By Alexander Fern / @AlexInTheBooth
The St. Cloud State Men’s Hockey team used hard-hitting physicality, and jet-like pace to win the first round of the NCHC playoffs, and end Minnesota-Duluth’s season over the weekend.
FRIDAY (GAME 1)
SCSU won game one by a score of 3-1 on Friday night. Goals from Josh Luedtke in the first period, one in the second, and an empty-netter in the third. Graduate Forward Micah Miller captured his first multi-goal game as a member of the Huskies with the second period goal and the empty netter which was scored from about 157 feet away from the net.
“I guess I was due — it was about time,” Miller said, who also ended a 23-game streak without a goal. Miller’s last goal came against Western Michigan on November 11th.
“For Micah, I’m just so happy for him.” Head Coach of the Huskies Brett Larson said. “He’s been such a good player and person for us for these five years. This year, he’s played great, but for whatever reason, hasn’t been rewarded on the score sheet. He’s never wavered on how he plays and playing the right way.”
SATURDAY (GAME 2)
Game two did not go as well for SCSU. With a 5-1 loss and a game in which UMD scored 3 goals in 3 minutes and 33 seconds.
“In all honesty, I thought it was 57 good minutes for us,” Brett Larson said. “I thought it was a 57-minute battle where both teams were even and boy, three minutes we’d like to have back, for sure.”
The Huskies scored first again when Micah Miller sent a puck into the back of the net (the net was kicked off before but the goal still counted.) But it was all UMD on the scoresheet from there, and they were able to keep their season alive for one more game. A winner-take-all game three on Sunday.
SUNDAY (GAME 3)
It was a win, or go home situation for UMD going into Sunday, they needed to win to keep their season going. But SCSU wanted a win to continue to build their confidence come NCAA tournament time.
The confidence came from an unexpected source for the Huskies, as with the injury bug once again biting St. Cloud State in the form of an upper-body injury for Josh Luedtke, Freshman Defenseman Cooper Wylie skated third pair minutes on the blue line, and responded to a Luke Loheit goal in the second period, with a goal of his own, on a wraparound nonetheless.
“I got it on the half wall and kind of looked to the net and didn’t see anything,” Wylie said of the play that ended with his second goal of the season. “I kept skating with it, shot and got the wraparound and it went in.”
After Wylie’s goal, the Huskies would score two more times in the period, one off of a beautiful face-off play that led to a goal for Nashville Predators prospect, Adam Ingram. And then a familiar face found the back of the net for the Huskies as he has done so many times against Duluth in his career, Grant Cruikshank scored on a loose puck in front and made the game 3-1.
“Kupka made a great play off the wall and he won a battle there and then I saw Ahcan kind of coming in and he fed him,” Cruikshank said of his team leading 21st goal. “I kind of thought the puck was covered and then I saw the puck was just kind of laying there right behind his skates. It was a greasy one, that’s for sure.”
The Huskies would go on to win the game 3-1 and punch their ticket to the XCel Energy Center for the first time since 2018-19.
LET THE BODIES HIT THE FLOOR
This past weekends series was a perfect example of how people visualize playoff hockey to be played. A lot of bodies colliding, and a lot of animosity between two teams who don’t like each other very much.
Brett Larson said that he felt that their aspect of the game that helps them throw the body, was integral to them winning that series.
“We call it the ‘Body Blow Theory’ where last night, UMD body-blowed us and then the left hook was the three goals they scored in three minutes,” Larson said. “We kind of feel like we were able to body blow them tonight and that led to our second period. And in the end, it helped us win the game and series.”
Some may wonder if the same theory might be put into play this weekend with (most likely) a new officiating crew, but they will have to wait and see.
X MARKS THE SPOT
The Huskies will travel to the XCel Energy Center for the first time since last season against St. Thomas in the second game of last season. But this will be the first time the Huskies go to the X for playoff hockey since the 2018-19 season. The Huskies qualified for the Frozen Faceoff in the 2020-21 season, but the tournament was held at the Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, North Dakota that season.
“I’m just really excited for the guys to get this experience.” Head Coach Brett Larson said of the team going to the XCel Energy Center. “It’s bright lights, there’s probably going to be 15,000 people wearing green, so it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
“It’s gonna be a blast,” Graduate Defenseman and Captain Spencer Meier said. “Myself, Micah Miller, and Brendan Bushy have lost two championship games so we have a bit of a fire in our stomachs going into this weekend.”
With the Huskies matching up with North Dakota, that means that the Huskies, who will be playing as the technical home team in the Friday contest, will most likely feel like the away team with the amount of North Dakota fans that will travel down to St. Paul for the weekend. Pair the NoDak colors with St. Patricks day occurring on Friday, there is going to be a lot of green in St. Paul.
“We thrive off of being the underdog,” Larson said. “I think that we will feel the same way when Friday rolls around.”
HELLO OLD FRIEND?
If there’s a team that SCSU always finds themselves playing under the brightest lights in college hockey, it’s North Dakota. The two teams have met 5 times in postseason play, including two NCHC semi-finals. However, SCSU has the edge when the two teams meet in the semi-finals with the Huskies winning both of those meetings (3-1 in 2015, and 3-2 (OT) in 2018)
Huskies fans will remember that 2018 game as the Nick Poehling OT winner that sent the North Dakota fans to the exits.
So the Huskies move from ending the season of one rival, to attempting to end the season of another rival. North Dakota needs to win the Frozen Faceoff to make the NCAA tournament as they would not make the NCAA Tournament as of now according to their pairwise ranking.
HOW TO TUNE IN
As the Huskies travel to the X this weekend, so will the KVSC Broadcast Crew!!!
Brian Moos, Alexander Fern, and Zac Chapman will be live on site, and on the call from the XCel Energy Center on Friday, while Max Steigauf will be back in studio for your pre/postgame, and intermission reports.
Puck drop on Friday is slated for 7:30 p.m. which means pregame will begin at 7:00 p.m. on 88.1 FM KVSC. If the Huskies win on Friday, be alert and follow @KVSCHockey on twitter for updates as to program scheduling for the Championship on Saturday.