Quinnipiac goalie shines over St. Cloud State
With a pair of Hobey Baker finalists sharing the same ice, Quinnipiac left nothing to chance. The Bobcats gave goaltender Eric Hartzell a three-goal cushion in the first period, when he was impenetrable.
Hartzell made his case for college hockey’s national player of the year award by stopping 33 shots and shutting down fellow finalist Drew LeBlanc and St. Cloud State, as Quinnipiac cruised to a 4-1 victory in an NCAA Frozen Four semifinal Thursday night at Consol Energy Center.
“I thought Hartzell was great again,” Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold said. “I thought he was the best player on the ice. I thought we could have cleaned up some things in front of him. You saw why Eric Hartzell is in the Hobey Baker hat trick right now.”
Quinnipiac (30-7-5), the No. 1 overall seed, advances to the NCAA championship game for the first time in a season that includes a 21-game win streak and the first No. 1 ranking in school history.
The Bobcats will play ECAC rival Yale (21-12-3), a 3-2 overtime winner over Massachusetts Lowell, at 7 p.m. Saturday for the national title. The schools are located 10.25 miles apart, and neither has won an NCAA hockey title.
It marks the first time since 2005 that two teams from the same conference will meet in the national final. Quinnipiac is 10-5-2 all-time against Yale. The Bobcats are enjoying a five-game winning streak against the Bulldogs, including three meetings this season.
“I think it’s phenomenal for our league,” Pecknold said. “I think the ECAC was one of the best, if not the best, league in the country this year, top to bottom. We have great players in our league, top to bottom. Our league was awesome all year.”
The loss ended a magical run for St. Cloud State (25-16-1). As the No. 4 seed out of the Midwest Regional, the Huskies defeated No. 1 seed Notre Dame and No. 2 Miami (Ohio) to reach the Frozen Four for the first time. But their high-octane offense, which featured six players with at least 30 points, was no match for Hartzell and Quinnipiac.
“I think we’d do anything to replay the first 10 minutes of the hockey game,” St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko said. “We dug ourselves too deep a hole.”
Jordan Samuels-Thomas beat St. Cloud State goaltender Ryan Faragher on a wraparound goal for a 1-0 lead 1:49 into the first period. It was the 17th goal of the season for Samuels-Thomas, a junior right wing who scooped the puck from Russell Goodman out of a scrum behind the net.
Samuels-Thomas attempted an encore, trying the same move minutes later. This time, the puck slipped off his blade and rolled right to center Ben Arnt in the slot. Arnt beat Faragher for a 2-0 lead at 5:07, one of three goals the sophomore gave up on six shots in the first period.
“I just wanted to come out there and get right to my game, be strong on the walls and be strong on net and set the tone,” Samuels-Thomas said. “I felt like I had some good jump at the beginning, and some guys won battles. … It was there.”
That two-goal cushion should have been safe for Quinnipiac, which boasts not only the nation’s top goaltender in Hartzell but also a top-ranked defense that allowed only 1.65 goals a game this season.
Hartzell, a 6-foot-4, 198-pound senior, was spectacular. He set the tone by stretching his right leg and using his pad to block a wrist shot by Huskies center Nic Dowd in the opening minute. Hartzell stopped 13 shots in the first period alone, surviving two St. Cloud State power plays without giving up a goal.
“He was outstanding,” St. Cloud State captain Ben Hanowski said. “He showed why he’s up for the Hobey.”
The closest St. Cloud State came to scoring in the first was when LeBlanc, another Hobey Baker finalist who leads the nation in assists, fired a shot from the right circle that hit the post.
Seconds after St. Cloud State’s power play ended, Quinnipiac defenseman Zach Davies got a breakaway shot that Jeremy Langlois rebounded for his 13th goal and a 3-0 lead at 11:19. It marked the 100th career point for Langlois, who became the 19th player in the school’s Division I history and 33rd overall to reach the milestone.
Hartzell made a strong save against Ben Hanowski to close out the first, then stopped a Dowd slap shot from the left point early in the second. He showed off his repertoire by adding a glove save, knocking down the puck and smothering it, and, later, a skate save.
St. Cloud State finally solved Hartzell at 6:25 of the second, catching him out of position after a cross-ice pass from Kevin Gravel to Joey Benik, the Midwest Regional MVP after scoring two game-winners among his four goals. When Hartzell flopped to the ice to stop it, Benik patiently held the puck until he found an opening and buried a shot from the right red line to make it 3-1. Cory Thorson got a secondary assist.
Quinnipiac added to its lead when Kellen Jones took a pass from Zach Tolkinen along the right boards, beat defenseman Andre Prochno and crossed in front of the net before slipping a wrist shot from the left side past Faragher for a 4-1 lead at 14:31 of the second.
“We put ourselves in a tremendous bind when we needed to come from behind,” Motzko said. “They’re a tremendous defensive team. The next 50 minutes it was us trying to hammer it through. … There was a huge psychological advantage because defending for them is easy.”
Chuck Biedka is a Tribune-Review staff reporter. You can contact Chuck at 724-226-4711, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .