Saturday Night Surge: Manning nets two goals, Tommies sweep Wildcats

St. Thomas’ Luke Manning celebrates his first goal with teammates Quinton Pepper (15) and Mason Poolman during a game against Northern Michigan Nov. 4 in Mendota Heights. (Photo by Ryan Stieg)

By Ryan Stieg 

MENDOTA HEIGHTS, Minn. — For the first month of the season, the second game of a series has been a problem for the St. Thomas men’s hockey team as the Tommies had been shut out on three of the previous four Saturdays heading into this weekend’s series with Northern Michigan. 

The Tommies’ fortunes definitely changed last night as UST was efficient offensively and chased NMU goalie Beni Halasz after two periods on its way to a 6-1 blowout victory. Luke Manning had two of the goals, while Jake Sibbell finished with 26 saves in net for the Tommies.  

“Last night, I thought we came out with a purpose and played on our toes and played to our identity,” Tommies head coach Rico Blasi said. “I thought the guys did a nice job coming out tonight. I thought they took it to us the first five minutes a little bit, but then we got a bounce and Manning had a nice goal on the breakaway. Then I thought we settled down from there and started making some plays and got opportunistic in the second period and that’s just the way the game goes. Last week, I said if you don’t show up on Friday, you’re probably not going to get the bounces on Saturday. The same is true when you show up on Friday, sometimes you get the bounces on Saturday.” 

St. Thomas’ Quinton Pepper (center) battles Northern Michigan’s Artem Shlaine for the puck in the Tommies zone during a game Nov. 4 in Mendota Heights. (Photo by Ryan Stieg)

The Wildcats controlled play through most of the first period and they tested Sibbell often during a power play. However, it was UST that got on the scoreboard first as Manning got a pass from Quinton Pepper, raced into the NMU zone and snapped a shot past Halasz for a 1-0 lead at the 9:14 mark. The Tommies carried that lead over into the second period.  

Less than a minute into the second, UST padded that lead to 2-0 on a goal by Noah Prokop, who got a nice feed from Lucas Wahlin and then beat Halasz blocker side. The Wildcats got one goal back at the 13:19 mark on a goal by Grant Slukynsky, but Manning put the Tommies back up by two less than two minutes later. Manning collected a loose puck after a scramble in front and flipped it into a wide-open net to make it 3-1. Then, 35 seconds later, Wahlin rang a shot off the crossbar and into the back of the net to cap off the period and push UST’s advantage to 4-1.  

When asked about his two goals, Manning credited his teammates for helping him get on the scoresheet.  

“My linemates did a great job,” Manning said. “On the first one, Pepps made a great breakout pass, kind of stretching the zone. And the second one, the guys were just being hungry around the net, and it ended up on my stick and I was able to put it home.” 

St. Thomas’s Luc Laylin tries to flip the puck over to teammate Mack Byers as Northern Michigan’s Aiden Gallacher defends during a game Nov. 4 in Mendota Heights. (Photo by Ryan Stieg)

The Wildcats made a goalie change to start the third as Charlie Glockner replaced Halasz, but it didn’t change their fortunes as the Tommies’ Jake Braccini made it 5-1 less than two minutes into the final period. UST then finished off its rout at the 13:33 mark when Mack Byers tapped in a rebound to put the Tommies up by five goals.  

Byers played for the Wildcats for two seasons before transferring to UST and said it was interesting suiting up against some of his former teammates.  

“It’s always a unique occasion,” he said. “You kind of just forget about it when you’re going to the game. I felt a lot more comfortable this year than I did last year, that’s for sure. But my brothers in that locker room helped me out a ton and kept me level-headed the whole game. It’s kind of a special feeling. Makes you feel like you’re doing something right.” 

After getting swept by Bemidji State last week, Byers said the locker room is positive and that the Tommies are feeling like they’re back on track. 

“We feel good,” he said. “We had a tough week of practice that got us ready for this weekend and I think this weekend was a big test for us. Whether you’re going to lie down and just let the season go b,y or are you going to stand up and do something about it. Obviously, we didn’t start our conference play the way we wanted to, and kind of dug ourselves a hole, Now, we’ve got to get out of it and sweeping this weekend’s huge for that.” 

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