Grand Forks, ND – It may take Colorado College goaltender Matt Vernon a few days to ease the images of pucks coming at him after a 44 shot effort by the SCSU Huskies on Friday, March 12 at Ralph Engelstad Arena. Pressed into action as the only goaltender in the starting lineup, Vernon put forth a superb effort allowing the undermanned Tigers to stick with the fully rostered Huskies until late in the third period in a 2-1 loss to SCSU in the quarterfinals of the Frozen Faceoff.
Vernon drew praise from both sides and in particular Tigers head coach Mike Haviland who said “Vernon was great. He was really dialed in today and it certainly gave us a chance. I’m really happy with the way he played. SCSU defenseman, Nick Perbix, who scored the game-winning goal said “I have nothing but respect for Vernon and everyone on that team blocking shots. It was tough to get the puck by them and we were lucky to get two by them.”
Vernon, who beat the Huskies twice last season remarked ” This is the type of team I like to play against. They’re skilled shooters and I’m the type of guy that likes to take a shot first and worry about everything else after. It plays right into my style.”
Shoot is what the Huskies did, attempting 80 shots total with 44 hitting its mark. This included 11 in the first period, 16 in period two and 17 in period three. In the process, the Tigers blocked a total of 19 shots.
The Tigers, who have gone through three COVID quarantines, entered the contest with just 17 players and were missing a number of their key players including forwards Grant Cruikshank, Josiah Slavin, Patrick Cozzi, and Ben Copeland, defensemen Bryan Yoon, Hugo Blixt, and Niklas Andrews and goaltender Dominic Basse who has logged 70% of the minutes this season. Inserted in the lineup were McKay Flanagan, Chad Susaki, and Brian Williams who had a total of 8 games between them.
“I’m really proud of my guys,” said Mike Haviland. “They competed right to the end. We gave ourselves a chance and we’re proud of the way our guys competed and battled. We’re down a lot of guys and some guys haven’t played in a lot of games and you’re playing a full roster on the other side. I’m so proud of my guys on how they handled it. They bought in and did what we asked them to do and just fell short.”
The Huskies outshot the Tigers 11-3 in the first period but seemed tentative having difficulty connecting on passes and getting much flow in the first 10 minutes of the period.
“Our game plan was to stay above them,” said Haviland. “On transition, they fly guys out of the zone and we talked about playing three guys through the neutral zone and staying above them and not giving them that chance off the rush.”
SCSU coach Larson explained ” They knew they were short so they clogged up the neutral zone and didn’t forecheck much and it took away our rush-based game. They stacked the blue line and made us dump pucks and we really had to work for our offense. You could see at times early we just didn’t have that flow.”
Most of the real estate was owned by the Huskies and Vernon made some quality saves on Krannila, Miettinen, and Hentges and survived the first 20 minutes in a 0-0 tie.
The Huskies were stunned early in the second period when defenseman, McKay Flanagan, playing in only his second game of the season dumped the puck on goal from near the side-wall at the center line and it skipped past Hrenak’s glove side for a 1-0 CC lead. This was only the Tiger’s fourth shot on goal and Flanagan’s first career goal.
The goal certainly caught the attention of the Huskies who began to ramp up the pressure on Vernon and nearly tied the game at 3:26 off a two-on-one between Kevin Fitzgerald and Chase Brand. But, Vernon was there to make a goalmouth save on Brand and preserve the one-goal advantage.
Hrenak did have to make a big save on Hunter McKown with 8:17 remaining in the period which was one of only four shots Hrenak faced in period two.
The Huskies thought they tied the game with 7:08 remaining in the period when Zach Okabe chipped in a puck in the goalmouth off a puck swatted out of the air by Veeti Miettinen. However, after review, it was ruled that Miettinen re-directed it with a high stick and it was waved off.
The Huskies were given a scare at 17:06 when Miettinen was cartwheeled by a knee to knee hit by CC defenseman, Zach Berzolla. Miettinen was helped off the ice and did not return to the game and Berzolla was given a five-minute major for kneeing and game misconduct. This reduced the Tigers to just four defensemen the rest of the contest.
The Huskies responded 1:53 later with a goal by Zach Okabe, his 5th of the season to finally tie the game at 1-1. On a very pretty play, Kevin Fitzgerald fed Kyler Kupka from the right circle who was stationed below the goal line and he sent a quick pass to Okabe who one-timed it past Vernon to tie the game.
The Huskies outshot the Tigers 16-4 in the period.
An interference penalty to Ondrej Trejbal just 2:29 into the period place the Tigers on the man-advantage and they nearly tied the game when Chase Foley placed a shot off the crossbar 3:18 into the final period.
Vernon made big saves on Micah Miller on a breakaway and Hentges at the goalmouth but after persistent pressure on the Tigers and goaltender Vernon, the Huskies finally took the lead at 16:05 on Nick Perbix’s 6th goal of the season. Fitzgerald put a shot on goal from the left circle and Perbix pinched in deep to bury the rebound for the Huskies’ first lead of the game at 2-1.
A bench penalty to the Tigers at 19:23 for too many men negated an opportunity for them to place an extra attacker on the ice and the Huskies held on for the 2-1 win.
In his post-game comments, head coach Brett Larson admitted there was some relief. “It’s nice to get that first win out of the way and hopefully play a more confident game on Monday.” When asked about the injury to Veeti Miettinen he said he’s “hopeful” for Monday’s game but it will be a game-time decision.
Kevin Fitzgerald (0-2-2) had the lone multi-point game for the Huskies.
Matt Vernon had an outstanding game in goal stopping 42 of 44 shots. David Hrenak stopped 6 of 7 shots on goal and faced no shots on goal in period three. Hrenak’s record improves to 13-8-0.
The Huskies will face the winner of the UMD/Western Michigan game at 3:06 PM on Monday, March 15.