By Alexander Fern / @AlexInTheBooth
The St. Cloud State Mens’ Hockey team travelled to St. Paul Minnesota and participated in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff for the first time since 2016.
The Huskies were secure their spot at the XCel Energy Center after a series win against Minnesota-Duluth on March 12th at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center.
“This is a great experience for our players, it’s bright lights, and big moment hockey.” St. Cloud State Head Coach Brett Larson said. “This was a fantastic opportunity for us.”
The Huskies won game one on Friday March 17 against North Dakota in Overtime when Senior Forward Jami Krannila found a streaking Zach Okabe who fired a backhand shot blocker side on UND Goalie Drew DeRidder and sent the Huskies into a frenzy.
“Veeti (Miettinen) made a great play to get it to me,” Krannila said of Miettinen, who sent a cross-ice pass between two UND players in the neutral zone to get it to Krannila. “I kind of had a 1-on-2. I saw Okabe coming up the ice and I’ve never seen him skate that fast. I just tossed the puck towards him and luckily, it got through and he made a great move and scored.”
With the Friday night win, the Huskies punched their ticket for the Frozen Faceoff Championship game, and looked for their first title since 2016. Their opponent, a red-hot Colorado College team this was the Cinderella story of the last 3 weeks of the season.
“Colorado College was as good as any team going down the stretch.” Coach Brett Larson said of the Tigers who before the NCHC final, had won 3 straight conference game for the first time this season.
That luck would eventually run out as the Huskies would win the NCHC Championship on Saturday with a dominating 3-0 victory, earning their second championship in the NCHC.
The scoring started with Jami Krannila tipping a puck past CC goalie Kaiden Mbereko and giving the Huskies an early lead.
“Okabe was winding up for a slap-shot and he just missed the net completely with the puck, it hit me instead though and it wound up in the back of the net.” Krannila said.
The score would remain 1-0 until the third period when former CC Captain Grant Cruikshank found the back of the twine against his former team, but Cruikshank didn’t want to talk about his goal, he felt that the Huskies’ physicality is what helped SCSU gain the championship.
“Tonight I think we were more physical and we pressured them with our speed, and I felt like that was key in our win.” Cruikshank said
Kyler Kupka would then score on a breakaway to make it 3-0 and that is how the score stood when the clocks struck zero.
This was Coach Larson’s third trip to the NCHC Championship game and it was his first win as a head coach. “Well third time is the charm apparently, we’ve been in this game three times now, and to finally get it done, it means a lot.”
The Huskies bused back up to St. Cloud on Sunday morning and awaited their fate in the NCAA tournament regional selection show. And then it was announced they will be making the 175 mile trek to Fargo North Dakota to take part in the Fargo Regional where they will face Minnesota-State Mankato at 4:00 on Thursday, and on the opposite side of the bracket, it’s the Minnesota Golden-Gophers against Canisius.
“We’ve got some video on Mankato already, and this game will be an absolute war.” Larson said. “The good thing is that Mankato plays a lot like North Dakota and Duluth, so it shouldn’t be that big of a change in philosophy for us.”
The Huskies travelled to Fargo on Tuesday, but with the trip to Fargo being only about three hours long, the Huskies will be fresh for the weekend, and hopefully have a good showing of Husky fans at Scheels arena in Fargo.
“I like being close, you can get on the bus and not worry about any other travel plans. I know that arena will be jumping with three Minnesota teams, and I am very excited to see the turnout and the atmosphere.” Larson said.
HOW TO TUNE IN
The Huskies play Thursday at 4:00 CST against MSU-Mankato, and will hopefully play the winner of UMN and Canisius on Saturday. The game on Thursday will be carried on ESPN U, and will be available on 88.1 FM KVSC with Brian Moos, Alexander Fern, and Zac Chapman on the call. Pregame begins with Max Steigauff at 3:30