No holiday hangover: Tommies feast on Lakers, get 5th win in a row

St. Thomas’ Lucas Wahlin gets taken down as he tries to get a shot off in front of the Lake Superior State net during a game Nov. 24 in Mendota Heights. (Photo by Ryan Stieg)

By Ryan Stieg 

MENDOTA HEIGHTS, Minn. — Sometimes teams can be a little slow out of the gates coming off a bye week, but that definitely wasn’t the case for the St. Thomas men’s hockey squad Friday against Lake Superior State.  

Instead of being hungover from the Thanksgiving holiday, the Tommies stayed hungry and feasted on the Lakers defense and goalie Ethan Langenegger on their way to a 4-2 win and their fifth straight victory. That win also pushed the UST back into first place in the CCHA standings, but head coach Rico Blasi said his team’s not focusing on that.  

“We just try to go out and play our game every night,” he said. “We’re not thinking about that stuff right now. I thought it was a good college hockey game tonight. Obviously, you never know coming off the bye what you’re going to do. I thought we had good legs. We made some good plays. We knew they were going to push. That’s a good hockey team over there and we held on at the end.” 

St. Thomas’ Mack Byers fights for the puck as he tries to drive toward the Lake Superior State net during a game Nov. 24 in Mendota Heights. (Photo by Ryan Stieg)

One of UST’s recent struggles this year has been its power play, but it looked pretty good early on. The Tommies drew a boarding penalty just 11 seconds into the first period and six seconds later, Liam Malmquist sniped a shot past Langenegger to make it 1-0. UST stayed in control for the majority of the period and at the 7:19 mark, Matthew Gleason padded its advantage to 2-0. Defenseman James Marooney sent a pass to Gleason in the slot and the Colorado College transfer backhanded the puck past Langenegger.  

When asked about the importance of shaking off the rust early and starting fast against the Lakers, Gleason said they’d been preparing to do that during practice.

“Last week might have been a bye week, but it definitely didn’t feel like one,” he said with a laugh. “We were going at each other pretty hard all week. It’s never easy, especially the day after Thanksgiving. You eat your turkey and you’ve got to get your legs going right away after a bye weekend, but the guys handled it well, which is really good.” 

UST appeared on the cusp of breaking the game open while on the power play with around 13 minutes left in the second period, but a turnover at the blue line led to a partial breakaway for the Lakers’ John Herrington, who then buried the puck for a shorthanded goal at the 7:21 mark to cut the deficit to 2-1.  

St. Thomas’ Luke Manning skates with the puck toward the Lake Superior State net during a game Nov. 24 in Mendota Heights. (Photo by Ryan Stieg)

However, the Tommies weren’t deterred. With eight minutes left, Cooper Gay crashed the net and almost got the puck past Langenegger, but teammate Quinton Pepper was there to clean up the trash, snapping a rebound into the back of the net to make it 3-1. Later, Ryan O’Neill put the Tommies up 4-1 as he sent a wrister past Langenegger and UST skated into the period break with a three-goal advantage.  

LSSU wouldn’t go away though. After the Tommies killed off their first penalty of the night, the Lakers’ Carter Batchelder made a nice move and beat Tommies goalie Aaron Trotter to the post to trim UST’s lead to 4-2 at the 5:10 mark. However, the Tommies wouldn’t be denied as Trotter kept the Lakers at bay for the rest of the game, finishing with 27 saves.  

After the Tommies were swept at Bemidji State a few weeks ago, Blasi has been pushing his team hard in practice and so far, things have paid off.  

“I feel like it really helps with just the overall grit and attitude going in,” Trotter said. “We know that every game is going to be hard. So why not make our practices hard too?” 

St. Thomas goalie Aaron Trotter spreads out to keep the puck out of the net during a game against Lake Superior State on Nov. 24 in Mendota Heights. (Photo by Ryan Stieg)

Trotter has looked locked in over the course of the month and he said he’s been comfortable in net during his last three outings.

“I feel like I’ve been playing confident,” he said. “Just worrying about what I can control recently, and the past three games have felt really good. So, I’m going to keep rolling with that.” 

Getting two wins against a team over a weekend is considered the hardest thing to do in college hockey and to get their third straight sweep, the Tommies know they must be ready to go once again.  

“Lake State is going to come out hard tomorrow,” Gleason said. “They’re a tough team to play. They’re strong, but I think for us, it’s just fixing up a couple little things. I thought tonight, we had some great moments and then we had some tougher moments throughout the game. So, I think, just fixing up a couple things and then just coming out ready to go. The first five is going to be pretty tough.” 

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