Cruikshank's goal, game-winning assist help lift SCSU past No. 2 MSU-Mankato
Huskies score late in second period, early in third in 3-2 win over Mavericks. "He brings it all — he's the total package," said SCSU senior wing Kyler Kupka of Grant Cruikshank
ST. CLOUD, Minn. — If you are looking for an early team MVP candidate for the St. Cloud State men's hockey team, it is fair to say that center Grant Cruikshank would be a good one.
Cruikshank had a goal and an assist on Friday to help lead the eighth-ranked Huskies to a 3-2 nonconference win over second-ranked Minnesota State University-Mankato on Friday at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center.
The Huskies trailed 2-1 late in the second period when Cruikshank, a fifth-year senior from Delafield, Wis., finished off a rush with a goal off nice passes from Zach Okabe and Kupka at 18:36 to tie the game at 2-2.
"It was an amazing pass from Oaks," Cruikshank said. "I kind of saw it developing and tried to make sure he could hear me because I knew if he could get it to me that I was going to be all alone (in front). An awesome pass from him."
A great look in front of the net from @GCruikshank for the score! 🙌#GoHuskies | #HuskyHockey 🏒 pic.twitter.com/hC0KkSC28w— St. Cloud State Men's Hockey (@SCSUHuskies_MH) October 22, 2022
Then Cruikshank got the primary assist on a power-play goal by senior wing Kyler Kupka 35 seconds into the third period for the game-winner. Cruikshank has goals in four straight games, is on the power play and killing penalties at center for the Huskies.
"He brings it all — he's the total package," said SCSU senior wing Kyler Kupka, a wing on Cruikshank's line. "Obviously, he's had the scoring touch lately. But more than that, he's our first player over the boards on the penalty kill and a great faceoff guy. He brings it all for our team and we're lucky to have him."
St. Cloud State improved to 5-0 for the first time since the 2018-19. The Huskies and Mavericks (3-2) play the second game of their series at 6 p.m. Saturday at the Brooks Center.
St. Cloud State has not won its first six games of a season since going 7-0 to begin the 2017-18 season.
Back and forth battle
The Huskies are well aware that Saturday's game will not be easy. Though the scoreboard did not show it, there were some long stretches of the game when the Mavericks were dominating the possession of the puck and had SCSU pinned in their own zone.
"They kicked our butt the first 10 minutes, for sure," said Huskies head coach Brett Larson, whose team was outshot 6-1 in the first 12 minutes of the game. "But what I was proud of our guys was we were able to take that punch and we were able to get back on our toes.
"We were able to weather that storm and get back to our game. That was a positive for me. They gave us a pretty good punch in the first 10 minutes and we were able to get back to our game."
While the game was played on the Olympic-sized sheet (200 feet by 100 feet) at the Brooks Center, that does not mean there was a lot of open ice throughout the game.
"They're a really good team, really well-coached and I think we are, too," Cruikshank said. "It showed that we weathered some storms out there, stuck with it at times. I still don't think we've put together a full 60 (minutes) the way we want to. But two really good teams and it was a battle out there.
"There's not a lot of room and a battle of two teams that play really similar. Guys play really hard and skate well. They're fun games, but they're really hard."
The Mavericks tied the game at 1-1 on a power-play goal by Sam Morton at 2:56 of the second period and then took the lead on an extra attacker goal by Tony Malinowski at 9:28 of the second period. The Huskies had a delayed penalty and MSU was able to pull their goalie for an extra attacker and score to take a 2-1 lead.
Late, early goals the difference
The Huskies trailed 2-1 with less than two minutes left in the second period, but then scored two goals in a 2:01 span to change the momentum.
Cruikshank scored his goal at 18:36 and then the Huskies got a power play when Connor Gregga was called for tripping with 55 seconds left in the second period. They did not score again before the period ended, but scored 35 seconds into the third period when Kupka knocked in a puck from a scrum to make it 3-2.
Typically, teams that begin a period on the power play can struggle to score, but the Huskies found a way.
"We had a little play off the draw drawn up — nothing crazy, but got it in their zone," Cruikshank said. "We had a couple good (power-play) looks earlier in the game, too. I think it was just a matter of time of putting something together. We got a good bounce and Kyler got his stick on it and Kup and I were just jamming away at it. It's tough (on the power) out of the gates in a period, but we got a couple pucks to the net there and got lucky."
It was the second goal of the season for Kupka, but he did not have a great read on how he got it.
"Not really sure, honestly — just a scramble in front, it kind of found me and just got lucky," Kupka said. "I think that goal by Cruiky at the end of the second gave us a huge boost going into the intermission. We were on our toes and ready to go because we knew that third one was going to be hard to come by against a team like that."
More good goaltending
Not to be forgotten for the Huskies was another strong performance by goalie Jaxon Castor. Castor, a senior from Phoenix, Arizona, stopped 30 of 32 shots to improve to 3-0 on the season. Castor has a 1.33 goals-against average and a .942 save percentage in three starts.
"It felt like playoff hockey and Jaxon Castor came ready to play," Larson said. "He had to make a couple big saves early to keep us in there, which is a huge piece for us. That was a fast, hard, physical game."
Castor stopped all 11 shots he saw in the third period to preserve the win.
"Both goalies have been unbelievable so far, every game," Kupka said. "(Castor) was steady and they came out hard. Without him, this game could have come out a lot different."
So far, the Huskies have had Castor start the series opener and then had junior Dominic Basse start the second game. Basse, a transfer from Colorado College, is 2-0 with a 0.50 GAA and .971 save percentage.
The old saying goes that a goalie has to be a team's best penalty killer for a team to be successful with a man short. SCSU had its streak of killing penalties stopped at 14 when the Mavericks scored on their second power play of the game Friday.
.@zachokabe absolutely buries the shot from the high slot! 💪#GoHuskies | #HuskyHockey 🏒 pic.twitter.com/3fxxgbVeZU— St. Cloud State Men's Hockey (@SCSUHuskies_MH) October 22, 2022
No. 8 SCSU 3, No. 2 MSU-MANKATO 2
First period scoring — 1. SCSU, Zach Okabe 2 (Spencer Meier 1, Veeti Miettinen 5) 13:30. Penalties — SCSU, Aidan Spellacy (hooking) 3:22; MSU, Cade Borchardt (tripping) 16:38.
Second period scoring — 2. MSU, Sam Morton 4 (Akito Hirose 6, Lucas Sowder 2) 2:56 (pp); 3. MSU, Tony Malinowski 1 (Steven Bellini 1, Brendan Furry 1) 9:28 (ea); 4. SCSU, Grant Cruikshank 4 (Okabe 3, Kyler Kupka 3) 18:36. Penalties — SCSU, Cooper Wylie (tripping) 2:39; MSU, Jake Livingstone (hooking) 3:34; SCSU, Spellacy (hooking) 9:28; MSU, Connor Gregga (tripping) 19:05.
Third period scoring — 1. SCSU, Kyler Kupka 2 (Cruikshank 3, Dylan Anhorn 6) :35 (pp). Penalties — None.
Goalie saves — MSU, Keenan Rancier 9-11-5—25 (3 GA). SCSU, Jaxon Castor 6-12-11—30 (2 GA).
Penalties-minutes — MSU 3-6; SCSU 3-6.
Power-play goals, opportunities (shots) — MSU 1-3 (6 shots); SCSU 1-3 (6 shots).
Faceoffs — MSU 42-23.
Referees — Nick Krebsbach and Timm Walsh.
Linesemen — Dana Penkivech and Jeff Schultz.
Three stars of the game — 1. Okabe (SCSU), 2. Kupka (SCSU), 3. Cruikshank (SCSU).
Attendance — 4,016.