Tommies men’s hockey: St. Thomas extends win streak to 5, reaches top of CCHA

The St. Thomas men’s hockey team continues to reach new heights in its third season on the Division I level, and Friday night it delivered a twofer.

With their 4-2 victory over the Lake Superior State Lakers at St. Thomas Ice Arena, the Tommies have now won five in a row, a program record in the Division I era. The victory moved the Tommies (7-5-1 overall, 5-2-0 CCHA) into first place in the CCHA.

The Tommies’ 15 points are two better than Bemidji State, and the Tommies have a game in hand over the Beavers.

“It feels good, especially just from what we built off last year,” said sophomore right winger Quinton Pepper, who produced the game-winning goal for the second straight game. “We’re sticking to the process and we’re starting to get the results. It’s promising for the future, but it’s also an extra kick for practices moving forward, knowing that we can do it and compete with every team.

“It feels really good, honestly.”

According to Pepper, the possibility of moving into first place in the conference was not a topic of discussion in the week of practice leading up to the game.

“It’s what our goal is, but we don’t look too closely to the standings,” he said. “We know if we keep playing the way we are and string together these wins, that’s where we’ll end up. We have a long season to go and we just have to keep it rolling.”

Not surprisingly, St. Thomas coach Rico Blasi is not ready to make too much of the current CCHA standings.

“We just try to go out and play our game every night,” Blasi said. “We’re (not) thinking about that stuff right now.”

The Tommies, who entered the game off of a bye week, started fast. They went on a power play 11 seconds into the game and took a 1-0 lead 19 seconds later when Liam Malmquist beat Lakers goalie Ethan Langenegger on a wrist shot from the right point for his fourth goal of the season.

The Tommies increased their lead to 2-0 at 7:11 of the first period when Matthew Gleason was left all alone in front of the Lakers’ net and slipped the puck past Langenegger for his second goal of the season.

The Lakers had an aggressive start to the second period, and it paid off with a shorthanded goal at 7:06 when John Herrington beat Tommies goaltender Aaron Trotter on a breakaway. But the Tommies responded with a pair of goals less than three minutes apart to take a 4-1 lead into the third period.

Tommies sophomore center Cooper Gay’s power move to the net down right wing was stopped in tight, but Pepper put in the rebound for his second goal of the season. Ryan O’Neill followed with his second goal of the season, beating Langenegger on a wrist shot from the right circle.

The Tommies have averaged 4.4 goals a game during their five-game winning streak. There are signs the Tommies are developing some offensive depth; none of the four goals scored against the Lakers came from any of their top-four goal scorers.

“The thing I always look at is how those goals are scored,” Blasi said. “There is a process for how those goals are being scored. Other guys have to do certain things for us to get the outcome. On the power play, we win the face-off from (Luke) Manning. We hit the net; traffic in front.

“(Pepper’s) goal, we drive the net, follow up for the rebound, second opportunity. Ryan O’Neill’s goal — great job by (Luc) Laylin winning the battle on the wall. Things that the general public doesn’t see, those things are important when you’re getting the outcome. The process is working.”

Asked what he thought was the key to the Tommies’ winning streak, Pepper pointed to playing as a team.

“We’re sticking to our systems, we’re playing structured,” he said. “We’re playing for each other, and I think that’s really important. We’ve bonded well as a group, and it shows. We don’t let these wins let us get off our game in practice.

“We keep working, because you can’t be satisfied with a few wins.”

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