New Weekend, New Challenge as Tommies take on Top-Ranked Gophers

St. Thomas’ Lucas Wahlin tries to deliver a check to St. Cloud State’s Jack Peart during a game Oct. 8 in Mendota Heights. (Photo by Shannon Stieg)

By Ryan Stieg 

MENDOTA HEIGHTS, Minn. — Two years ago, the St. Thomas men’s hockey team suited up for their first game at the Division I level and were crushed 12-2 at St. Cloud State.

Last Saturday, the Tommies kept up with the now-No. 9/10 ranked Huskies from start to finish and took them down 5-4 in overtime. After splitting with SCSU over the weekend, it’s clear that UST has come a long way in a short amount of time.  

Not surprisingly, UST head coach Rico Blasi was pleased with how his team performed overall during Monday’s press conference and thought it was a hard-fought battle both nights.  

“I thought we played inspired hockey and I thought we stayed in the game,” he said. “We didn’t get rattled with their power play goals and things that were happening throughout the game. So, I’m really happy with the way we responded, and we had some timely goals and some timely saves just like they did. I thought both games were excellent games, tight games, back and forth. Some early mistakes from teams that are just playing their first games. I thought Sunday night, you could see the second game of a weekend at times. Guys were feeling it a little bit. All of those things, I think, we’ll be able to clean up and I’m sure St. Cloud’s telling their team the same thing. But I was happy with the way we performed both nights.” 

St. Thomas’ Mack Byers tries to get a shot off at St. Cloud State goalie Dominic Basse during a game Oct. 8 in Mendota Heights. (Photo by Shannon Stieg)

Taking on the Huskies to start the season was a tough draw, but this week, it gets potentially more difficult for the Tommies as they take on top-ranked Minnesota. Friday’s contest will be played at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, so that will put UST on an even bigger stage. Despite that, Blasi said his team isn’t getting caught up in all of that.  

“I think we just focus on what we can do and what our game plan is, and we go from there,” he said. “I think most of these players have played in front of big crowds and most of them have played at the X in the high school tournament. I’m not worried about that. What we’ve got to focus on is getting better every day. It’s still a process for us and we’re taking necessary steps and that’s good. But we’ve got to continue to build on that and you’ve got to kind of feel that in your stomach as you start to move forward and you feel like you can play with a team like St. Cloud, then you’ve got to take another step. Which means you’ve got to be more detailed, you’ve got to be focused, you’ve got to be just that little bit much better every day in order for you to push the envelope.” 

St. Thomas’ Jake Braccini skates up ice with the puck during a game against St. Cloud State Oct. 8 in Mendota Heights. (Photo by Shannon Stieg)

The Gophers are stacked offensively as usual and they’re also stingy at the other end of the rink. If that’s not enough, Justen Close is one of the best goalies in the nation, so the Tommies will have to be at their best if they want to come out with a victory or two.  

“We got a chance to watch a little bit of the Bemidji (State) game,” Blasi said. “I’m not sure I take too much out of an exhibition game. They’ve got a lot of weapons. You’ve got to be disciplined, you’ve got to play your game, you’ve got to play hard. Bobby will have them going, I’m sure of that. Other than that, I think, at the end of the day, we still have to play our game and do what we have to do, and we’ll see what happens.” 

Puck drop is set for 7:30 p.m. Friday in St. Paul and 6 p.m. Saturday in Minneapolis.  

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