St. Peter, Minn. - Lund Arena (now Don Roberts Ice Rink) was retrofitted with roof in 1975. At the 19:26 mark of the third period during this evening’s MIAC Playoff Semifinal game between Gustavus and Saint John’s, a goal by Andy Pearson (Jr., Burnsville, Minn.) triggered an eruption from the near-capacity crowd and almost sent Gustavus back to the days of playing outdoor hockey by blowing the roof off the building.
“The energy was awesome tonight and the place was rocking,” said Andy Pearson after the game. “After we took advantage on the power play at the start of the third, you could really feel the momentum in the place start to shift. It was back-and-forth all game long and that makes this win that much better.”
Thanks to Andy Pearson’s last-minute heroics, Gustavus earned a 3-2 win and a berth in to the MIAC Playoff Championship game on Saturday, March. 8 against St. Thomas. The Gusties have earn a trip to the MIAC Playoff Championship for a third straight year and fifth time in the last six seasons with tonight’s win.
With the score tied 2-1 late in the third period, Gustavus’s Tyler Lapic (Jr., New Prague, Minn.) and Saint John’s Nick Vatnsdal were sent to the penalty box for roughing at the 18:32 mark. With four skaters per side, the dual minor opened the ice up for the remainder of regulation. Pearson took advantage of that open ice with less than a minute on the clock, carrying the puck across the Saint John’s blue line moving up the left wing boards with speed. Pearson rode the momentum around one defender before turning sharply at the bottom of the left circle and crossing the face of Johnnie goaltender Saxton Soley. Soley committed to his butterfly early, and Pearson patiently waited for his window – netting the forehand game-winner from just inside the right circle.
“We went into a four-on-four and Smitty [Adam Smyth] says to me on the bench, ‘Hopefully we get to go,’” said Pearson. “Coach gave us the call and we went right into a breakout. Gallen hit me with a heads-up pass and I had speed going into the zone. Generally I look for Smyth because he’s got the shot, but when I looked up I didn’t see him open so I pushed up the boards, drove wide, and somehow got it around the goalie.”
Trailing 2-1 heading into the third period, Gustavus came out of the locker room firing. The Gusties had an opportunity early when Jack Walsh (Jr., Mahtomedi, Minn.) drew a hooking penalty after trying to track down a loose puck rebound that sat unclaimed in front of the Johnnie net.
“We had great energy in the locker room despite being down a goal after the second period,” commented junior forward Blake Schammel. “Because we were down just 2-1 at the point, everyone was fired up to get back out there.”
The Gusties struggled early during what was the game’s first and only power play opportunity for either side. Just as it looked as if like Saint John’s was going to kill the penalty, Gustavus took advantage of its final rush up the rink. Walsh carried the puck into the zone up the right wing and down into the right corner where he turned and centered a pass to Tyler Lapic at the right slot. Lapic wasted no time and quickly sent a low wrister through traffic and under the leg pads of Saxton Soley who didn’t see the puck make its way through the congestion in front of him.
Lapic’s goal, his first on the power play this season, came with just nine seconds remaining on the man-advantage at the 2:29 mark.
Gustavus found itself in a 2-1 deficit because of a strong second period by Saint John’s. At the 3:22 mark of the second, Saint John’s leading scorer, John Haeg, beat John McLean (So., Eagan, Minn.) with a hard wrister glove side from the left circle moving up ice on a one-on-one rush.
Although Saint John’s had a 2-1 lead after 40 minutes, the Gusties were fortunate to only trail by one goal. John McLean made several sprawling saves in the period and defenseman Drew Aspinwall (Fr., Maple Grove, Minn.) cleared a puck out of the crease that was inches from crossing the goal line.
The Johnnies forced the Gusties to play catchup from the opening period. At the 6:50 mark of the first, a faceoff win by Saint John’s in the Gustavus zone led to a shot by John Haeg at the side of the right circle. Haeg’s shot hit traffic in the slot before happening onto the stick of Dan McNamara who put the deflected puck in the back of the net.
Gustavus had the answer to the game’s opening goal nearly seven minutes later when Blake Schammel (Jr., Red Wing, Minn.) pounced on a loose rebound at the left slot and beat a sprawling Soley blocker side at 13:28.
“Our line got off to a rough start after giving up a goal off a faceoff in our D-zone earlier,” said Schammel. “We talked as a line and said that we needed to respond and get back in there. Drew had a nice shot from the point and we knew the Saint John’s goalie kicks out a lot of rebounds. I got to the puck and somehow tucked it in from a sharp angle. We needed to respond early and to get a goal back a few shifts later was huge.”
Gustavus finished with a 41-22 shots advantage, which included an 18-7 edge in the first period and a 10-5 edge in the third.
John McLean picked up his first playoff victory since 2012 and improved to 15-5-4 on the season. He turned away a total of 20 shots and is now 4-1-0 in his career against Saint John’s. McLean’s counterpart, Saxton Soley, suffered the loss after making 38 saves – 30 of which came in the first and second periods.
The Gusties will now have a week’s worth of practice to prepare for their MIAC Playoff Championship matchup against conference champion St. Thomas. Gustavus will travel to Mendota Heights, Minn. on Saturday, March 8 to face the Tommies at a time that is to be determined.
“We played a very good third period tonight and that’s something we’re going to need to do next weekend,” said Pearson about Saturday’s championship tilt against St. Thomas. “They got the best of us in the third period in our regular season series so that’s going to be key next weekend. It was a tough series a couple weekends ago but we are ready for another shot at them.”