New week, new challenge as first place Tommies head to Augustana

St. Thomas goalie Aaron Trotter gets tangled up with Minnesota State’s Adam Eisele during a game Friday in Mendota Heights. (Photo by Ryan Stieg)

By Ryan Stieg 

MENDOTA HEIGHTS, Minn. — It’s early February and the St. Thomas men’s hockey team is in first place again.  

After falling in a overtime heartbreaker to Minnesota State Friday, the Tommies dropped one point behind the Mavericks and into second place in the CCHA standings. However, UST rebounded Saturday thanks to a huge performance in net by goalie Aaron Trotter and got two goals from Cooper Gay to get a 4-2 win and move back into the top spot. Trotter was also named the CCHA Goaltender of the Week thanks to some flashy saves both nights.  

“I thought Saturday we started the game off really well and we got an early lead, which gets your opposing team to chase the game a little bit,” Tommies head coach Rico Blasi said Monday. “I thought Trotter was incredible in net and sometimes when things don’t look so good the night before, things turn around and you get rewarded for some play maybe earlier in the year. So, all in all, a good week.” 

St. Thomas forward Cooper Gay brings the puck into the Minnesota State zone as the Mavericks’ Campbell Cichosz defends during a game Friday in Mendota Heights. (Photo by Ryan Stieg)

Blasi also praised Gay for coming up big for the team and for having a breakout season as he’s currently tied with Mack Byers for the team lead with 11 goals.  

“I think Cooper has just been an extension of what he did last year,” Blasi said. “Where we break down the game, maybe he wasn’t getting the ice time or the looks that he’s getting this year. He’s really kind of taken a step, in terms of doing what he did last year at a different level now. A little bit more responsible with the puck and without the puck, and to me, he’s just continuing to get better.” 

The Tommies have won four of their last six games to start the second half of the season and the most impressive part of this little run is that they’re pulling it off with some key guys out of the lineup.  

“The adversity that this team has gone through is, I would say, unique,” Blasi said. “To play two defensemen at forward now consistent for the past three weeks has been a little bit of a challenge. But guys like Fisch (Braidan Simmons-Fischer) and (Jase) Sofo and (Tim) Piechowski have done a decent job of collecting a lot of minutes and being disruptive. But I would say collectively as a whole, our team has kind of stepped up. Everybody’s chipping in here and there. Whether it was our D corps dropping down to six because we don’t have anybody else available to play D, whether we played 11 forwards against Northern, there’s no excuses. This is what we have and we’re going to go forward. So, I’ve been really impressed with the maturity of our team.  

“Even after Friday night, there’s been teams that you lose a heartbreaker in overtime, and you go on the road the next night and you might feel sorry for yourself. And that would be a natural feeling for a human being to feel down and we didn’t do that. So, what I’m impressed with is just the maturity level and the willingness to sacrifice for each other and the team game. I think that’s an important piece.” 

St. Thomas’ Ryan O’Neill skates hard toward the Lake Superior State net during a game in November, 2023, in Mendota Heights. (Photo by Ryan Stieg)

This week brings a new challenge for the Tommies as they travel to CCHA newcomer Augustana. Since the Vikings are not a full member yet, UST won’t gain any points in the standings. So, if Mankato gets a win over Michigan Tech this week, the Tommies will drop out of first and won’t be able to catch up to the Mavericks until next week.

Despite that, Blasi said the series against Augie will be a benefit to his team as it’ll need to play well if it wants to beat the Vikings in their fancy new arena.

“They’re a good hockey team,” he said. “Obviously, well-coached. They’ve got some veterans on their team. To me, it’ll bring out the best in us. We’ve gotta be playing our best hockey at this time of year anyway, so it comes at a good time.” 

Puck drop is set for 7 p.m. Friday and 6 p.m. Saturday in Sioux Falls, S.D.  

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *