Fargo, ND – American International head coach Eric Lang was diligent in his preparation to face #1 ranked St. Cloud State University in the NCAA West Regional at Scheels Arena in Fargo, ND. In preparation for Friday’s game he commented “We deserve to be right where we are. It’ll be nice to hunt vs. being the hunted. … The longer this thing goes and the score stays tight, the pressure then shifts. We’ll have to weather some storms. We know that. We want our guys playing free and easy. We want our guys playing confident. This isn’t the time of year to change our tactics. There’s a way the game has to go for us to have success,” Lang said.
Coach Lang was prophetic. The game did go the way he scripted it. In his post-game press conference he commented “We had a script the game had to go a certain way. We thought we had to block 20 shots, we had to turn less than 10 pucks over and give up no more than two odd-man rushes. St. Cloud transitions like nothing I’ve ever seen before so we had to have a script for us. We couldn’t just go over the boards and walk them down the ice. We did what we had to do to advance. I’m excited for these guys.”
The end result was one of the biggest upsets in NCAA college hockey history. Despite being outshot 34-13 and totally dominated in period three the #31 Pairwise Yellow Jackets from Springfield, MA scored early, followed the “script” and hung on and defeated the top-ranked Huskies by a 2-1 score. The third period shot chart was a clinic in puck possession and domination. A desperate SCSU squad cranked up the pressure with 29 shot attempts, 15 shots on goal including one off the post, another shot landing behind Skog on top of the net and Ryan Poehling fanning on a point-blank opportunity. But, they could only squeeze out one third period goal in suffering only their 6th loss of the season. They conclude 2018-19 with a record of 30-6-3 – one win shy of the school record 31 and fell short of was seemed to be a season of redemption for two earlier losses by this senior class in the first round of the NCAA playoffs.
A sluggish first period of hockey accentuated by what appeared to be less than optimum ice conditions saw the Yellow Jackets take an early lead on a goal by Joel Kocur 6:01 into period one. Kocur drew the puck from the back wall and beat Hrenak with a diligent effort short side between his glove and the post. It was a flat period of hockey for SCSU for the first ten minutes of the period but they began to exert some control over the game as the period progressed. However, shots on goal at period end were dead even at 6-6 and AIC nearly added to their lead at the buzzer on a shot from the point by Luka Maver that got by Hrenak but was clearly after time had expired.
With a 1-0 lead entering period two, the Yellow Jackets continued adhering to their script – clogging the neutral zone, dumping the puck out of the AIC defensive zone at every opportunity and relying on goaltender Skog to ring the puck out along the wall to limit any SCSU puck posession in the AIC zone. But, it was the Yellow Jackets that extended their lead to two on a goal by Brendan Kapcheck with 12:28 remaining in the period. Kapcheck took a shot from the right dot that trickled through the pads and beat Hrenak for a 2-0 lead. SCSU outshot AIC 13-4 for the period but were 0-2 on the man-advantage.
The Third period had the Huskies throwing a lot of rubber at American International goaltender, Zackarious Skog and they finally broke the shutout with a goal by Easton Brodzinski 9:27 into the period. Brodzinski tossed the puck into the front of the net from behind the goal line and it deflected off the Yellow Jackets Shawn McBride for the Huskies first goal of the game. It certainly lit a fire under the Huskies for the balance of the period as they applied intense pressure in the AIC zone outshooting AIC in the period by a 15-3 margin but were unable to get the puck past Skog for the equalizer. Final shots on goal were 34 to 13 SCSU.
“The hardest thing (about this loss) is that this is one of the best group of young men I’ve ever been around and their hearts are ripped out right now and I feel for them.” said coach Larson. “They left it all out at the end and they don’t have anything to hang their heads about. They worked hard all year and we thought we were prepared.”
On the message to the team after the game coach Larson said ” number one, I told the guys I love them. One of the best groups I’ve ever been around hands down as far as the character in that room and the type of people they are. I think the biggest hurt right now for our staff is just wanting it so bad for those kids. We just weren’t able to get that second one for whatever reason tonight. I didn’t see any panic on our bench or within our team there was certainly a lot of belief and trust in each other right to the end.”
Clearly disappointed Jack Ahcan commented ” There’s no excuses you know we played our hearts out. They played a good game, we played a good game too. We were confident something was going to happen. They played a solid game, were well prepared and they moved the puck well and skated well. We were well prepared but it just wasn’t our night.”
David Hrenak stopped 11 of 13 shots on goal in the loss as his record fell to 23-4-2. Zackarious Skog picked up the win for AIC turning aside 32 of 33 shots on goal. His record improved to 20-13-0. The Huskies finally gained some success on the man-advantage in period three going 1-4 for the game while AIC was 0-2.
Stars of the Game: #1 Skog (AIC) #2 Kapcheck (AIC) #3 Kocur (AIC)
American International returns to the ice on Saturday in the West Region Championship game against Denver, a 2-0 winner over Ohio State on Friday.