Omaha, NE – The SCSU Huskies capped off play in the NCHC Pod with a satisfying 3-1 win over #8 Denver University on Sunday, December 20th. The overall solid team game was boosted by a power-play goal by first-year forward Veeti Miettinen with 9:34 remaining in period three which turned out to be the game-winner. This was Miettinen’s fourth goal of the season and he’s quickly building a reputation for scoring key goals. This was also a key performance from goaltender David Hrenak who entered the contest with a goals-against north of 3.00 and a save percentage under 90%. He made a number of key saves in holding the Pioneers to one goal in the contest.
The win gives the Huskies a 6-3-0 record in the NCHC Pod and currently has them tied with the UMD Bulldogs for the league lead with 18 points (pending the outcome of the last two games in the Pod)
“What a game to finish up this Pod” said head coach Brett Larson. “We were here for 22 days and both teams were playing really good hockey and it was a battle from the start.”
Concerning the play of David Hrenak Larson said ” I thought David played great. He stood up. He’s sensing the competition in our goaltending group right now and he rose to that challenge. He wants to be the guy and he showed tonight he wants to take the net back. I was really happy with how he played.”
The line of Will Hammer, Kyler Kupka and Jared Cockrell were a key component of the win and Kyler Kupka scored the game-tying goal in period two. Larson described that line as “really intelligent and smart players that make subtle, simple and smart plays. Right from the first shift of the game, they got it deep and set the tone for how we wanted to play. I’m really happy with that line right now. Obviously, it’s a total team effort but they gave us some life early.”
Right-wing Jared Cockrell put it simply ” We were sticking to our game plan doing the little things right, wearing them down and it paid off when it mattered most.”
The “fourth” line was out for the opening faceoff and Cockrell ripped a shot off an offensive zone faceoff to set the tone for the period. Several other opportunities ensued with a wraparound by Zach Okabe that was stunted 1:39 into the period and Kevin Fitzgerald with a point-blank shot from the right slot saved by Chrona at 4:05 of the period.
Hrenak was called on to make a save on a two on one 3:55 into the period and another goalmouth save off another two on one with 8:49 remaining in the period.
The teams traded penalties first at 11:12 to Ryan Barrow of DU and then SCSU’s Zach Okabe at 14:56 with neither team having success on the man advantage. However, Fitzgerald turned tables on the Pioneers power play with a short-handed opportunity with 4:13 remaining in period one.
The Pioneers controlled the final few minutes of the period but were outshot 16 to 12 and the teams headed into period two scoreless.
Denver started off well in the period attempting to jab it by Hrenak in a goalmouth scrum 2:42 into the period but thereafter the Huskies began to control play and generate opportunities. Micah Miller put the puck over the net on an opportunity five minutes into the period and less than two minutes later Miettinen had a shot from the right circle stopped by Chrona. A half-minute later, Cockrell had a one on one with Chrona but stuffed the puck wide and off the outside post.
But, despite the SCSU chances, it was Denver that scored first on a nifty play between Cole Guttman and Carter Savoie at 8:35. Guttman threaded a pass forward to Savoie who was attacking through the slot and beat Hrenak for a 1-0 lead.
With momentum seeming to turn Denver’s way, the Huskies took a timeout with 10:17 remaining in the period to collect themselves. They returned and evened things up three minutes later with a goal by Kyler Kupka, his second of the season. On a nice play by Jared Cockrell, he sent the puck from the right circle to the goalmouth and Kupka tapped it past Chrona to tie the game at 1-1. That goal seemed to energize the Huskies and they had an extended flurry inside three minutes remaining but were unable to get anything past Chrona.
The period ended with Denver outshooting the Huskies 10-6.
The Huskies clearly took over the game four minutes into the period and created opportunity after opportunity the entire period. Luke Jaycox went wide left with a point-blank shot at 4:20 and Will Hammer followed it up by getting stunted by Chrona on a re-direct from the right slot. Four seconds later off a faceoff, Easton Brodzinski placed a shot off the crossbar and twenty-five seconds later Miettinen placed a shot off the post from the right circle.
Continuing to attack the Pioneers goal, Micah Miller had a shot from the high slot saved by Chrona and a shot by Hentges moments later from the right slot was gloved by the goaltender.
A slashing penalty to Miller put Denver on the advantage but a great penalty kill by SCSU yielded only one shot on goal and when it expired, saw Miller who just left the penalty box, outskate a DU defender and get held by Griffin Mendel from behind as he approached the goal. With SCSU on the advantage, it was Miettinen (Walker/Brodzinski) who beat Chrona low blocker side with a quick wrist shot from the top of the right circle for the Huskies first lead of the game at 2-1.
Attempting to battle back, Hrenak was called on to make a pad save on the ever-dangerous Carter Savoie with 5:55 remaining. But, a penalty to Will Hammer with 4:30 left in regulation gave Denver the opportunity they needed to knot the game. However, it was the SCSU penalty unit that rose to the occasion allowing only two shots on Hrenak and creating a break on Chrona by Micah Miller who couldn’t get his first shot and a rebound past him.
The Pioneers pulled Chrona for the extra attacker but it backfired with Zach Okabe backhanding a puck from the left blue line into the empty net with 59.8 seconds remaining for the game-clinching goal.
SCSU outshot Denver 11-10 in the period and 34 to 32 for the contest. David Hrenak turned in a solid performance turning aside 31 of 32 Pioneers shots on goal. His record improves to 4-2-0. Chrona had an outstanding game as well stopping over a dozen Grade A opportunities by the Huskies while suffering his 6th loss of the season and to see his record go to 2-6-0.
Despite the loss, a gracious DU coach David Carle commented (regarding the Pod format) “I really commend our league to make this happen and pull it off. The experience was incredible. From the logistics to how people were treated it was first class all the way and we are all thankful and grateful that we were able to take part. Our players were fortunate to embrace and have this opportunity. It was first-class the whole way.”
Stars of the Game: #1 Veeti MIettinen (SCSU), #2 David Hrenak (SCSU), #3 Kyler Kupka (SCSU)
Next up: The Huskies are scheduled to face the UMD Bulldogs at the HBNHC on January 1.