An early Christmas present: Tommies rally to beat rival Mavericks

St. Thomas captain Lucas Wahlin snaps a shot on net during the second period of a game against Minnesota State Dec. 9 in Mendota Heights. (Photo by Ryan Stieg)

By Ryan Stieg 

MENDOTA HEIGHTS, Minn. — For the first two periods Saturday, the St. Thomas men’s hockey team was having a frustrating night.  

The Tommies were clearly keeping up with rival Minnesota State, both in terms of physicality and pace of play, but they couldn’t find any good looks to solve Mavericks goalie Keenan Rancier. However, in games like that, all you need is a spark and UST got its fire going during the third period with goals from Luc Laylin and Noah Prokop as the Tommies eked out a 2-1 victory to head into the holiday break on a high note. The victory also moved the UST back into first place in the CCHA standings.  

“I’m obviously proud of the way they stuck together tonight,” Tommies head coach Rico Blasi said. “That was a pretty good hockey game. Both teams played hard. It was physical and not a lot of room to hide out there. We just tried to stick to our game plan and got a couple bounces at the end. I thought we played hard tonight and pretty proud of the way we hung together.” 

St. Thomas’ Jake Braccini tries to cut off Minnesota State’s Evan Murr before it gets to the puck during the first period of a game Dec. 9 in Mendota Heights. (Photo by Ryan Stieg)

The first period was mostly uneventful as neither team mustered much offense. Mankato did get an early power play, but it couldn’t do much with it and the Tommies killed it off easily.  

With the score 0-0 to start the second, things mostly stayed the same. UST struggled to find openings in the MSU defense, but at the other end, Tommies netminder Jake Sibell kept the Mavericks at bay. That was until the 5:39 mark when Mankato’s Adam Eisele tapped a rebound past Sibell to get the Mavs on the scoreboard at 1-0.  

Sibell continued to come up big for the Tommies in the third, making a nice save on Campbell Cichosz with 16:22 left and denying Eisele on a rush two minutes later. Meanwhile, UST started to generate some offense with Lucas Wahlin almost getting the puck past Rancier at the 8:04 mark. Finally, at the 13:28 mark, the Tommies found the equalizer. After Ethan Gauer sent a shot on net that Rancier originally saved, Laylin collected the rebound and backhanded it into a wide-open net to tie the game at 1-1.  

Laylin said that there was “good energy” amongst the Tommies between periods and said they just needed to get bodies to the net, which ultimately led to his game-tying goal.  

“I kind of just read the play,” he said. “I trusted my D up top. Gauer got that puck to the net and telling the D to shoot the puck low, and it was a good rebound.” 

St. Thomas captain Lucas Wahlin battles Minnesota State’s Brandon Koch (left) and Jordan Steinmetz for the puck during the first period of a game Dec. 9 in Mendota Heights. (Photo by Ryan Stieg)

With 3:44 remaining, UST grabbed the lead thanks to a nice shot by Prokop. After Rancier saved Quinton Pepper’s shot, the puck went off a Mavericks skate right to Prokop, who snapped it into the back of the net to give the Tommies a 2-1 advantage.  

“It was just right place, right time,” Prokop said. “We ran that faceoff play quite a bit tonight. It didn’t work out the first few times, but I got a good bounce, hit a guy’s skate and it just landed right on my stick. I think if you stick to it and do the right things long enough, you’re going to have success somewhere and find some luck.” 

Sibell made two more key saves into the closing minutes to preserve the lead and Matthew Gleason blocked a shot with four seconds left to close out the win.  

“Gleason’s like that,” Blasi said with a chuckle. “He’s a warrior, man. He’s going to block anything. If the game is on the line, he’d try to eat a puck if he had to.” 

St. Thomas’ Luke Manning dodges a check from Minnesota State’s Campbell Cichosz during a game Dec. 9 in Mendota Heights. (Photo by Ryan Stieg)

Heading into the holiday break, the Tommies are clearly feeling positive about their first half performance and are going to enjoy it for a little while.  

“We’re feeling good,” Sibell said. “We know we have a lot of work to do still before the end of the year. We’re going to enjoy this break because we had a good start to the year. It’s going to feel good having that behind us and then looking forward to the next half. It’s a great way to go into it with a win.” 

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