Rediscovering their identity: Wahlin scores twice, Tommies top Wildcats

St. Thomas’ Lucas Wahlin (second from left) celebrates with his teammates after scoring a goal in the first period during a game against Northern Michigan Nov. 3 in Mendota Heights. (Photo by Shannon Stieg)

By Ryan Stieg 

MENDOTA HEIGHTS, Minn. — After getting swept last weekend at Bemidji State, St. Thomas men’s hockey coach Rico Blasi talked earlier this week about his team needing to play to its identity heading into Friday’s game against Northern Michigan.  

The Tommies clearly listened to him as they took an early 2-0 lead and after the Wildcats rallied to tie it, UST got two more goals in the third period to earn a 4-2 victory. Lucas Wahlin scored two goals for the Tommies, one of them being a shorthanded tally, while Aaron Trotter made 21 saves in net.  

“We always talk about the process, and we always talk about playing to our identity and that’s the only chance you have in this game to have some sort of success,” Blasi said Friday. “Whether you win the game or not, sometimes you get the bounces and sometimes you don’t, but if you don’t play to your identity and you don’t play to what you are, you’ll never have a chance. That was the message going into the week that we had to play within ourselves, within our identity, and that’s what we did tonight, and we got some bounces.” 

St. Thomas’ Cooper Gay brings the puck into the Northern Michigan zone during a game Nov. 3 in Mendota Heights. (Photo by Shannon Stieg)

It took a bit for both teams to find their offense, but once they did, they put up some nice goals. The Tommies got things started with 9:49 left in the first period when J.D. Metz rang a shot off the post and into the back of the net for his first collegiate goal. Just 17 seconds later, UST struck again as Wahlin sniped a shot from the high slot past Wildcats goalie Beni Halasz to make it 2-0.  

NMU answered back though. After UST’s Cooper Gay was whistled for interference, the Wildcats went on the power play and set up a nice backdoor goal as Andre Ghantous sent a cross-ice pass over to Artem Shlaine, who tapped it inside the left post to cut the deficit to 2-1 heading into the second period.  

The Tommies had several chances to pad their lead in the next period, but they couldn’t take advantage of three power plays. UST’s best opportunities came around the 14-minute mark as James Marooney, Matthew Gleason and Mack Byers each had a shot on net, but Halasz saved them all, stretching out on the last one to rob Byers.  

Early in the third, Northern tied it up on another good setup by Ghantous. While on the power play, Ghantous rushed up the side boards and fed a cross-ice pass to Kristof Papp, who beat Trotter to the right post.  

The Wildcats had an opportunity to grab their first lead a couple minutes later as it got another power play, but instead, Wahlin poked the puck away from a NMU defenseman by the penalty box, skated down the ice and beat Halasz to put UST back up at 3-2 at the 4:44 mark. After getting robbed the period before, Byers finally got the puck past Halasz as he tapped in a loose puck at the 17:24 mark to cap off the victory.

St. Thomas’ Mason Poolman tries to clear the puck out of the Tommies defensive zone during a game against Northern Michigan Nov. 3 in Mendota Heights. (Photo by Shannon Stieg)

“That’s a good team back there,” Blasi said. “We knew they were going to push, and they did. They pushed early in the second. I thought we pushed back and in the third, they got a goal right away. And they were pushing for about four or five minutes, and then Wahlin gets a bounce on the PK and buries it. I think in the last year and a half, we’ve been in one goal games the entire time. I’m almost feeling like it’s going to be like that the rest of the way because every team’s really good and every team is going to push, and you’ve got to battle through it.” 

The Tommies will try to pick up their first sweep of the year tonight and they know that getting a second win against a talented Wildcats squad won’t be easy.  

“It’s definitely harder to win on Saturday night,” Wahlin said. “They’re definitely going to come out a lot harder and we’re going to expect that. So, we just need to battle the adversity and take that first punch and win the first five minutes of tomorrow’s game.” 

Blasi agreed with Wahlin and said that NMU should be ready to go from the start, so his team needed to be prepared for that.

“The hardest thing to do in college hockey is to sweep because there’s a lot of parity and a lot of good teams,” he said. “They’re going to make adjustments and we’re going to have to quickly make adjustments on the fly and play our game.” 

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