heads into his first NCAA Tournament with a 14-4-2 overall record, a .924 save percentage, and a 2.13 goals against average.
The Dr. Jekyll side of the Gustavus men’s hockey prevailed in the end, as senior Ross Ring-Jarvi hoisted the Ed Saugestad Cup in front of a Gustavus student section that was successful in ‘whiting-out’ the Oles. This is head coach Brett Petersen’s second MIAC Playoff Title in his tenure, as Gustavus now has five MIAC Playoff Championships to its credit.
Gustavus will now play the waiting game, as the NCAA Tournament field will be decided upon Sunday night at roughly 9:00 p.m.