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SCSU's Larson receives cheers before game, loss

Former Duluth Denfeld and Minnesota Duluth defenseman Brett Larson talks to his team during a break Friday at Amsoil Arena. Larson, a former Bulldogs assistant coach, is in his first season as the head coach for St. Cloud State and made his first appearance at Amsoil since getting the job. Clint Austin / Forum News Service1 / 2
St. Cloud State forward Nolan Walker tries to get to a loose puck after a save by Minnesota Duluth goalie Hunter Shepard. Shepard, a junior from Cohasset, made 30 saves to help the Bulldogs to a 3-1 win over the top-ranked Huskies on Friday at Amsoil Arena. Clint Austin / Forum News Service2 / 2

DULUTH — Perhaps for the first time at Amsoil Arena for a Minnesota Duluth men's hockey game, the opposing head coach heard cheers when he was announced before the game.

The good feelings did not last long, though, for St. Cloud State's Brett Larson, a former Minnesota Duluth and Duluth Denfeld defenseman. Larson also spent two stints as an assistant coach for the Bulldogs, helping them win two national titles.

"It went away real quick, though," Larson said with a smile. "Any nice feelings went away with 59 minutes, 59 seconds left in the game.

"I've got probably 15-20 family members here and my high school buddies all came back. Everybody around the UMD program ... it was good to see everybody."

The outcome left a bit to be desired for Larson, though. Minnesota Duluth, the defending NCAA Division I champion, was opportunistic in a 3-1 NCHC win over Larson's Huskies.

The win moved the Bulldogs (5-3-1-0 NCHC, 12-5-2 overall) to within five points of the first-place Huskies (6-1-2-1, 14-3-2) in the conference regular season title race.

Junior defenseman Jack Ahcan said that the Huskies understood that this is a big series for Larson, even though he has tried to downplay it from a personal standpoint.

"He said right off the get-go that this isn't about him," Ahcan said of Larson. "Obviously, we know his history and it would have been nice to get him a win tonight. We've got another chance at it (Saturday).

"I know he's pumped up to be back and the fans love him. He's obviously a great guy, and he's teaching us how to be great people. Hopefully, we can get him a big win tomorrow in this city."

Plenty of chances

St. Cloud State outshot UMD 26-10 through the first two periods, but the game was tied 1-1 going into the third period.

"We were happy with how we played for the most part," Larson said. "We had energy and created a lot of 'O' zone time, but when you can't finish on your chances, a lot of times it's going to come down and end up in your net."

Ahcan said that the Huskies may need to simplify some things if St. Cloud State is going to pick up a win Saturday.

"We had a lot of shots, but they did a good job of keeping us to the outside and I don't know how many shots they blocked, but it seemed like every time we got one at the point, they were blocking it," Ahcan said.

The Bulldogs blocked 22 shots, including 10 in the third period.

"We did have a lot of puck possession, but we've got to work on penetrating their 'D,'" Ahcan said. "We've got to get the puck low to high. Once we do that, we've got to get to the net. Garbage goals are going to be key tomorrow."

Injury updates

St. Cloud State went into the game a bit more healthy, but came out with two new injuries to deal with.

Sophomore center Blake Lizotte was back in the lineup after missing two games with an upper body injury. Lizotte began the game as the center with Easton Brodzinski and Patrick Newell on his wings, but the lines got torn up a bit as the game went on.

Sophomore center Kevin Fitzgerald, who is second on the team in goals (10), left the game about halfway through the third period after taking a hit from UMD defenseman Nick Wolff. Larson said Fitzgerald has an upper body injury.

Senior center Jacob Benson left the game about five minutes into the second period after landing awkwardly. He has a lower body injury and also did not return.