OMAHA, Neb. — Nick Perbix said he has never scored a more unlikely goal.

Ethen Frank talked with teammate Josh Passolt about coming back from an unfortunate bounce.

"That's just a simple, honest mistake," Frank said. "It was kind of high in the air and with no fans in the stands, it's hard to see the puck. We've got a lot of games left and I just told him to stay positive."

And it happened with 27.1 seconds left. How is that for a start to NCHC pod play and the season-opener for St. Cloud State and Western Michigan.

Perbix's goal gave the Huskies men's hockey team a 4-3 win over the Broncos on Tuesday, Dec. 1, in a nearly empty Baxter Arena. It was the first of nine games in 20 days for St. Cloud State in a season delayed because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

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The lack of fans made all of the elation for the Huskies' bench audible in the arena.

"I didn't know what happened," Huskies coach Brett Larson said of the game-winner. "All of a sudden, I saw the puck in the net and a guy was jumping. There were a couple crazy goals both ways tonight."

What happened on the game-winner was that Micah Miller blocked a shot in the St. Cloud State defensive zone. There was a battle near the blue line and the Huskies came out with the puck and a 3-on-2 rush. Miller went up the right side and passed it to Perbix in the middle and he caught and shot the puck in one motion.

The puck went off the shoulder of goalie Austin Cain and up into the air. Western Michigan forward Josh Passolt leaped and tried to bat the puck out of the way with his glove, but knocked it into his own net.

"I gave it to Micah and he was able to find me in the middle," said Perbix, a junior defenseman from Elk River, Minn. "I guess when you put pucks on the net, good things happen.

"I put it on net and I was turning to get back on the blue line and I don't even remember who it was, but they started screaming at me and I look in the net and, of course it was there. Better to be lucky than good sometimes."

Passolt, a senior from Maple Grove, Minn., was playing in his 104th college game and could be seen putting both gloves up to his facemask after the goal.

"He's been a really good one for us and I feel really bad for him," Broncos head coach Andy Murray said of Passolt, who played left wing on the team's top line against the Huskies. "He's hanging his head in the room, but he'll more than make up for that with some big goals for us this year."

Western Michigan goaltender Brandon Bussi (30) and St. Cloud State forward Kevin Fitzgerald (28) react to Fitzgerald's goal in the first period Tuesday, Dec. 1, at Baxter Arena in Omaha. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)
Western Michigan goaltender Brandon Bussi (30) and St. Cloud State forward Kevin Fitzgerald (28) react to Fitzgerald's goal in the first period Tuesday, Dec. 1, at Baxter Arena in Omaha. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

Big night for Perbix

The game-winner was not the lone big play in the game for Perbix, a Tampa Bay Lightning draft pick. He also had an assist on St. Cloud State's first goal on a long pass from about the middle of his team's defensive zone to Kevin Fitzgerald on the Western Michigan blue line. He had four shots on goal and was a plus-1.

"I thought he was a bright spot," Larson said of Perbix, who struggled with consistency last season. "I thought Perby moved the puck really well with his breakouts and his transitions were good. He looked to jump into the play and be more assertive and being the guy who can dictate the play a little bit. We've certainly been wanting to see that out of him.

"Although he's a totally different looking player, we're looking for him to fill the shoes of (graduated All-American) Jack Ahcan with a bit of offense."

Perbix is 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds. Ahcan, who signed with the Boston Bruins after last season, was listed at 5-8 and 185 pounds.

Western Michigan goaltender Austin Cain (1) looks back as the puck bounces from the net after a goal by St. Cloud State forward Kyler Kupka (10) in the third period Tuesday, Dec. 1, at Baxter Arena in Omaha. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)
Western Michigan goaltender Austin Cain (1) looks back as the puck bounces from the net after a goal by St. Cloud State forward Kyler Kupka (10) in the third period Tuesday, Dec. 1, at Baxter Arena in Omaha. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

Kupka's 1st college goal ties game

The Huskies tied the game at 3-3 on a goal by left wing Kyler Kupka at 13:40 of the third period.

"He took the puck to a hard area to get to and that's between the (faceoff) dots," Larson said of Kupka's goal. "For awhile, we were playing a little too perimeter (hockey) and he was able to find that white ice between the dots and put himself in a good scoring position. He made a good shot through traffic.

"You've got to get to those tough areas to score goals and I thought he did that."

Kupka, a sophomore from Camrose, Alberta, had two assists in 12 games last season. He played on a line with senior center Will Hammer and senior right wing Jared Cockrell.

"I didn't even see it go in," Kupka said. "I got some space on the half wall and tried to take it to the net. I seen my linemate Cockrell going to the net and I was thinking about giving it to him. But, honestly, put my head down and put it on net and got lucky."

His last two seasons of junior hockey, Kupka was a goal scorer. He had 59 goals in 119 games for the Camrose Kodiaks of the Alberta Junior Hockey League. So getting that first one was special.

"It's fun to chip in and help the boys win some games," Kupka said.

Bussi injured

Western Michigan starting goalie Brandon Bussi went down with what appeared to be a left leg injury with 11:53 left in the second period. Bussi moved across the crease to make a save, then went down on all fours and play had to be stopped. He had to be helped off the ice with the help of teammates.

Bussi, a sophomore from Sound Beach, N.Y., was 18-12-4 with a 2.65 goals-against average and .910 save percentage in 34 games last season.

Murray said that Bussi will have an MRI on Wednesday to find out the extent of the injury. Cain, a senior from Ottawa, Ontario, came in to relive Bussi and stopped 14 of the 17 shots he faced in 31 minutes, 40 seconds.

Both teams will be off Wednesday. On Thursday, Western Michigan will play Nebraska Omaha at 7:35 p.m. On Saturday, St. Cloud State will play Denver at 8:05 p.m.

SCSU 4, WESTERN MICHIGAN 3

SCSU 1-1-2—4

WMU 1-2-0—3

First period scoring 1. SCSU, Kevin Fitzgerald 1 (Nick Perbix 1), 2:36; 2. WMU, Brett Van Os 1 ( Jamie Rome 1) 6:18. Penalties SCSU, Zach Okabe (goaltender interference) 8:21; SCSU, Kevin Fitzgerald (cross-checking) 14:00.

Second period — 3. SCSU, Micah Miller 1 (Jami Krannila 1) 13:54; 4. WMU, Scooter Brickey 1 (Josh Passolt 1) 18:31; 5. WMU, Jason Polin 1 (Paul Washe 1, Aidan Fulp 1) 19:29.. Penalties — None.

Third period — 6. SCSU, Kyler Kupka 1 (Spencer Meier 1), 13:40; 7. SCSU, Perbix 1 (Miller 1), 19:33. Penalties — SCSU, Brendan Bushy (charging) 6:28.

Goalie savesSCSU: David Hrenak 11-5-5—21 (3 GA); WMU: Brandon Bussi 6-3-x—9 (1 GA), Austin Cain (in at 8:07 of 2nd) x-5-9—14 (3 GA).

Penalties-minutesSCSU 3-6; WMU 0-0.

Power plays (shots)SCSU 0-0 (0 shots); WMU — 0-3 (6 shots).

Faceoffs — WMU 43-32.

RefereesDan Dreger and Timm Walsh.

LinesemenTroy Marrett and Tyler Liffrig.

Three stars of the game 1. Miller (SCSU), 2. Perbix (SCSU), 3. Polin (WMU).

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