St. Cloud, Minn. – The Gustavus men’s hockey team’s late-season surge came to an end with a 3-2 loss to Saint John’s University in the MIAC Playoff Championship on Saturday afternoon in the National Hockey Center. The Johnnies forced the Gusties to play catch-up all afternoon, going up 1-0 by the end of the first period and 2-1 following the second period. After Andy Pearson (So., Burnsville, Minn.) knotted the game at 2-2 early in the third, Saint John’s Justin Hoschsprung scored the eventual game-winner 13 minutes later.
Gustavus couldn’t find its third equalizer of the game in the remaining four minutes, succumbing to defeat for just the first time in nine games. Gustavus likely ends its season at 17-8-3 overall, while Saint John’s improves to 16-7-4 with the victory.
“I’m disappointed because we didn’t play our best game today, but I’m proud of the run we’ve had over the second half of the year,” said Head Coach Brett Petersen. “Based on the circumstances – getting off to a poor start and facing injuries early in the year – I’m happy with how far this team has come. The start of today’s game was frustrating but we finished hard and in the end it was just too little, too late.”
Jason Johnson kicked off the scoring in Saturday’s back-and-forth affair at the 10:42 mark of the first period. After Dane Erickson (Sr., Woodbury, Minn.) was sent to the box for roughing at 9:15, Johnson put the Johnnies on top 1-0 with a power play goal 1:27 into the first power play of the game. Justin Hochsprung and John Haeg were credited with assists on the opening goal.
Gustavus was blanked on its only power play try of the first period and the teams headed to their respective locker rooms with the Johnnies up 1-0 after one. Saint Johns carried the opening period shots advantage 8-to-5.
Facing their first deficit after the initial frame since going down 2-0 to Hamline on Feb. 2, the Gusties didn’t waste time in the second period, scoring the equalizer 2:12 into the period. Tying the game at 1-1 was Schyler Adams (So., New Prague, Minn.) on an assist from Blake Schammel (So., Red Wing, Minn.). The goal was Adams’s third of the season and first since Jan. 5.
Two minutes after Adams’s equalizer, Tim LaBombard (Sr., Bloomington, Minn.) was tagged with a hooking penalty – his first minor of the season – and the Johnnies went on the power play for the second time of the night. At the 6:03 point, with :16 seconds left on the Saint John’s man-advantage, Nick Senta blasted a slap shot into the back of the net to put the Johnnies up 2-1.
Gustavus was outshot 10-5 in the second and went 0-for-1 on the power play.
Although Saint John’s had not lost when leading after two periods all season, Gustavus wouldn’t back down in the 20 minutes. The Gusties came out of the locker room hot once again, scoring the game-tying goal at the 3:07 mark when Andy Pearson knocked home a rebound.
With the scored knotted at 2-2, it would take until the 16:43 mark before the game-winner was tallied. Justin Hochsprung, who has now scored seven goals in the past five games, buried the game-winner from John Haeg to allow Saint John’s a trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Saint John’s ended up with a 27-21 advantage in shots while also killing both of Gustavus’s power play opportunities. The Johnnies made the most of their chances on the man-advantage, going 2-for-2 in game.
Gustavus goaltender Tyler Venne (New Hope, Minn.) sees his winning-streak come to an end at eight games with tonight’s loss. It was just the first time since Feb. 1 that Venne allowed more than two goals in a game. The senior tallied 24 saves and concludes his season at 13-5-3.
Venne’s counterpart Saxton Soley turned away 19 of Gustavus’s 21 shots to pick up the win and improve to 15-4-1.
Thanks to its win Saturday, Saint John’s received the MIAC Playoff championship plaque, the Ed Saugestad traveling trophy and the MIAC’s automatic bid to the 2012-13 NCAA Division III Men’s Hockey Tournament. The Johnnies will learn their first-round destination and opponent when the bracket is announced during Sunday’s Selection Show. The Gusties and the rest of the MIAC Playoff teams will also tune in Sunday at 9 p.m. to see if they received an at-large bid into the field. The show will be broadcast live online on NCAA.com.