St. Peter, Minn. – When it rains, it pours – in a good way for the Gustavus men’s hockey team at least. For the second straight night, goals scored in waves made the difference as Gustavus defeated Saint Mary’s 5-2 on Saturday night at Don Roberts Ice Rink. The Gusties scored two goals within two minutes of each other at the end of the first period to go up 2-0, then later scored back-to-back goals within a three-minute span in the third period to take a 4-1 lead.
“Other than Saturday at Concordia, we’ve started putting some pucks in the net,” said assistant coach David Martinson about Gustavus’ recent scoring surge. “We’ve had two lines step up and score consistently while the other lines have done their job and chipped one in every now and then. Everyone is playing hard and fitting into his role – that’s been the difference as of late. Our 5-1-0 record over the past three weekends is a reflection of that.”
The Gusties completed the sweep of the Cardinals with tonight’s victory, bumping their standing to fourth in the MIAC at 7-5-2 in league play and 13-7-3 overall. Saint Mary’s falls to seventh with 13 points, dropping to 6-7-1 in the MIAC and 8-14-1 overall.
“This was one of our best full weekends of the year. We didn’t play 120 minutes of the hockey we are capable of, but we were closer this weekend than any of the year,” said Martinson. “We knew two weeks ago that we needed to win five of our last six and we’ve knocked four of them out right away. We are in better shape now than we’ve ever been and hopefully we can take that momentum into next weekend and solidify a spot in the MIAC Playoffs.”
With a chance at a series sweep at home for the second consecutive weekend, Gustavus was the first to draw blood. At the 18:47 mark of the opening period, Jack Walsh (So., Mahtomedi, Minn.) batted the rebound of a Corey Leivermann (Jr., North Mankato, Minn.) shot to put Gustavus up 1-0.
Just over a minute after Walsh’s go-ahead goal, forward Andy Pearson (So., Burnsville, Minn.) was rewarded for his hard work when Ryan Johnson (Sr., Blaine, Minn.) fired the puck past the Cardinal goaltender from a tight angle below the left circle. A strong forecheck by Pearson behind the Saint Mary’s net kept a clearing pass in deep below the goal line where it eventually came to the stick of Johnson.
Andy Pearson later added another assist, giving him a two point game for the third time in four contests. He is now on a four-game point-streak that includes seven points (1G, 6A). Johnson’s goal, which is his fourth in as many games, extends his point streak to four games.
Despite outshooting the Cardinals 16-7 and holding them scoreless on two power play chances in the second period, Gustavus found itself with a one goal lead up 2-1 heading into the second intermission. At the 11:06 of the period, Nick Gualano buried a one-timer from Austin Balko to cut the lead in half.
After killing off an Adam Smyth (Jr., Burnsville, Minn.) holding penalty within the opening three minutes of the third period, Gustavus scored at the 8:08 mark to extend its lead to 3-1. Picking up a loose puck in the neutral zone, Jack Walsh skated up the right wing on a 2-on-1 break with Corey Leivermann moving up the left side with him. Anticipating the defender taking the centering pass away, Walsh snapped a wrister into the top left corner of the net for his second goal of the game.
The goal-scoring wave mentioned earlier played out within three minutes of Walsh’s eventual game-winner when Smyth scored at 10:42 to bring the score to 4-1. Andy Pearson connected with his linemate and high school teammate on a 120-foot cross-ice pass that originated at the left circle of Gustavus end. Smyth tracked down the puck and tucked it under the crossbar in the top right corner of the net.
“It was good to see us win the third period after struggling with that early in the year where it cost us. We were able to take our game up a notch and match the intensity of our opponent, which is another good sign at the end of the season,” commented Martinson.
Saint Mary’s scored on the power play at the 17:22 mark to cut the lead to 4-2 when Kevin Wentland scored from Austin Balko and Joey Van Antwerp.
With less that :20 seconds on the clock, Tyler Lapic (So., New Prague, Minn.) won a face-off on the dot outside the Saint Mary’s zone, sending the puck to Walsh who put sent it down the ice and into the goal for the empty-netter.
Jack Walsh earned his first career hat trick and Gustavus’ third of the season with the empty net goal. Walsh has also been on a scoring-tear as a late, recording six points on five goals and one assist over his four-game point-streak.
Gustavus netminder Tyler Venne (Sr., New Hope, Minn.) turned in another steady performance in a complete-game, making a total of 25 saves on the way to his fourth straight win. Venne is now 9-4-3 overall with a .902 save percentage and a 2.57 goals against average.
“Tyler is a guy who waited his turn for three years and now has his place at the table,” said Martinson about his senior goaltender. “He has handled the job well and tonight made several keys saves on potential goals that could have swung the game in favor of Saint Mary’s.”
The Gusties finished with a 39-27 advantage in shots and a 39-34 edge in face-offs.
With only two points separating the top five teams in the conference standings, every series across the league next weekend has the potential of determining the 2012-13 MIAC Champion.
“It should be a fun game in a great atmosphere,” said Martinson about Friday night’s matchup against St. Olaf. “School is back in session, students are back on campus, and we are in the hunt for a conference title. We’ve done a good job controlling our own destiny and are going to need to match the intensity of a St. Olaf team who is coming in desperate after dropping three straight games.”
The Gustavus men’s hockey team will face St. Olaf in the series-opener on Friday, Feb. 15 at 7:05 p.m. in Don Roberts Ice Rink. It will be Senior Night at the rink as it is the last home game of the regular season.
Notes: With a season-high three assists tonight, Tyler Lapic extended his point streak to four games. He has six points (1G, 5A) within the streak…Tyler Venne is 5-1-2 since the holiday break…Gustavus was scoring an average of just 1.78 goals per game at home entering tonight. The Gusties have scored a total of nine goals in their last two home games…Gustavus has capitalized on three of its four chances for a series sweep this season…The Gusties’ current four-game winning-streak matches their best run of the year…Gustavus averaged 39 shots per game over the weekend, which is over ten more shots than its season average…Gustavus is 5-4-1 at home and 7-4-1 on Saturday after tonight.