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St. Thomas earns a Division I first with another win over Lakers

Burned recently for not playing a 60-minute game, Josh Eernisse said accomplishing that task that was the big key to getting two wins this week.

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St. Thomas' Ryan O'Neill (11) tries to poke the puck away from Lake Superior State's Louis Boudon (29) as the Lakers' Brandon Puricelli and the Tommies' Grant Docter look on during a game Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022 in Mendota Heights, Minn.
Shannon Stieg / Special to The Rink Live

MENDOTA HEIGHTS, Minn. — After pulling off their first Division I shutout on Friday, the St. Thomas men’s hockey program had a more difficult goal in mind Saturday against Lake Superior State and that was to get its first sweep.

It took a lot of work, but the Tommies got a third-period goal from Josh Eernisse and weathered a storm near the end of the game to get a hard-fought 2-1 victory. UST goalie Aaron Trotter finished with 21 saves.

“I told the guys this morning that the hardest thing to do in college hockey is sweep because the other team is gonna want a piece of you,” Tommies head coach Rico Blasi said. “I thought our guys weathered the storm when they had to. Blocked some shots, Trots made some saves. I thought we managed the puck really well in the third period.

"We knew they were gonna come, but our PK was good. Our power play was good. We only had one chance on the PP, so we had to make the most of it and it’s a good team win.”

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St. Thomas' Mack Byers (22) jaws with Lake Superior State's Jake Willets (6) as teammate Ryan O'Neill (11) tangles with the Lakers' Jacob Bengtsson (4) during a game Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022 in Mendota Heights, Minn.
Shannon Stieg / Special to The Rink Live

One of the struggles for the Tommies this season has been playing a 60-minute game from start to finish as they’ve been burned in the third period the past three weekends. Eernisse said accomplishing that task that was the big key to getting two wins this week.

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“I think it was just coming together as a team and trying to piece together a full game,” Eernisse said. “Even when we kind of got hemmed in our own zone, it was more of a bend, don’t break. Where in the past, sometimes we might’ve broken, but I think we’ve kind of learned from some of those things and we stuck together, played as a unit and it’s a good result at the end of the day.”

Just like on Friday, the first period started off a little slow with both teams doing a good job keeping the other from getting to the net. Eventually though, things started to heat up and offense was starting to be generated. The Tommies’ best scoring opportunity came with 8:22 left when Eernisse skated hard to the net with the Lakers closing in, but he just missed tucking the puck past goalie Ethan Langenegger. At the other end, Trotter did a good job keeping LSSU at bay, using his glove to rob Logan Jenuwine with 11:59 left and later, he did the same to Jake Willets on the power play with 3:05 remaining to keep the game at 0-0.

The Lakers started to take control in the second period as both Jared Westcott and Louis Boudon almost put them on the scoreboard with just over 12 minutes left. With 11:25 remaining, Timo Bakos believed he accomplished that for LSSU as he got a nice feed and snapped a shot past Trotter, but the goal was reviewed and waved off due to offsides. Late in the period, the Tommies started to swarm the Lakers' net, and at the 18:10 mark, they stung Lake State. With UST on a 4-on-3 power play, Luke Manning got a pass from Cam Recchi and one-timed it past Langenegger to give the Tommies a 1-0 lead going into the third.

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At the 4:13 mark, Eernisse padded the Tommies lead to two goals on a great individual effort. With UST on the penalty kill, the freshman raced up ice on a partial breakaway and rang a shot off of the pipe and past Langenegger. The Lakers tried to rally and started to put more pressure on Trotter and with 7:10 left and their efforts paid off as Benito Posa scored to cut the deficit to 2-1. However, the Tommies hung on in the final minutes to complete the sweep.

When asked what the sweep means to his program, Blasi said it was “an important step in the process” as it continues to grow.

“I’m real proud of the guys on the way that they’ve battled through, really since the beginning of the year,” he said. “I mean, some of the things that we’ve had to go through, some of the adversity and the close games, it’s human nature to get down on yourself. But these guys kept coming back to the rink, and working hard and staying positive, and listening to what we’re trying to accomplish, and focused on the process and we got rewarded, and that feels good.

"We can celebrate a little bit, but we’ve got to get ready for Bemidji (State). That’s the name of the game.”

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