Article Written by Alexander Fern.
The St. Cloud State Men’s Hockey team traveled to St. Paul, Minnesota and participated in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff for the first time since 2016. They secured their spot at Xcel Energy Center after a series win against Minnesota-Duluth on March 12th at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center.
“This is a great experience for our players. It’s bright lights and big moment hockey,” said Brett Larson, Head Men’s Hockey Coach at St. Cloud State. “This was a fantastic opportunity for us.”
The Huskies won the first game on Friday, March 17 against North Dakota in overtime, when Senior Forward Jami Krannila found a streaking Zach Okabe who fired a backhand shot blocker side on UND Goalie Drew DeRidder and sent the Huskies into a frenzy.
“Veeti (Miettinen) made a great play to get it to me,” Krannila said of Miettinen, who sent a cross-ice pass between two UND players in the neutral zone to get it to Krannila. “I kind of had a 1-on-2. I saw Okabe coming up the ice and I’ve never seen him skate that fast. I just tossed the puck towards him and luckily, it got through and he made a great move and scored.”
With the Friday night win, the Huskies punched their ticket for the Frozen Faceoff Championship game and looked for their first title since 2016. Their opponent was an intimidating Colorado College team; this was the Cinderella story of the last three weeks of the season.
“Colorado College was as good as any team going down the stretch.” Coach Brett Larson said of the Tigers who before the NCHC final, had won three straight conference games for the first time this season. That luck would eventually run out as the Huskies would win the NCHC Championship on Saturday with a dominating 3-0 victory, earning their second championship in the NCHC. The scoring started with Jami Krannila tipping a puck past CC goalie Kaiden Mbereko and giving the Huskies an early lead.
“Okabe was winding up for a slap-shot, and he just missed the net . . . it hit me instead though, and it wound up in the back of the net,” Krannila said.
The score remained 1-0 until the third period when former CC Captain Grant Cruikshank found the back of the twine against his former team, but Cruikshank didn’t want to talk about his goal. He figured the Huskies’ physicality is what helped St. Cloud State gain the championship.
“Tonight, I think we were more physical, and we pressured them with our speed, and I felt like that was key in our win.” Cruikshank said
Kyler Kupka then scored on a breakaway to make it 3-0 and that’s where the score stood until the clocks struck zero.
This was Coach Larson’s third trip to the NCHC Championship game, and it was his first win. “Well, third time is the charm apparently. We’ve been in this game three times now, and to finally get it done, it means a lot.”
The Huskies will now make a 175-mile trek to Fargo, North Dakota to take part in the Fargo Regional where they face Minnesota-State Mankato at 4:00 p.m. on Thursday. On the opposite side of the bracket is the Minnesota Golden Gophers against Canisius.
“We’ve got some video on Mankato already, and this game will be an absolute war.” Larson said. “The good thing is that Mankato plays a lot like North Dakota and Duluth . . . shouldn’t be that big of a change in philosophy for us.”
The Huskies have some exciting travels ahead. With the trip to Fargo being only about three hours long, they should be fresh for the weekend. Hopefully, they’ll have a good showing for the eager Husky fans in Scheel’s Arena.
“I like being close. You can get on the bus and not worry about any other travel plans. I know that arena will be jumping with three Minnesota teams, and I am very excited to see the turnout and the atmosphere.”
The Huskies play Thursday at 4:00 CST against MSU-Mankato, and will play the winner of UMN and Canisius on Saturday. The game on Thursday will be carried on ESPN, the radio at KNSI, and on Student Broadcasting on KVSC.