Linkin Park’s “Burn it Down” might as well be the 2015-16 St. Cloud State Huskies theme song of the year. “Uncharacteristic” is the only operative word for the way they ended an otherwise head-turning thrill ride that had them looking like a genuine Frozen Four favorite.
For only the second time on the year, junior netminder Charlie Lindgren allowed five goals in a game Saturday. (He had been forked out in favor of Rasmus Reijola in two other drubbings.)
It took 18 seconds of overtime, along with a breach of backchecking blueliners Ethan Prow and Jimmy Schuldt, to bring on that fifth strike. But the implications were all the same. Ferris State had knocked off the No. 1 seed in the West Regional, 5-4.
Pouncing on a draw in his own zone, Bulldogs forward Gerald Mayhew would dangle by the freshman Schuldt in the near alley of the SCSU zone. As Prow gravitated to the porch, Mayhew split the starting Huskies pairing and pelted Lindgren’s pad with the type of rebound coaches preach in practice.
FSU linemate Jared VanWormer collected that rebound and used his luxurious space to feed a gaping goal mouth.
In that instant, SCSU’s 31 wins — including 30 on Lindgren’s transcript — took on a temporary toxic stench of waste. The captain Prow’s collegiate career crashed short of ultimate fulfillment after he had spearheaded a revolutionary ride. Ditto those of prolific forwards Joey Benik, Kalle Kossila, David Morley and Jimmy Murray.
Minus Morley, all five senior skaters charged up at least one point in their unexpected finale. But they also each brooked a negative rating on a day in which the Huskies never raised an upper hand. They needed to recompense 1-0, 3-1 and 4-2 deficits before the Bulldogs took a permanent lead in sudden death.
Remarkably, this was technically the same collection of players that had joined North Dakota in a commanding season-long footrace for first place in the NCHC. The same team that, despite finishing second in that derby, looked better equipped to contend for postseason glory at the time.
St. Cloud simply did not turn in a complete game when its near-complete season hinged on doing so. This was a team that had turned heads with a glob of youth that gelled around the senior quintet with no hesitation. It was a team that claimed hardware at the Kendall Hockey Classic in October, the North Star College Cup in January and the NCHC playoffs in March.
But returning to the site of its intrastate bragging rights — St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center — the Huskies could only cultivate fleeting glimpses of their past and future. That combination could not suffice for a proficient present.
Kossila and freshman first-line associate Mikey Eyssimont were especially outstanding with their shared hands in twice cutting a two-goal deficit. In fact, save for sophomore center Blake Winiecki, the senior and freshman classes accounted for every point Saturday.
Four of the five seniors combined for a goal and five assists on their last hurrah. Four of the rookies amassed three goals and two assists to cement their status as a rookie class no more.
Judging by that, Saturday ought to have been a perfect microcosm of St. Cloud’s season. The Huskies were enlivening their present and ensuring their future, as this group had grown known to do.
Yet a boatload of blunders on the home front sullied the immediate present. As a consequence, they prematurely precipitated the parting of the two key classes.
Besides Prow’s MVP-worthy, all-around exemplary leadership from the backend, the Huskies had four fourth-year top-six forwards driving their 2015-16 machine. This was the last class from the program’s first, and still only, Frozen Four appearance in 2013.
Those seniors are now left to turn to their next respective endeavors and wait for time to kick ice chips over this mortifying memory.
Meanwhile, the holdovers will have a harder time savoring their Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day and just-because barbecues. For this fall is bound to yield a carbonated case of thirst to avenge the class of 2016’s incomplete foundation.
Lindgren should be back to backbone the 2016-17 installment. Fellow rising senior Niklas Nevalainen stands to succeed Prow as the elder statesman of the blue line.
Granted, Nevalainen has assumed mostly bottom-tier assignments. But his company will include an older and wiser, top-to-bottom troika of Schuldt, Will Borgen and Jon Lizzotte. Borgen’s middle-unit partner, Nathan Widman, and the versatile Ben Storm offer more options for veteranship on the backend.
Replenishing the top half of the strike force is another matter. Only Eyssimont, who closed this campaign with five goals in three games, and soon-to-be-junior Patrick Russell remain on that front. Both were flanking Kossila on the starting line by season’s end.
If there is more where the all-underclassman third line of Winiecki, Robby Jackson and Jacob Benson came from, depth should not be an issue. But St. Cloud needs strikers with a higher ceiling to link up with Eyssimont and Russell.
With Lindgren and the survivors of a fiery freshman baptism, the Huskies should continue to frustrate their opponents most nights. But Kossila and company will no longer be there to pilot the counterattack, unusual and untimely slew of setbacks or not.
How quickly SCSU replenishes that scoring stock will decide how long and how intensely Saturday’s residual vinegar haunts it.