Hit and Sunk: Lakers take down undermanned Tommies in Game 1

St. Thomas’ Ryan O’Neill sends a shot on net during a CCHA Quarterfinal playoff game against Lake Superior State on Mar. 8 in Mendota Heights. (Photo by Ryan Stieg)

By Ryan Stieg

MENDOTA HEIGHTS, Minn. — When you’re facing an undermanned opponent, you want to take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way and that’s what the Lake Superior State hockey team did Friday night against St. Thomas.  

With the Tommies unable to put together a full line chart to multiple injuries, the Lakers hit them hard and used their speed to set the pace on their way to a 4-1 victory in Game 1 of their CCHA Quarterfinal series.

“I think that’s who we are and that’s the way we want to play with some pace and possess pucks and things like that,” Lakers head coach Damon Whitten said. “Certainly, this time of year, it might be three (games) in three nights. Knowing they’re a little short, you want to make sure you’re finishing hits and going through hands. They’ve got a young D corps just like us, so when they go back, you want to make them pay the price and wear them down a little bit. I thought we were decently effective at that. Tomorrow, we can be better in that area.” 

St. Thomas’ Liam Malmquist brings the puck toward the Lake Superior State net as the Lakers’ Evan Bushy gives chase during a CCHA Quarterfinal game on Mar. 8 in Mendota Heights. (Photo by Ryan Stieg)

For Tommies head coach Rico Blasi, the game ultimately came down LSSU executing on three plays and the Tommies not doing so.

“Give them credit,” he said. “They played hard tonight, and we played hard. They got their goals. They’re a very opportunistic team. They’re very good at scoring goals. Obviously, they’ve got some of the top scorers in our conference for a reason and you saw that tonight.” 

It was mostly quiet during the first period as both teams did a good job of shutting down passing lanes until the 16:19 mark. On a rush up the ice, Lakers forward Connor Milburn skated in front of the net and tucked the puck past Tommies goalie Aaron Trotter to make it 1-0. However, UST answered back with just five seconds remaining in the period as Matthew Gleason grabbed a loose puck near the right post, went around the back of the Lakers net and scored on a wraparound to make it 1-1 heading into the second period.  

St. Thomas’ Matthew Gleason celebrates his goal against Lake Superior State during a CCHA Quarterfinal game on Mar. 8 in Mendota Heights. (Photo by Ryan Stieg)

The second period was similar to the first as neither team generated many quality scoring opportunities. LSSU eventually took the lead again at the 13:38 mark on a great individual effort by Jared Westcott. The forward skated up the left boards, weaved into the slot and lifted the puck past Trotter to put the Lakers up 2-1 going into the third period.

UST got some offense going in the third as Ethan Gauer and Ryan O’Neill both had good shots on net but were denied by Lakers goalie Ethan Langenegger at the 8:25 and 8:27 marks respectively. The Tommies’ best scoring chance of the game came with just over five minutes remaining as O’Neill was 1-on-1 with Langenegger as two Lakers tried to close in, but the forward’s shot sailed over the crossbar.

LSSU’s Timo Bakos padded the lead to 3-1, tapping a rebound past Trotter at the 16:18 mark and just 27 seconds later, Artyom Borshyov put the finishing touches on the Lakers’ win with an empty netter.  

St. Thomas goalie Aaron Trotter tracks the puck in front of the net during a CCHA Quarterfinal game against Lake Superior State on Mar. 8 in Mendota Heights. (Photo by Ryan Stieg)

When asked what his team needed to do to finish the job Saturday and earn a spot in the CCHA semifinals, Whitten said the Lakers needed to be better overall.  

“Their (the Tommies) season’s on the line, so they’re going to be desperate from the drop of the puck,” he said. “There are some areas where we liked about our game, but I definitely think there are some areas that we can clean up. They earned some opportunities off some transition, which is really a strong part of their team. So, I think our puck management will have to get cleaned up a little bit to make sure we can take away those transition opportunities.” 

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