Frozen Four: Mavericks the Next Obstacle for the SCSU Huskies

Zach Okabe (Photo Prout)

St. Cloud, MN – The St. Cloud State University Huskies were scheduled to host the Minnesota State University Mavericks on October 16 and 17, 2020 at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in St. Cloud, MN. That contest never happened due to the elimination of the non-conference schedule in the 2020-21 season. Who knew the teams would get their opportunity to face each other six months later and 781 miles away in Pittsburgh, PA in the semifinals of the Frozen Four on April 8th. The winner earns the right to battle for college hockey’s top prize – the national championship on April 10.

“We are excited to be part of a Frozen Four with three other great teams,” said coach Larson in a pre-tournament press conference. “We were a team at the beginning of the year that wasn’t picked in the top twenty. We had a goal to finish in the top half of our league, make a run in our league tournament, make the NCAA tournament, and eventually make the Frozen Four. I think our seniors feel like they have accomplished a few of their goals and are anxious to accomplish another one.”

Minnesota State coach Mike Hastings, an SCSU alumn echoed the sentiments. “We are excited. You do not make plans for the next step until you get to the next step. So, for us to be in the process right now preparing for a very good St. Cloud State team is one we are excited about. To be able to get to a Frozen Four was something that we had our goals set on, not only this year but previously but we’ve never been able to get there. (After the regional in Loveland, CO) We’re going back to the rink to reset and begin to play with some confidence.”

#7 SCSU Huskies (19-10-0)  vs  #5 MSU Mavericks  (22-4-1) 

TV: ESPN2
Live Stream: WatchESPN  Canadien TV Schedule
Radio: 96.7 FM (St. Cloud) KVSC 88.1 FM (St. Cloud)
Where: PPG Paints Arena – Pittsburgh, PA
When: Thu., April 8 (4:00 PM CT)

 

PPG Paints Arena, Pittsburgh, PA

Last Time Out

The Huskies were placed in Albany, NY for the NCAA Northeast Regional on March 27/28 and defeated Boston University 6-2 and Boston College 4-1 to capture the regional championship and a trip to the Frozen Four in Pittsburgh, PA.

In the semi-final vs Boston University, after a scoreless first period, the Huskies scored six times including three in the final period to dispatch Hockey East’s Terriers by a convincing 6-2 score. It was a crazy game, with unusual goals, extended delays, several five-minute majors, and a penalty shot converted by sophomore forward Jami Krannila. David Hrenak had a solid game in goal stopping 34 of 26 shots and the line of Brodzinski (2-0-2), Walker (0-3-3), and Miller (1-0-1) had a productive game with six points. Brodzinski had the game-winning goal. Jami Krannila had a multi-point game with a goal and an assist.

In the championship game, The St. Cloud State Huskies rallied from a 1-0 first period deficit with three second period goals en route to a 4-1 win over #1 seed Boston College. The game-winning goal was scored by Will Hammer in the second period and Nolan Walker, Nick Perbix, and Micah Miller (EN) added the others. David Hrenak had an outstanding game turning aside 26 of 27 shots on goal and Nick Perbix had the only multi-point game with two assists.

The Mavericks finished off an exciting weekend in the West Regional in Loveland, CO with an overtime win over Quinnipiac University and a win over the University of Minnesota in the championship game.

In the semi-final, the Mavericks fell behind to Quinnipiac 2-0 in period one and were trailing by a 3-1 score midway through period three before they clawed their way back. A goal by Nathan Smith at 14:54 and an extra attacker goal by Cade Borchardt at 18:58 sent the game to overtime. The Mavericks prevailed 11:13 into the OT session after Ryan Sandelin buried the puck in a goalmouth scramble. Dryden McKay stopped 27 of 30 shots in the win.

In the championship game, Minnesota State scored twice in period one and smothered the Gophers the balance of the game in a strong defensive effort winning 4-0.  McKay only faced 9 shots through two periods and stopped all 22 shots in the game. Sam Morton’s first-period goal was the game-winner and Ryan Sandelin, the tournament’s most outstanding player, Nathan Smith, and Dallas Gerads (EN)  added the other goals.

Head to Head

The two in-state rivals and member schools of the Minnesota State University system have been competing on the ice since the 1969-70 season with MSU holding a 63-56-13 edge. However, at the Division I level, the Huskies have dominated holding a 35-23-8 advantage. SCSU is 2-3-0 in the last five games, 7-3-0 in the last 10 games, and 11-7-2 in the last 20 games. The teams have never met in Division I NCAA postseason play.

The teams last played on December 28, 2019, in the Mariucci Classic in Minneapolis with the Huskies earning a convincing 7-2 win. Zach Okabe led the Huskies with a career game scoring four goals. Mavericks goaltender Dryden McKay allowed five goals in the first 27:15 of the contest before being pulled from the contest.

Minnesota State University Mavericks Notes

MSU Head coach Mike Hastings was a former player at St. Cloud State under Herb Brooks, and an assistant under Craig Dahl for the 1990-91 and 1993-94 seasons. He also had an extensive tenure as a head coach in the USHL from 1994 to 2008 and was an assistant coach at the University of Minnesota and Omaha. He is in his ninth season as head coach at Minnesota State University in Mankato. He was also head coach of the USA World Junior team for the IIHF World Junior Championships in 2019.

He carries an all-time record at Minnesota State of 236-89-24 which is the most wins of any program in Division I college hockey during his tenure. His teams have made six NCAA appearances, have won six WCHA regular-season titles and three WCHA postseason championships.

This is perhaps the most experienced team in the tournament with 16 upperclassmen and the oldest average age of 22 years and 8 months.

Dryden McKay, MSU (Photo Prout)

Goaltending

Junior netminder Dryden McKay, who ranks second on the NCAA career shutouts list with 24, heads into the Frozen Four leading the country with a .875 winning percentage and ten shutouts. He also ranks second with a 1.39 goals-against average and is sixth with a .931 save percentage.

McKay was named 2020-21 WCHA Player of the Year and is a two-time WCHA Goaltender of the year, McKay has a career 75-14-4 record with a .1.49 GAA, and .934 Sv% in 96 games played for his three-year college career. The Downers Grove, Ill., native is a Hobey Hat Trick finalist for this year’s Hobey Baker Award and a top-three finalist named for this year’s Mike Richter Award as the national top goaltender of the year.

Although at 5’11” and 175 pounds he’s not the stature of the prototype goaltenders these days but he is clearly the Mavericks top player and the key to their success.

Forwards

The team sustained major losses to their offense following last season with the graduation of Marc Michaelis, Parker Tuomie, and Charlie Gerard who combined for 31% of the goal scoring and 26% of the total point production.

Although not as explosive as last year’s offense, they still have capable goal scorers in junior Julian Napravnik (10-17-27), Cade Borchardt (9-15-24), Nathan Smith (7-16-23), Reggie Lutz (10-11-21), Dallas Gerads (8-8-17), and Walker Duehr (9-6-15).

Napravnik stands atop Minnesota State’s scoring charts and has six game-winning goals on the year to rank first in the nation. This year’s WCHA Forward of the Year, Napravnik leads the Mavericks with five power-play goals (t-13th in the nation) and has 14 career PPGs in his three seasons of college hockey. Nathan Smith is a clutch player and is the lone NHL draft choice on the squad. Duehr is a big body (6’3″, 210) power forward.

Sophomore, Ryan Sandelin (7-2-9) came alive in the West Regional with two goals including the GWG vs Quinnipiac, and was named the tourneys Most Outstanding Player. Another sophomore, Brandon Furry provides a great deal of speed on the outside and has 5-8-13.

This team has excellent depth through four lines.

Defense

The defense consists of depth and experience with five upperclassmen and senior and captain Riese Zmolek (1-12-13 +15) leading the unit. Puck-moving junior Andy Carroll (3-5-8 +7) sees lots of ice time as does junior Wyatt Aamodt (2-5-7 +9). Senior, Jack McNeely (1-5-6 +12) has been a four-year defensive staple in the lineup.

21-year-old freshman Akito Hirose has been an impact player for the Mavericks and is +17, tied for the team lead.  He was named this year’s WCHA Rookie of the Year and a member of the WCHA Third Team and All-Rookie Team. Jake Livingstone is another impact freshman and is tied with Hirose with a +17.

Team Statistics

Record 22-4-1
Pairwise Record 19-3-1 .800
Head-to-Head 0-0-0
Goals 96 / 3.56 (5th)
Goals Against 41 / 1.52 (1st)
Power Play 25.8% (4th)
Penalty Kill 85.4% (11th)
Avg. Height / Weight 6′ 0.10″ / 185.7 lbs.
Avg. Age 22y 8m

Jack McNeely, MSU and Kevin Fitzgerald , SCSU (Photo Prout)

St. Cloud State University Notes

A comprehensive preview of the team is here

The Huskies exceeded preseason expectations and finished second in the league standings nine points behind North Dakota. They are ranked 7th in the country in the USCHO poll and 6th in the College Hockey News Power 16.

Foremost, the play at the blue line by junior and Hobey Baker nominee, Nick Perbix has been a huge boost relieving the void left by the graduation of one of the all-time best at the position in Jack Ahcan. Perbix is currently third on the team in points with 7 goals and 16 assists for 23 points and has three game-winning goals. Perbix is also tied for fourth in the country for points by a defenseman. Perbix was the runner-up in the voting for NCHC offensive defenseman of the year and was chosen as second-team NCHC  All-Conference.

Freshman sensation, Veeti Miettinen ( 11-13-24 +9) with one game-winning goal and five power-play goals leads the team in points. He’s become more explosive as he’s adjusted to playing in the NCHC and was named both NCHC and American Hockey Coaches Association Rookie of the Month for January. He’s a two-time NCHC Rookie of the Week and a nominee for the Hobey Baker Award. He was chosen to the NCHC All-Rookie Team and second-team NCHC All-Conference. Also, on March 11th he was named NCHC Rookie of the Year.

Other key factors to the Huskies’ success on offense have been the play of the junior class of forwards Nolan WalkerMicah Miller, and Sam Hentges. These three have combined for 21% of the team’s goals and 20% of the point totals and three game-winning goals.

Senior Kevin Fitzgerald has 9 goals and 8 assists including 3 game-winning goals and 2 power-play goals.  Senior transfer Jared Cockrell and senior Will Hammer have both been invaluable for their leadership and ability to log extensive crucial defensive minutes. Last month, Fitzgerald was named the recipient of the NCHC Sportsmanship Award.

The glaring omission to the lineup is the loss of leading goal scorer Easton Brodzinski due to a fractured leg in the second period of the regional championship vs Boston College. You simply can’t take a 13 goal scorer and one of the leading career scorers entering the NCAA tournament without having an effect.

Sophomore forwards Zach Okabe (6-15-21 +8) and Jami Kanilla (11-121-23 +10) have benefitted from being on a line with the dynamic Miettinen but are having a solid season in their own right with two game-winning goals from Krannila and one by Okabe. Both are in the top five in points on the team.

As a unit, the defense is +36 led by junior captain Spencer Meier and senior transfer Brendan Bushy at +7 and +5 respectively.  Senior transfer Seamus Donohue (1-7-8 +14) has been teamed with Nick Perbix (+11) and they’ve been a strong pairing.

Goaltending has been solid and improving with David Hrenak logging 83% of the minutes and compiling a .910 save percentage and 2.51 goals-against average placing him tied for 28th in save percentage and 23rd in goals-against average in the country. Hrenak was named Most Outstanding Player in the Northeast Regional tournament. Jaxon Castor is 3-0-0 with a 1.75 GAA and .914 save percentage.

The Huskies have been a third-period team with a +14 differential vs +3 in period one and +4 in period two.

Special teams have been strong with the power play 16th in the country at 21.7% and the penalty kill 14th at 81.8%.

Team Statistics

Record 19-10-0
Pairwise Record 16-7-0  .655
Head-to-Head 0-0-0
Goals 96 / 3.31 (14th)
Goals Against 75 / 2.59 (17th)
Power Play 21.7% (16th)
Penalty Kill 84.8% (14th)
Avg. Height / Weight 6′ 0.26″ / 186.6 lbs.
Avg. Age 22y 3m

Micah Miller (Photo Prout)

Game Prospectus and Coaches Comments

The Huskies face a formidable opponent in the West Region Champion Minnesota State University Mavericks who have only seen defeat four times this season.

On paper, the Mavericks have the advantage in every conceivable statistical category. However, before you jump to conclusions, realize the Huskies play was in a more competitive conference and they faced teams in the College Hockey News “Power 16” 15 times while Minnesota State faced those teams 7 times. The Huskies were 11-4-0 in these games and MSU was 5-2-1. the CHN “Power 16” accurately picked 15 of the 16 teams for NCAA postseason play.

MSU coach Mike Hastings noted this about the Huskies “In SCSU I think you can take the jersey and change it from maroon (UMD) to black. They are about as honest as it gets, they play in all three zones but they look like Duluth from a structural standpoint. Their forwards are creative and they are relentless. The thing you saw after Brodzinski was hurt was the way they were able to play and stay on. It says a lot about their group. Their defensive group is big, hard, and mobile. Perbix and Hrenak are playing good. They are well-coached and well-disciplined and they are going to be a hard out. That’s what I’m expecting out of St. Cloud State.”

On Minnesota State, SCSU head coach Brett Larson noted “We are preparing to play a great team. It doesn’t matter that it’s a Minnesota team. It’s nice to see three Minnesota teams in but we’ve already moved past that. Mankato is well coached and well prepared. They have a high work ethic, they have a great game plan and all we are doing is preparing for a great hockey team. We are not thinking about where they are from. We liked our game plan going into the regional and we’ll stick with that going into the Frozen Four.”

As far as what to expect, plan to see the same type of game plan the Mavericks brought against the University of Minnesota in the West Regional. The Mavericks were diligent in their forecheck and their physical play and they’ll do everything they can to disrupt the flow of the game from the backside of the Huskies. The Huskies excel at transitioning the puck out of their zone and the Mavericks will do their best to disrupt that and force turnovers.

They know the Huskies are explosive with their speed and want to slow them down before they get to McKay. In the game vs the University of Minnesota, they limited the Gophers to just 9 shots on goal through two periods of play. The last thing they want to do is get into a track meet with the Huskies as that will be to SCSU’s advantage.

McKay is one of the top goaltenders in college hockey but that doesn’t mean he can’t be beaten. He allowed five goals in less than two periods of play the last time the teams met. He also allowed four goals in a period and a half of play vs Northern Michigan in the WCHA playoffs on March 19.

Mike Hastings teams have always emphasized defensive play. It’ll be a contrast in styles in this game and the key will be whoever perseveres enough to control the play of the game. The Maverick’s goal differential is immense at +55. In particular, they have been a strong second-period team at +24.

Its imperative Hrenak has a third straight solid outing in goal and how well the Huskies cope with the loss of leading goal scorer Easton Brodzinski. The forward position for SCSU is pretty interchangeable and the likely players to be fitted into a line with Micah Miller and Nolan Walker are wings Jared Cockrell or Kyler Kupka.

We’ll see what happens.

 

 

 

 

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