St. Peter, Minn. – The Gustavus men’s hockey team found itself on the losing end of a physical battle against UW-Stevens Point on Friday night in it’s home-opener at Don Roberts Ice Rink. With Gustavus on top 2-0 after the first period, UW-Stevens Point responded with three unanswered goals to hand the Gusties a 3-2 loss. Gustavus suffers it’s first setback of the season and is now 2-1-0, while the Pointers get back to .500 at 2-2-0 with the win.
Despite a slow start in which the Gusties were outshot by a wide margin inside the first seven minutes of the game, the score remained scoreless thanks to several key saves goaltender John McLean (So., Eagan, Minn.) and a strong defensive effort.
“The start wasn’t the greatest and that was probably due to guys being a little over-excited and maybe a little too anxious to play,” said assistant coach David Martinson. “We were excited to be at home for the first time, but you have to be able to channel that energy and use it efficiently.”
The Gusties turned the momentum around in the 12th minute of the period when a blocked shot at the defensive end led to a 2-on-1 break with Gustavus Bengtson (Jr., Stockholm, Sweden) skating hard to the net alongside linemate Brian White (Sr., For Frances, Ont.). Carrying the puck up the left side, Bengtson put pass onto the stick of White who buried it in the top right corner with his backhand from right of the crease.
“We battled through the slow start,” added Martinson. “John played well early and had some big saves, and the goal really sparked us.”
At the 17:30 mark of the period, UW-Stevens Point’s Evan Dixon was sent to the penalty box for holding and Dylan Wizner was given a five minute major and a game misconduct for spearing. Although the Gusties generated good looks with the 5-on-3 advantage, they were denied for over a minute before Tyler Lapic (So., New Prague, Minn.) was charged for roughing at 18:55.
With a 4-on-3 advantage nearing the end of the period, Tim LaBombard (Sr., Bloomington, Minn.) gave the Gusties a 2-0 lead with a goal at the 19:30 mark. As it happened on the White goal earlier, Gustav Bengtson was the contributor of a perfect setup. After juggling the puck unchallenged at the bottom of the right circle for a time, Bengtson found LaBombard with a back-door pass at the left post. LaBombard tapped in the puck to extend Gustavus’ lead heading into the first intermission.
Both White and LaBombard scored their first goals of the season tonight, while Bengtson improved his team-best point total to five with two assists.
UW-Eau Claire wouldn’t back down in the second period however, scoring two goals inside the frame to tie the game at 2-2. Just :55 seconds into the second, Kyle Heck went on a breakaway and beat McLeanto cut the lead to 2-1.
Despite killing two straight penalties after the Heck goal, Gustavus had trouble finding it’s rhythm for the remaining minutes of the period. “Our kill was good tonight, but the issue was the number of penalties we gave them,” said Martinson. “Sooner or later they are going to get one and thats what happened. They are a team that wants to bog down the game and play on special teams. One of our keys coming into tonight was staying out of the box, which did that for a period but then struggled after that.”
After being blanked on their first two tries in the period, the Pointers got one on the third. At the 14:13 point, Garrett Ladd ripped a shot through a screen and into the back of the net to tie the game at 2-2.
“In the end, the penalties cost us. That goal was a momentum swing. We had the least amount of penalties in the third period, and for parts, that period was our best of the night. We are at our best when we get the puck low and work some offensive zone time, but its hard to do that going back and forth between the power play and penalty kill,” commented Martinson.
Five minutes into the final period, disaster stuck in front of the Gustavus net. Kyle Heck was able to poke the puck past goaltender John McLean at the 5:00 mark to put the Pointers on top 3-2. In a miscommunication between the goaltender and his defender, Heck was able to knock what looked to be a frozen puck across the goal line for the eventual game-winner.
“Its a little frustrating that it took us to go down for our guys to step it up, but its also good to see that we eventually started playing our game at a high level. We need to play like that from the start and not have to wait for our opponent to score for us to pick it up,” stated Martinson on Gustavus’ third period performance following the go-ahead goal.
UW-Stevens Point finished with a 29-to-24 shots advantage in the game. The Gusties were 1-for-5 on the power play, while the Pointers were 1-for-4.
John McLean suffered his first loss of the season in net, allowing three goals and making 26 saves. His counterpart Brandon Jaeger earned the victory after a 22-save performance. After giving up two goals in the first period, Jaeger stopped Gustavus’ next 13 shots in the second and third periods.
The Gustavus men’s hockey team will be back at Don Roberts Ice Rink tomorrow night when it takes on No. 1 St. Norbert College at 7:05 p.m.
On keys to tomorrow night’s game, Martinson believes an added level of competiveness will be the difference. “We simply have to compete at a higher level,” he stated. “We can’t lose the one-on-one battles that we lost tonight. Hopefully it was a wakeup call for some guys and we will come out and have a better night tomorrow.”