Grand Forks, ND – It’s a tough assignment to face the #1 seed in the championship game of the Frozen Faceoff. It’s a seriously tough challenge to do so on your opponent’s home ice in one of the toughest venues in college hockey. Nevertheless, were it not for an early third-period collapse, the SCSU Huskies had the UND Fighting Hawks on their heels and nearly dampened the party of the close to 3,000 North Dakota fans in the seats at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, ND.
The game Huskies took control of the contest early and carried a 2-1 lead into the third period before being undone by some untimely penalties and momentum egged on by the highly partisan crowd. A three-goal outburst in a matter of two minutes including two power-play goals created a lead the Huskies were unable to overcome in the final 15 minutes of the period.
They narrowed the lead to a goal with thirteen minutes remaining and had their chances as the game wound down but ultimately the Fighting Hawks were able to hang on and capture their First Frozen Faceoff Championship, coincidentally in front of their fans on home ice. Most certainly the home ice was their seventh man but in this crazy season, it was an accomplishment for the league to pull off the season and the playoffs under trying circumstances.
Both teams now await their post-season assignment for the NCAA tournament with the Fighting Hawks a lock to end up in Fargo, the site of the midwest regional. The Huskies, on the other hand, are not certain of their venue but undoubtedly they’d prefer not to be in Fargo where they lost to UND in the regional finals in 2015 in front of a packed house of UND fans and a disaster of a game vs AIC in 2019.
“You could feel they were starting to make a push (in the third period) which we were prepared for,” said head coach Brett Larson. It was that sequence when we took that penalty off a faceoff and they scored on that and then they scored on the power play. All of a sudden the neutral site did not seem so neutral anymore and you could tell they were really buzzing.”
As far as the venue was concerned Larson said “It was as much fun as I’ve had all year until the final buzzer. Then, it wasn’t so much fun anymore. It’s a disappointment for sure. You wanted to see the guys celebrate. It’s hard to stand there and watch the other team celebrate. But, we thought it was the right thing to do to show respect to this league and obviously what they (North Dakota) have done. They’ve got a great team but it’s painful to watch another team celebrate.”
The Huskies were schooled in the faceoff circle winning only 25 of 75 faceoffs (33.3%). “Faceoffs were probably the biggest difference in the game,” said Brett Larson. “They dominated the faceoffs which led to us chasing the puck more than possessing it and dictated a lot of plays because of that.”
“What I’m reflecting on right now is how much these kids have sacrificed. I just want to give them a lot of credit for the sacrifice they’ve given and obviously, I would have liked to see it pay off for them tonight but hopefully, we will get a shot at another trophy this year.”
“The first message we got out when we got back in the locker room is that there is another trophy to chase now. It only takes a four-game win streak,” Larson said with a smile.
the Huskies surprised the Fighting Hawks with an early goal by Zach Okabe at 2:06 to take a one-goal advantage. On a rush into the UND zone, Okabe sent the puck to Ondrej Trejbal who joined the rush. Trejbal had to glove the puck and then returned it to Okabe who was charging the goal and tapped it past Adam Scheel for a 1-0 Husky lead.
The lead held for about 10 minutes until the Huskies had a defensive breakdown allowing a two-on-one on David Hrenak. A defenseman got caught up ice and Jordan Kawaguchi retrieved a puck off the sideboards and then fed a trailing Riese Gaber who beat Hrenak high glove side with a quick shot to tie the game at 1-1.
But, the Huskies weren’t done adding another goal at 16:46 by senior defenseman Seamus Donohue, his first as a Husky. Spencer Meier sent a pass along the top of the zone to Donohue who launched a shot from the left post through traffic that beat Scheel for a 2-1 SCSU advantage.
Despite being outshot 14-9 the Huskies carried a 2-1 lead entering period two.
The Huskies clearly had the advantage early in period two and despite not scoring had a big flurry around the UND goalmouth right around the 10:00 mark but were unable to extend their lead. A penalty to Colin Adams at 10:52 gave the Huskies an opportunity to extend their lead and they nearly did as Jami Krannila placed a point-blank shot off Adam Scheel’s helmet.
Following the expiration of the UND penalty, it was then the Fighting Hawks who mounted a response but were unable to dent the lead.
In a solid period of hockey, the Huskies outshot the Fighting Hawks 16-7 maintaining the one-goal lead entering the final period.
A holding the stick penalty to Micah Miller just 1:56 into the third period gave the Fighting Hawks their second man-advantage of the game and this time they converted at 3:20 to tie the game on a goal by Gavin Hain. Judd Caulfield skated the puck in along the right wall and found Hain just outside the left circle and he one-timed a shot past an out-of-position David Hrenak to tie the game at 2-2.
The goal certainly jump-started both the team and gallery of fans who were beginning to make some noise and they struck again just 1:34 later. UND won the faceoff and Riese Gaber controlled the puck along the left wall and circled back and then snaked his way down the middle of the slot to the goal mouth placing a shot on Hrenak. The rebound was buried by Jordan Kawaguchi to give North Dakota their first lead of the contest at 4:54.
Unfortunately for the Huskies, Jared Cockrell was whistled for hooking at the time of the goal and the Fighting Hawks were back on their third power play of the game. It took just 28 seconds for North Dakota to score and extend their lead by two goals. Gaber was involved once again fielding a pass while positioned in the mid-slot from Shane Pinto and his shot beat Hrenal glove side for a 4-2 lead 5:22 into the period.
The Huskies did respond less than two minutes later with a goal by Sam Hentges to place the Huskies back in the contest. Hentges chipped the puck into the UND zone from just outside the blue line and beat the UND defenders to the puck sending a slap shot past Scheel from the low right circle.
The balance of the period had the Huskies on the attack and the Fighting Hawks content to chipping it out of the zone and making the Huskies regroup. SCSU eventually pulled Hrenak for an extra attacker with 1:55 remaining in a desperate attempt to tie the game. But, an empty-net goal by Jordan Kawaguchi from mid-ice sealed things for the Fighting Hawks at 19:51 and earned them their first Frozen Faceoff title.
The final stats had North Dakota outshooting the Huskies 14-8 in a disastrous third period for the Huskies and 35-33 for the game. Probably the most telling statistic was the disparity in the faceoff circle where UND had a 50-25 advantage. North Dakota also won the battle of special teams scoring twice in five power-play opportunities while the Huskies were blanked in two power-play opportunities.
Adam Scheel earned the win for North Dakota stopping 30 of 33 shots on goal to improve his record to 19-3-1. David Hrenak stopped 30 of 34 shots on goal in a losing effort. His record falls to 14-9-0.
Ondrej Trejbal (0-2-2) had the only multi-point game for the Huskies.
The Frozen Faceoff All-Tournament Team included North Dakota players Riese Gaber, Gavin Hain, Adam Scheel, Collin Adams, Jake Sanderson, and St. Cloud defenseman Nick Perbix. Gaber was awarded as the most outstanding player of the tournament.