DULUTH, Minn. — With no fans in the stands, when Nick Perbix was carrying the puck into the Minnesota Duluth zone in overtime, he could clearly hear some instructions from his teammates.
"I felt myself beat the guy around the net when (goalie) David (Hrenak) set it there for me and I look up and I didn't see any forwards, which is kind of funny," said Perbix, who began with the puck behind the St. Cloud State goal. "By the time I got to (the UMD blue line), I could hear the whole bench screaming that the guy I was going against was a forward. 'It's a forward, it's a forward.'
"So then I'm like, 'I'll give it a go.' Things worked out"
Perbix stickhandled around Bulldogs forward Kobe Roth, then flipped a backhand past Zach Stejskal with 1:02 left in the 3-on-3 overtime to give the No. 6/7-ranked Huskies men's hockey team a 1-0 win over fifth-ranked Minnesota Duluth. The Huskies (9-4-0-2-2-0 NCHC, 9-4-0 overall) took five of six points in the NCHC series at Amsoil Arena and remain in the lead in the conference race.
The Huskies have 27 points, six more than the Bulldogs (6-5-2-1-1-1, 6-5-2). Third-place North Dakota (7-2-1-2-0-0, 7-2-1) is seven points behind, but has played three fewer games than SCSU and UMD. The Fighting Hawks return to play with a series against Colorado College (3-5-2-0-1-2, 3-5-2) on Sunday and Monday in Colorado Springs.
And oh by the way, Hrenak, a Los Angeles Kings draft pick, made 28 saves for his 10th career shutout, a St. Cloud State record in the NCAA Division I era.
Going to the backhand
When Perbix, a Tampa Bay Lightning draft pick, gets in close on a goalie, it is not uncommon for him to go to a backhand shot. There's a reason for that.
"I've talked to some goalies before and they just say that the backhand is so unpredictable," Perbix said. "It's a lot different to read off it, I guess. After knowing that — I know I don't have the hardest backhand ever — but they say it's like a changeup in baseball. They don't know exactly where it's going."
The fact that Perbix came up with the game-winning goal was a surprise to no one on the St. Cloud State side of things. It was his second game-winning goal of the season (Western Michigan, Dec. 1) and he had an assist on the game-winning goal against Colorado College on Dec. 18.
Among Division I defensemen, he is tied for second in points (13). He also leads his team in assists (8), power-play assists (5) and is tied for the team lead in plus/minus at a plus-7.
"Perbs has really good skill when it comes to that type of play," Huskies coach Brett Larson said of the game-winning goal.
"He's been great all season, right from the start, and it's awesome to see," Hrenak said. "He's just an awesome person, which is even more important."
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Will Hrenak get a game puck?
Hrenak, a senior from Považská Bystrica, Slovakia, picked up his first shutout. His 10th shutout moves him alone into first place for the program's career shutout record. He went into his 98th career college start with nine shutouts and in a tie with Scott Meyer (1996-2001).
So did someone give Hrenak the game puck?
"No, not yet," he said with a laugh. Hrenak also picked up his first career assist on the game-winner.
Whatever way that the team decides to honor Hrenak's accomplishment, the Huskies definitely appreciated what he brought to Saturday's game.
"He was just sharp," Larson said of the 6-foot-2 goaltender. "When we needed him, he came up with the big save. The ones he should make, he did. He just settled into a good, steady, solid game."
Hrenak has started all four games against the Bulldogs in the last two series and is 3-1 with a 1.96 goals-against average and .932 save percentage. In his last five starts, he is 4-1 with a 1.77 GAA and a .940 save percentage.
"Everything that we needed tonight," Perbix said of Hrenak. "He came up big when he needed to, made the saves that he should.
"That's a game where we were all pretty dialed in early. UMD is so good. There's a reason why they've won two (straight) national championships. They didn't want to come into this first home series and get swept, but obviously we played pretty hard and got it done."
It was the third overtime game that Hrenak has played this season, but this was the first of those that he won.
"It's fun hockey and it's something different," he said of 3-on-3 play. "When you win in overtime, it's much more fun than when you lose in overtime. I like it much more today than in previous overtimes."
Hrenak needs to play in two more games to become the second SCSU goalie to play in 100 games in a career (Brian Leitza, 133 games, 1994-98). At 56-26-9, Hrenak is second all time in Division I wins by an SCSU goalie behind Leitza (66-56-7).
He pays homage to all of his college teammates with their names printed on his facemask this season. Hrenak also gave credit to his teammates for their help in the shutout Saturday.
"Guys in front of me did an amazing job," he said of his teammates, who blocked 11 shots in the game. "They boxed out in front of our net, they were controlling rebound and helping me out all night long. I'm very thankful to be a part of great teams because it would not be fun to play 5-on-0.
"They did an amazing job and I'm very, very thankful for that."
HIGHLIGHTS: After a goalie duel in regulation, Nick Perbix scored the only goal of the game in OT (a beauty) as @SCSUHUSKIES_MH edged @UMDMensHockey #NCHCHockey x #unleashSCSU pic.twitter.com/neQvExEXCt— The NCHC (@TheNCHC) January 10, 2021
Penalty kill is perfect
Another key to the victory was St. Cloud State was 4-for-4 on the penalty kill. The Bulldogs had six shots on goal on the power play and were 0-for-6 with the man advantage in the series.
"When we were on the power play, they took time away from us," said Perbix, whose team was 0-for-2 on the power play Saturday and 0-for-4 in the series. "We kind of did the same thing to them. If you go in right away when they don't have full (puck) possession, go and force them to make a tough play. Eventually, they'll bobble one and that's when you can get it out of the (defensive) zone."
Assistant coaches Dave Shyiak and Nick Oliver are running the penalty kill for the Huskies this season. St. Cloud State is tied for 10th in the nation in penalty kill percentage (88.2%), having killed 45 of 51 chances.
No. 6/7 SCSU 1, No. 5 UMD 0, OT
First period scoring — No scoring. Penalties — SCSU, Kyler Kupka (boarding) 10:06.
Second period scoring — None. Penalties — SCSU, Seamus Donohue (tripping) :34; UMD, Louie Roehl (tripping) 4:09; SCSU, Bench (too many men) 13:32; UMD, Hunter Lellig (tripping) 16:04; SCSU, Luke Jaycox (holding) 18:49.
Third period scoring — None. Penalties — None.
Overtime scoring — 1. SCSU, Nick Perbix 5 (David Hrenak 1) 3:58.. Penalties — None.
Goalie saves — SCSU, David Hrenak 11-8-8-1—28 (0 GA). UMD, Zach Stejskal 6-9-2-3—20 (1 GA).
Penalties-minutes — SCSU 4-8; UMD 2-4.
Power plays (shots) — SCSU 0-2 (5 shots); UMD 0-4 (6 shots).
Faceoffs — SCSU 31-22.
Referees — Cameron Voss and Tom Sterns.
Linesemen — Tony Aronson and Nick Biondich.
Three stars of the game — 1. Perbix (SCSU), 2. Hrenak (SCSU), 3. Stejskal (UMD).