NCAA Fargo Regional: Mylymok Stops Clock on Longest Game, Duluth Advances

FARGO, ND– For the first time since 1984, the University of North Dakota and University of Minnesota-Duluth faced off in the NCAA tournament, this time for a chance to reach the Frozen Four in Pittsburgh. This is also the first time these teams have met since the NCHC Pod in December. In those two Pod games, Duluth won in a shootout and North Dakota won in regulation. 

The first and second period did not yield any scoring, as many chances were stymied by the ice conditions. Pucks bouncing over sticks, pucks sticking to the ice, and overall inability to have the vulcanized rubber settle down for top scoring chances limited both Duluth and North Dakota solid chances to break through in the first 40 minutes. The few chances each side got were due to scrums in front and broken plays off of bad bounces. 

In the third period, Duluth struck first, with Jackson Cates getting first blood off a Hunter Lellig shot from the point and the final bounce going off of Cates’ stick and over Adam Scheel’s shoulder. Minutes later, a broken stick by Grant Mismash at the UND blue line sprung Cole Koepke on a breakaway and beat Scheel blocker side for the two-goal lead. While Duluth locked it down defensively, North Dakota did all they could to get a goal. It wasn’t until under two minutes in the frame when Collin Adams banked a shot off of Zach Stejskal back to get North Dakota within one. After a missed empty-net chance led to an icing, North Dakota moved the puck around the perimeter and a blocked Shane Pinto shot landed on the stick of captain Jordan Kawaguchi to give the Fighting Hawks the equalizer. 

North Dakota used their momentum from the third in overtime and got plenty of chances. However, Duluth looked to have ended the game from a Kobe Ruth goal, but upon review Koby Bender was offside and the game continued onward. And on it did go, as the game went through four complete overtimes, making it the longest NCAA tournament game (142:13) in history. Not without its chances throughout, as North Dakota hit three posts over the overtime frames and Duluth had a couple of close calls from scrums in front of the net. One big moment happened as Stejskal had an injury to his left side and needed to be pulled towards the end of the 4th overtime, making way for Ryan Fanti. All good things come to an end, however, as on the last post shot by North Dakota, Duluth’s Luke Mylymok took the puck the other way and put a snapshot past Scheel to end it with the final 3-2. 

THEY SAID IT

“I thought we played well. Two great teams going at it. The score reflected it and the overall game reflected it. Those are my brothers in there. That’s my family.”– Jordan Kawaguchi about the game.

“It’s one of those things when you get into overtime games, you got to keep the games simple and keep the game in front of you. We used everybody. It’s very unfortunate. You look at our scoring chances and how many posts we hit, how many scoring opportunities we had. At the end of the day, we had enough to win the game and we didn’t close in on it and we didn’t get it done that way. Really, really proud of our guys. They left their hearts on the ice and everything that they did. They worked extremely hard in the room to get to where they needed to.”– North Dakota head coach Brad Berry

“It proves to what we are as far as a team that never gives up, a team that’s relentless, a team that fights to the very end. I told the guys after the game, this is life– this is what life is. It’s not fair. We could argue it all day about who could have won the game. But that’s what sports is, that’s what life is. You keep moving on. You have to learn from the past. Our young guys are going to put this in the back of their mind as far as having this experience.”– Berry on the talk post-game with the team.

“It certainly under adverse circumstances because Zach was cramping, which was a shame because I thought he played well. But it’s not an easy thing for Ryan (Fanti) to do. You’re sitting on the bench and you haven’t played. He made some three or four big stops for us, too. It’s a nice situation that we had all year with goalies that we felt could win games for us.”– Duluth head coach Scott Sandelin on his goaltending situation. 

“It was a game-time decision by the coaches. When I heard my name, I was just ecstatic as a freshman going into these games. Just really emotional and think about all the time and work put into it to get your name called and get to play in a huge game like this is unbelievable.”– Duluth forward Luke Mylymok on when he heard he was in the line-up. 

“You just try to be a good teammate on the bench and let the guys know you’re there for them. That’s the biggest part in the role like that, to let the boys know you’re there for them. You try to be a huge energy guy and get the boys going when you see that they’re tired and try to uplift them.”– Mylymok on his role when he wasn’t getting a lot of ice time.

“My legs were fresh and I knew I had to get some speed on that shot and use the defense on the shot. It just shot it and it went five-hole. You’re not looking for five-hole, but you can take what you can get.”– Mylymok on his game-winning goal.

NCAA Fargo Regional: North Dakota Moves On, Duluth Walks Through

FARGO, ND– The semifinals of the Fargo Regional of the NCAA Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Championship took place on Friday night at Scheels Arena. While the joy of the tournament was felt by most everyone, the day started out on a rough patch for one squad. 

On Friday afternoon, the NCAA had announced that the University of Michigan has a player who tested positive and the team has to withdraw from the tournament. That meant the University of Minnesota-Duluth advanced to the Regional Finals. They would take on the winner of the University of North Dakota and American International College. 

In the first five minutes, AIC was all over North Dakota. The plucky 16-seed wanted to revisit what they did in Fargo in 2019 when they took out the #1 overall seed St. Cloud State. At one point, AIC was outshooting North Dakota. After the first media timeout, however, North Dakota seemed to snap out of whatever jitters they had and went on the offensive. 

Jasper Weatherby started the scoring off just as the North Dakota power play expired, taking a Jacob Bernard-Docker shot off the backboards and putting it past Stefano Durante to make it 1-0. Two minutes later, Weatherby scored his second of the game, pickpocketing an AIC defender and going in to beat Durante and make it 2-0. North Dakota shored up their own zone, making sure AIC didn’t get past the red line. Three minutes after Weatherby’s second; Grant Mismash– playing his first game since late February– used Shane Pinto as a screen to make it 3-0. Collin Adams helped keep the puck alive when he lost an edge, but was still able to protect the puck and get it to Tyler Kleven so it stayed in the zone. Adams was rewarded after getting a chip pass from Riese Gaber, put it past Durante to make it 4-0, concluding four-goals in a 7:20 span. 

AIC started the second with Jake Kucharski in net. However, the offense wasn’t quite there in this frame. The ice was the biggest defenseman out there, with the puck bouncing to and fro for most of the frame, as well as creating a lot of havoc for skate blades to boot. At times it was hard to see if this was the hockey or basketball tournament. The third period was more of the same until a late North Dakota penalty gave away for AIC to score on the power play thanks to a Tobias Fladeby shot beating Adam Scheel. Twenty-nine seconds later, Adams got his second of the game off a centering pass Jordan Kawaguchi to make it 5-1. 

THEY SAID IT

“We heard it loud and clear. We talked about it right after the selection, through the week. It turned to us in terms of what we had to do. That’s a very good team over there. They’ve won a lot of games with very few losses. We just had to play our game. I thought for the most part we did. Hand it to them, they had some momentum shifts in the game and kept us in our zone a little. For the most part, we did a good job of managing the 60 minutes thanks to the leadership of our team.”– North Dakota head coach Brad Berry on being reminded of history of AIC upsetting St. Cloud two years ago.

“It was good for us to get a game in. Our last game was St. Cloud about a week and a half ago. There was a little rust there, but we knocked it off. It was beneficial to us to get that first game in and get our boots on the ground.”– Adams on either playing a game or having rest like Duluth.

“We thought calm would win the hockey game. We knew we’d have to ride the roller coaster a little bit. There’d be times where we’d have to weather some storms.”– AIC head coach Eric Lang about the plan for the game.

“I don’t personally think I was even thinking about it. But the noise in the building obviously makes a difference. I can’t really talk for other guys, but I think we rebounded from it by just calming down like coach said. And that’s really about it. We just kind of went back to our game rather than getting scrambling and making plays.”– AIC captain Brennen Kapcheck on playing in front of a live crowd.

“Our program is beyond the point of moral victories. But I can tell you, I’m as proud as this group, two years later sitting in the same room doing the same press conferences I was two years ago. It’s easy to pack it in there. And I couldn’t be prouder of what these guys have done in terms of commitment for the unknown. Since late August, we’ve been together. These guys have missed weddings, funerals, Christmas, Thanksgiving, and you’re all in all the time.” –Lang about the evolution of his program.

NCHC Frozen Faceoff: North Dakota Captures First Playoff Title

GRAND FORKS, ND– For the first time in the NCHC’s inception, the North Dakota Fighting Hawks can lay claim to the NCHC Playoff Championship following their win Tuesday night against St. Cloud State by a score of 5-3.  

While the crowd was pro-North Dakota, St. Cloud struck first with Zach Okabe put home a slap-pass from Ondrej Trejbal behind Adam Scheel, as Okabe worked through two defenders to get his stick in for the redirect. North Dakota counter-punched with some sustained pressure on the St. Cloud zone, including three shots in one sequence by Jake Sanderson, but David Hrenak battled them off to keep the Huskies ahead. However, the pressure from North Dakota wouldn’t be stopped, as Riese Gaber tied the game with a laser shot pass the glove of Hrenak to tie the game. Gaber got a great pass across from Jordan Kawaguchi, who himself got a great outlet pass from Collin Adams. The Huskies answered back three minutes later, as Seamus Donohue ripped a shot from the top of the circle that went high blocker on Scheel to make it 2-1.

The second period had plenty of chances on both sides. St. Cloud swarmed Scheel plenty, getting off 16 shots in the frame, while North Dakota sustained pressure late in the frame, but only mustered seven shots on goal over the 20 minutes. 

Early in the third, North Dakota drew a holding penalty and went to work on the power play. Monday’s hero, Gavin Hain, tied the game after Shane Pinto worked around the outside of the Huskies’ defense and centered a perfect pass over to Hain to beat Hrenak. North Dakota then opened the floodgates as, first, Kawaguchi picked up a loose puck in front of the net as Gaber was hooked and potted it home to make it 3-2 North Dakota. The penalty was upheld after the goal and North Dakota converted with Gaber streaking down the slot to make it 4-2 off a pass from Matt Kiersted. Three goals in 2:02 had the Ralph Engelstad Arena buzzing with the majority of fans cheering their home team…obviously. Sam Hentges stopped the bleeding a bit for the Huskies, putting in a side angle shot under the arm of Scheel to cut the North Dakota lead to one. While St. Cloud pressed, North Dakota sealed the deal when Ethan Frisch made a smart clear out of the zone to Kawaguchi to put it away and made the final 5-3. 

THEY SAID IT

“I’m proud of that group. Great kids. They’re obviously hurting. Those guys never gave up. We made a great push and made some great chances at the end. There’s nothing that prepares you for the tournament like an atmosphere like that. That was like a Frozen Four game.”– St. Cloud head coach Brett Larson about his team push back. 

“I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but the sacrifices these kids have made. Some guys who haven’t seen their family in a year. Euros and Canadians who haven’t been able to go home. Players who are asked to sit in their apartments or go to the rink only. Not being able to have family at the game until the last month of the year. Parents who have sacrificed everything and not be able to see their kids. It doesn’t just go for our team– it’s all of college sports and college hockey.”– Larson on what he’ll reflect on from this season. 

“I feel like we validated our season by playing in a game like this. Showing we can show up and go toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the countries. And our team can keep their heads held high because of it.”– Larson about his team staying in the Final game. 

“It was pretty sweet. It was crazy to think that the building was a quarter-full and it was that loud. It was pretty exciting.”– Gaber about the energy from the crowd. 

“Coming in, us young guys, it’s perfect to learn from the seniors and the older guys. As we get older, we can teach the younger guys how to win.”– Gaber on his process as a freshman. 

“We gave up the first goal again and had to chase the game a little. But I thought we got better as the game went on. We had some resiliency throughout the game, but especially in the third period, we did a good job of getting some offensive zone time. Special teams were a factor and at the end of the day, you have to score on your power play and defend against their power play.”– North Dakota head coach Brad Berry on his view of the game. 

“Our whole class did today. I’ve said this before, but we were on our walk going into the dressing room and we have our own way we go before game. We all thought it was our last walk before this game and it was kind of emotional, but happy we could get this win and pretty special to win our last game at The Ralph.”– Kawaguchi on playing his last game at Ralph Engelstad Arena.

NCHC Frozen Faceoff: North Dakota, St. Cloud to Meet in Finals

GRAND FORKS, ND– The final four took the ice at the Ralph Engelstad Arena in hopes of getting into Tuesday’s Championship game.  

The first game saw the St. Cloud Huskies taking on the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs in a tight battle with a couple of crazy bounces and a play needed rewind to see if there was a goal. 

St. Cloud almost got a lucky bounce early when a dump-in took a weird hop and caught Ryan Fanti by surprise when he was leaving the net, hitting the toe of his pads before it got cleared off the goal line. Moments later, the Huskies got onto the board with Jami Krannila finding a loose puck that was blocked in front and put it past Fanti to make it 1-0. After a review of a possible goal that wasn’t, Kobe Roth officially tied the game after a Jackson Cates shot hit off David Hrenak’s pad and right to Roth’s blade for a simple tap-in to tie it. St. Cloud got the lead back late in the frame, as Kevin Fitzgerald potted home a power play goal off a Krannila shot that hit off of Fanti’s pad and hit Fitzgerald on the pant-leg and dropped to his stick for a tap-in. 

St. Cloud dominated the first part of the second period, holding Duluth in their own zone thanks to two power plays in the first seven minutes of the period, while holding the Bulldogs to only one shot in the first ten minutes of the frame. Duluth did answer back, pinning St. Cloud thanks to some icing calls and eventually evened the game after a Roth shot off the side boards got tipped in by Koby Bender at the side of the net. On a bizarre goal, St. Cloud got the lead back when Chase Brand scored on a wrap-around short-handed, but it took until the next stoppage of play thirty seconds later for it to be reviewed and called a good goal to make it 3-2. 

Try as they might, Duluth pressed hard against St. Cloud, but the Huskies defense was able to shut down the Bulldogs shots, getting bodies in front of the puck and limiting chances towards Hrenak. At the final horn, the Huskies moved onto the Tuesday NCHC Final taking on the winner of North Dakota and Denver.

THEY SAID IT

“We keep trading momentum and chances. We have more opportunities to score more than two goals. That’s how our games have been– they’ve been one-goal games. One of the things I was disappointed in was penalties. You can’t take penalties against any teams going forward. You’ve got to stay disciplined and stay out of the box.” — Duluth head coach Scott Sandelin on the chances had by the Bulldogs during the semis. 

“It’s out of our control. We tried to win tonight’s game and get to tomorrow’s. That’s the mentality we’re trying to have this time of the year, especially going into this tournament. Single elimination is just like the NCAA tournament. The fate is in someone else’s hand now.”– Sandelin on his chances for the NCAA tournament. 

“It feels amazing. For us the last two games have been a lot of growth and fight through some adversity. Finding a way to win a game like that is a big step for our team.”– St. Cloud head coach Brett Larson on his team making a 3rd straight NCHC Final. 

“Learning how to play under the bright lights and the big games are how teams grow. I know the guys are looking forward to that opportunity. The only thing we’ve accomplished is the right to play in a championship. We’ve earned that right and we want to make sure we show up for it.”– Larson on the confidence of his team. 

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The second semifinal had the North Dakota Fighting Hawks and Denver Pioneers facing off. Denver was still undermanned due to COVID protocols, but North Dakota was without Jacob Bernard-Docker, who took a nasty hit in Friday’s game, and Brendan Budy. 

In the first half of the period, it was more a feeling out period. Despite plauying six times already this season, the two teams still sized each other up. North Dakota started to control the pace in the middle of the frame, putting plenty of shots onto Magnus Chrona, but nothing getting through. Denver got most of their offensive time in the last minute, but didn’t have any go past Adam Scheel as 20 minutes went by without a score. 

More physical play in the start of the season, but Gabe Bast got a little too physical on a slash to Bobby Brink giving Denver the first power play of the game. That led to Carter Savoie being credited with the first goal, as his intended pass across the ice deflected off Mark Senden’s stick and into the North Dakota net to give Denver the 1-0 lead. The Pioneers kept the offense going, all while holding the Fighting Hawks to the outside perimeter and limiting them to only three shots in the second frame. 

An early power play gave North Dakota a little momentum to build off of, but the biggest chance during it was early when Shane Pinto cranked a slap shot that clanged off the post and out. North Dakota kept pushing, to the point they pulled the goalie with 2:54 remaining. The Fighting Hawks kept possession and moved the puck inside the Denver zone, leading to a Pinto one-timer that got tipped in front by Jasper Weatherby to tie the game with 1:27 left, pushing the game to extra time. 

With overtime, Denver pressed early, forcing North Dakota to ice the puck a few times, though Denver only had one shot in the period. North Dakota got on the power play midway through the period, but were unable to convert during penalty time. Just as the Antti Tuomisto penalty expired, Gavin Hain hammered a shot from the face off dot past Magnus Chrona to push the Hawks to the NCHC Finals against St. Cloud.

THEY SAID IT

“I thought we executed our game plan well. Us being above pucks and not giving them much, especially through the first 40 minutes was good. We were real close, 90 seconds away. Our guys put their balls on the line tonight. They came and worked, I’m really proud of the guys who came and were on the trip.”– Denver head coach David Carle on his team’s performance. 

“Maybe a little. This game was a little different then Omaha, we were forced to defend more. Having nine forwards and playing the way we did Saturday, you’re going to get tired eventually. We’re not robots out there and we got a little tired towards the end.”– Denver forward Ryan Barrow on the team’s feeling of being short handed on the bench.

“We moved our lines a little around a little bit. They made a push in the second and they had opportunities against us. We came back in the third and the first shift we got the momentum and put some shifts together. I thought we did a lot of good things, but it all evens out in the end. We pulled the goalie with almost three minutes left and found a way to get it done and bring it home.”– North Dakota head coach Brad Berry on his team’s performance. 

“It’s going to be adrenaline tomorrow. Got to play a smart, sound game and play with an attack mentality, but play a structure. Hopefully we can make a couple more plays tomorrow than we did tonight.”– Berry on his team’s energy level going into the Final.

“The biggest thing that resonated in that locker room is the belief we can do it. We’ll take that experience into the tournament and into our next game. It’s not over until it’s over and we’re confident we’ve got a great team, top to bottom. Look at guys stepping up and it means a lot to play in a championship game.”– Weatherby on the mentality of the locker room.

“Could have fooled me, I thought North Dakota let everyone come. It felt like a full arena.”– Weatherby on the crowd energy in the arena.

NCHC Frozen Faceoff Day 2: Denver, Duluth Advance to Monday

GRAND FORKS, ND– Day two of the NCHC quarterfinals happened on Saturday with St. Cloud State and North Dakota awaiting their opponents for Monday night.

In the first match-up, the Omaha Mavericks came back to the Ralph for the third weekend out of the last four to take on the undermanned Denver Pioneers, who only had 10 forwards and six defensemen due to the team being under COVID quarantine. 

Despite the small roster, Denver got on the board first thanks to Hank Crone ripping a shot that ringed off both posts and behind Isaiah Saville to give the Pioneers an early lead. Denver took the play to Omaha, outshooting them 10-2 until the Mavericks struck with two quick goals. First, Jason Smallidge threw a floater on net through a screen and snuck past Magnus Chrona to tie the game. Just about a minute later, Matt Miller turned at the bottom of the face off circle on Chrona’s blocker side and went far glove side to make it 2-1 for Omaha. 

Things got chippy in the second period, with Denver losing Antti Tuomisto and Omaha losing Martin Sundberg to different head-contact game misconducts, as well as five minute majors to go along with it. One major penalty cut into the other, so neither team got the full five minutes to work with, which yielded no power play goals in that time frame. After Omaha’s major power play expired, they caught Denver in a bad line change, leading to Tyler Weiss burying home a Taylor Ward pass to make it 3-1 Mavericks. Denver cut the deficit to one on the power play, as Bobby Brink scored on a one-time attempt that he didn’t get all of, as the puck fluttered over the shoulder of Saville to make it a one-goal game. 

Denver wasted no time getting the equalizer in the third, as Mike Benning took a rebound at the face off dot and slapped it over the shoulder of Saville to tie the game only 42 seconds into the frame. The balance of the third has Omaha offensively on top of Denver, almost doubling their shot total in only ten minutes. That didn’t matter, as a Tyler Weiss tripping call  put Denver on the power play with Benning ripping a shot high over the glove of Saville– thanks to a screen by Kohen Olischefski– to give Denver the lead. The lead was short-lived, as Nate Knoepke potted his fourth of the year when a scramble in front left Knoepke open with a yawning cage in front of him to put the puck into. Denver broke the tie moments later when Bo Hanson tipped a Connor Caponi shot down in front, hit the puck with his backhand, which bounced over Saville’s legs and into the net. Despite pressure from the Mavs with Saville pulled, Denver held them off and will move onto Monday’s semifinal. 

THEY SAID IT

“We say it all the time, NCHC strength. Our only losses in the second half are North Dakota and Denver, and those are two pretty good hockey teams. With the strength of our conference, we hope to get an at-large bid.” Omaha head coach Mike Gabinet on the team’s NCAA tournament chances. 

“Just wasn’t good enough. Penalties were unacceptable. It’s up to us to play the right way and I don’t think we did that.“– Nolan Sullivan on Omaha’s penalty troubles through the game. 

“I don’t think it was too much of a factor. Our team depth is outstanding, it was something we had to rely on tonight. Just being in the moment– the excitement, the adrenaline– I don’t think it was much of a factor.”– Olischefski on the fatigue factor with only 16 skaters for Denver. 

“The biggest thing is we came here to advocate for the league that we should have four teams in the tournament. On the big picture, I think we’ve made our case to be the fourth team going 3-1-1 against Omaha. We’re going to have our hands full on Monday, but we checked a big box in beating Omaha.”– Denver head coach David Carle on his team’s chances for an at-large bid. 

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The second match-up had the defending NCAA champion Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs taking on the Western Michigan Broncos. It took less than three minutes for Dultuh to get on the board, as Koby Bender took the puck into the zone, cut across the slot, and beat Brandon Bussi far post to put the Bulldogs up 1-0. Just after the halfway mark, Western Michigan strikes back with a great redirect from Jason Polin off a wonderful feed from Ty Glover to beat Ryan Fanti and tie the game. 

The game stayed pretty neutral at the start of the third, not many shots either way. Midway through, however, the Broncos broke the tie on the power play. Drew Worrad set Ethen Frank up for a one-timer that Frank blew past Fanti to give Western the lead. With a power play of their own six minutes later, Bender tied the game for Duluth with his second of the night. Bender gathered a clearing attempt from in front of the net and put it past Bussi; who had lost the puck in the crowd in front. Late in the frame, the Broncos regained the lead, as Cole Gallant batted home an Ethen Frank rebound to make it 3-2 with under a minute remaining in the second. 

Duluth controlled the tempo to start the third, then on the power play, Kobe Roth and Noah Cates got in behind the Western Michigan defense for a 2-on-0, with Roth finishing it off and getting the game back at even. Duluth took the lead as Cole Koepke, coming out of the penalty box, picked up a pass and fired it glove side on Bussi to make it 4-3 Bulldogs. The Broncos fought back after that goal, controlling the puck in their offensive zone most of the final six minutes of regulation. That hard work paid off as with 21.8 seconds remaining and the goalie pulled, Polin got his second goal of the night after a feed in front by Josh Passolt sent the game to an extra frame, the first in the quarterfinals. 

Both Duluth went back and forth and had chances early in the frame. However, Connor Kelley ended the game 6:24 into the frame, with a wrister from the point, beating Bussi. Western Michigan took exception to the way the puck was dropped on the face off as it hit the hand of the Duluth centerman and didn’t hit the ice.

THEY SAID IT

“As a team we knew it was going to be like that. Western Michigan has been playing great hockey at the end of the year. We knew it was going to be a one, two goal game. We just have to stick with the game. If something happens, we have to leave it behind and move on.”– Koepke on the back-and-forth nature of the match-up.

“We got to keep an even keel. We talked about it in the second intermission, we can’t get down on those things. It’s over, you can’t change it, but you have the opportunity in front of you to win it in overtime and we did that.”– Duluth head coach Scott Sandelin on keeping his team controlled through the game. 

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Monday’s semifinals will have St. Cloud taking on Duluth in the afternoon game, while the evening game will have North Dakota taking on Denver. The winner of the semi battle it out on Tuesday for the NCHC championship and an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament.

NCHC Frozen Faceoff Day 1: Fighting Hawks, Huskies Move Onto Semis

GRAND FORKS, ND– For the first time in the eight year history of the NCHC, the Frozen Faceoff playoffs weren’t held in one of Minnesota’s twin cities, but in Grand Forks at the Ralph Engelstad Arena. The decision came as ideas were thrown about with the playoffs and how they would be handled, especially after the success of the Pod in Omaha to start the season. You can see that story from Brad Schlossman here

Friday and Saturday have two quarterfinals with the semis on Monday and final on Tuesday. 

The first game had the very barebone team in Colorado College and St. Cloud State. The Tigers had only 16 skaters and a single goalie for this game due to COVID protocols being in place for the team. That didn’t deter Colorado College, who kept the St. Cloud offense at bay for most of the game, but the Huskies came out on top thanks to a late goal by Nick Perbix to move onto the semifinals with a 2-1 win. 

After a scoreless first, Colorado College got on the board two minutes into the second after McKay Flanagan threw a harmless dump pass onto net, but the puck handcuffed Huskies goalie David Hrenak to put the Tigers up 1-0. Late in the second, Colorado College’s captain Zach Berzolla went knee-on-knee with Veeti Miettinen, which resulted in a five-minute major and game misconduct. St. Cloud tied the game up thanks to a Zach Okabe shot with 1:01 left in the second. 

It was all St. Cloud in the third, as it seemed Colorado College was just trying to hang on. The Huskies outshot the Tigers 17-0 in the final frame and only scored the one goal late thanks to the smart and sometimes desperate play of Matt Vernon in between the pipes for the Tigers. However, the Tigers couldn’t find the extra gear for the equalizer and the Huskies moved onto Monday’s semifinal. 

THEY SAID IT

“I’m really proud of our guys. They competed right to the end and we gave ourselves a chance. We had to shutdown a pretty high potent offense. Really proud about how we competed and battled.” — Colorado College head coach Mike Haviland

“It was more or less staying above them and not giving them a chance off the rush. I thought we did a great job. Four defensemen down the stretch hurt us, but we played above them. That was the game plan going ahead.” — Haviland on the game plan with a small roster. 

“These kinds of opportunities don’t come very often. I’ve always considered myself a playoff player. I knew that every single one of the guys would give it there all and I had to make sure I did the same.” — Vernon on his mindset coming into the game.

“You’re not used to having teams not forecheck you. The flow of the game was off. It took us a while to get adjusted to their game plan. About the 10 minute mark, we saw what they were doing, readjusted our game plan to go against them.” St. Cloud head coach Brett Larson on how his team adapted to the unique CC game. 

“We tried to stay with it and try to wear them down. Just work it low and get our chances in front of the net.” –Purbix about the St. Cloud mindset. 

“Obviously we were getting all our chances. We were fighting all day, but we knew one of them would go in.” –Okabe on the offensive chances St. Cloud had.

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In the second match-up, the top-seeded and host North Dakota Fighting Hawks took on the Miami RedHawks. The only match-ups between these teams came at the NCHC Pod in December, North Dakota winning both of those games. 

North Dakota got off to a quick start, with Collin Adams putting UND up 1-0 only 14 seconds into the first after a two-on-one with Jordan Kawaguchi. Miami had plenty of pressure after that goal, creating turnovers in the UND end. However, the Fighting Hawks counterpunched that saw Louis Jamernik tally his first college goal and make it 2-0. Seconds later, Adams got his second of the game off the face off and banking a passing attempt over a Miami defender to put the Fighting Hawks up 3-0. Miami got one back after the half-way point of the period, as Phil Knies put one over the right shoulder of Adam Scheel to make it 3-1. Riese Gaber got the three-goal lead back after picking up his own blocked shot to put it past Ludvig Persson and make it 4-1. 

UND made it a four-goal lead with Jacob Bernard-Docker getting a tally from a one-timer at the point through traffic in front to make it 5-1. While UND carried the pace for most of the period, Rourke Russell was able to sneak a shot past Adam Scheel, as a rising shot caught Scheel off-guard, bouncing off his blocker and kicked off his skate to make 5-2. 

Brendan Budy made it 6-2 when he gathered up a shot off the post from Adams and put it into the open net. For Adams, it was his fifth point of the night. A scary moment in the third when Bernard-Docker was retrieving a puck, he tripped himself up on a pivot and the side of his head hit the back boards. He laid in a heap as Miami continued to possess the puck before getting back into the play and helping out the penalty kill. After that sequence, he went to the dressing room and did not return. No immediate update on his status for Monday. 

THEY SAID IT

“This is a serious time for Miami hockey. We’re looking for people that can help us win. And I say that meaning this game tonight. If you can’t help us try and win this game tonight, you’re wasting your time and you’re wasting our time. Because that’s the bar.” Miami head coach Chris Bergeron on the future of the RedHawks program.

“What I liked from our group was the fight back. A tough thing about playing North Dakota is going nose-to-nose and letting them know you’re here to play. We pushed back and we had opportunities. It’s not moral victory time, it’s baby-steps. It’s changing the culture and going from there. The vibe on our bench was not a team that was down. We kept pushing back and I like that in a group.”– Bergeron on the feeling on the bench against a top-ranked team.

“Just how resilient this group is. We went through a lot of adversity and there were a lot of sacrifices made to make sure this season went ahead. The guys in this room know something great is going on and there’s definitely a bright future for those guys in the room there.”– Knies on the team this season and the direction of the Miami program. 

“We referenced that game (St. Cloud/Colorado College) in our locker room about how this league is so tough that you have to get out to a quick start. Got to commend CC for the line-up they had and they played a tough game against a tough St. Cloud team. Where you are in the standings in the regular season doesn’t matter. You got to prove it every day now.” — North Dakota head coach Brad Berry on his team’s focus at the fast start. 

“You have to have an answer. If you get scored on, you want to have an answer right away to show the other team you don’t want to back down. When team’s score a goal, you have to get right back at it again.” — Berry on the counter-attack his team had against Miami.

“Those guys are pro hockey players. It’s not surprising, they know what to do and how to do it. Collin should have had a hat-trick, he’s had a couple chances. A five-point game is nice, but to us, it’s no surprise.”– Jamernik on the Adams/Kawaguchi duo.

NHL and ESPN Are Together Again

According to Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston, NHL fans may be getting what they want with ESPN signing a new deal with the NHL to become on of their media partners starting next season. ESPN will get rights to four Stanley Cup Finals between 2022 and 2028 and streaming rights to the league. The NHL and NBC deal ends at the end of this season and plenty of people were clamoring for the NHL to go elsewhere. It may look like they’ve partial gotten their wish.

The NHL hasn’t been a regular entity on ESPN’s family of networks since 2004, they have had games on ESPN+ over the past couple of seasons, as well as beefing up their coverage of hockey thanks to the work of Emily Kaplan and Greg Wyshynski, as well as Chris Peters– who was let go from ESPN during the pandemic. With NBC Sports Network going dark in lieu of PeacockTV, it only makes sense that ESPN would pick up the lead in this for the TV side.

While this does seem like a step in the right direction, the issue remains whether or not it’ll tip the scales all that much and if we’ll actually get a change in the teams being broadcasted. The biggest issue when the NHL spurred ESPN for the old Outdoor Life Network was because ESPN didn’t see the NHL as a money making entity and low-balled them on a new deal. Has that sentiment changed at all?? Maybe. Honestly, though, I don’t see the NHL getting as much screen time on a network that is jammed up with other, more profitable for the network sports.

It would be great to have the ESPN talking heads be all about the NHL and yell and bitch on their overpaid showcases of hot takes that mimic a talk show– but I don’t see that happening. If nothing else, the NHL gets more exposure due to the notoriety that ESPN has over other sports networks. That said, I don’t see it really tipping the needle in terms of exposure to the sports for people since the NHL will move to fourth on the depth chart of sports over the defacto top spot they had on NBCSN. Granted, it was the NHL or Meecum Auctions, so the competition of the networks wasn’t that stiff.

Yet, when you think about it– the numbers could be slightly better just due to reach, but outside of that– who knows what that could bring. You have to think that an NHL Tonight type show will be around; but outside of that– what’s it going to take for people to notice the NHL on ESPN?? More importantly– how long before NHL fans bitch about not receive the coverage they think they should get on the World Wide Leader??

In the grand scheme, this is an upward move– how can it not be?? ESPN is everywhere and they have a multitude of platforms on the TV side that people can get to on cable and whatnot. Streaming rights are what they are, which makes me wonder if things don’t go swimmingly or other leagues start to demand more, if that was a safety net installed to put the NHL on ESPN+ when all is said and done and only use ESPN or ESPN2 for the bigger events. This also doesn’t account for who the other partner would be for the other half of the NHL rights and how those two will co-exist.

But for not, strike up the National Hockey Night theme and relive the good-old days of hockey on ESPN.

UND HOCKEY: Slow Starts Sours Senior Night

GRAND FORKS, ND– On senior night when eight players from the University of North Dakota were honored, the Fighting Hawks dropped their first home game of the season to Omaha in overtime. It was the sixth meeting in five weeks between the two, who used this last game as a tune-up for the NCHC Playoffs that start on Friday. 

The opening 20 minutes yield not much of anything. Very few high quality chances on either side of the puck led to a scoreless first. At times, it seemed like each team was playing not to get injured with how conservative each side played in their last regular season game. 

“I didn’t think we had our best early in the game,” head coach Brad Berry stated, “Thirty  minutes in the game we pressed a bit, but a two-goal lead is tough to comeback from. We’ve got to start like we did the second half of the game.” 

Omaha opened the scoring by captain Kevin Conley on the power play with a heavy one-timer from the point that went right past Peter Thome for the Mavericks 1-0 lead. Seconds later, Chayse Primeau picked up a blocked shot and went under the arm of Thome to make it 2-0 Mavericks. An in-arena faux pas almost cost the Fighting Hawks another goal against, as coming out of a TV timeout; a replay on the jumbotron showed a shot from a previous sequence that Thome kicked off the goal-line. However, when the replay was shown from the in-net cam, it looked like the puck may have crossed the line. After an almost five-minute review, the goal did not count. UND turned on the pressure after that review, which paid off in the second half of the period. Louis Jamernik drove down the left side, putting a shot onto Isaiah Saville that kicked out to Jackson Keane, who put it in to halve the Omaha lead. 

It only took 15 seconds for UND to even up the game, as Jordan Kawaguchi redirected a pop-up blocked shot and went past Saville for a tie game. North Dakota kept the pressure on, dictating the play thanks to a couple of power plays in the first half of the frame. The second half of the frame, Omaha clawed back and put plenty of pressure on North Dakota, but Thome stood tall and had plenty of help from his defense to clear out any rebound in harm’s way. With no other scoring, the senior night went into overtime. 

In the extra frame, North Dakota had two solid chances from Matt Kiersted and Collin Adams, but took a penalty 50 seconds into the frame on a Kiersted slashing call. That led to a Tyler Ward deflection off a Brandon Scanlin shot to end the game 3-2. It was the first home loss of the season for North Dakota. 

“When you deviate from the game plan, it feeds into the momentum of the other team,” Berry mentioned. “This time of year, you have to be your best. It was an emotion game with it being senior night– but we have to make sure we’re dialed in for next week in the playoffs.”

THEY SAID IT

“To me there’s no pattern, we’ve lost one game at home. If it was three or four, then I’d say there’s a pattern. It’s not a panic situation, but we have to bring it and play our best in order to win games.” — Berry when asked about the first loss at home this season.

“It was a little bit of a wake-up call. We’ve played these guys a lot  and we kind of thought it was going to be easy. I like the way we battled back, but we got to be ready right from the start” — Keane on the feeling of the room after the game.

“This is a great group of guys who welcomed me with open arms. I was kind of looking up to them when I first got here and it was great to be a part of the night.” — Keane on playing in senior night despite coming in a year later than the rest of the class.

“It would have been nice to end the regular season with the win, but at end of the day; we’re still #1 in our conference and we’re moving on getting ready for the playoffs next week.” Kawaguchi on his feelings after Friday’s game. 

NHL Outdoors Was Great, Don’t Expect It Again for a Bit

The Lake Tahoe games happened. Aside from the sun being the mortal enemy of ice on Saturday– you’d have to say it was ultimately a success. The sights, the sounds, the kayaks– all of it was solid for the viewing public. That was ultimately ruined by Rutledge Wood, but we take what we can get with NBC’s budget on hockey for sideline reporters. It was super enjoyable, especially in a year we didn’t think an outdoor game would happen.

Odds are we won’t be seeing that for a good while.

With this “NHL Outdoors” branding, there are four different outdoor games that can occur now: Outdoors, Heritage Classic, Winter Classic, and Stadium Series. The only one that you can’t utilize in a league that needs all the money it can muster is the Outdoors concept. The rest of those are in over-capacity venues that will provide solid revenue for the league, while this Outdoors concept seems to be the one that is where there’s little to no fans. That way, the ad wizards at the TV license holder can pat themselves on the back when they keep using the ideal of “taking the game back to its origin” and remind us of all the players starting out on the pond playing hockey.

There’s a good chance that next season, we’ll have PLENTY of outdoors games– assuming people will be let into buildings to watch sporting events. When the NHL had the shortened 2012-13 season, they made up for the lost half-season by holding six outdoor games the next year and made some good cash off of that to put into the Hockey Related Revenue. For some reason, I could imagine that number at least doubling because of all the lost revenue from the pandemic not allowing capacity crowds into the buildings. They need to start to break even some how.

Which is why the Outdoors idea will only come into play when the league has the money it need and has a setting and teams that are remote enough that little to no fans will be in. We’ve joked on the Face Off Hockey Show about the idea of the league putting the game on an aircraft carrier like the NCAA did with the Carrier Classic or the WWE did with trying to slam Yokozuna. I mean, if they can make ice anywhere, the aircraft carrier is far too perfect, while also serving their want/need to hold games at military venues as they did at the Air Force Academy and Naval Academy.

Everything was perfect for this event to take play and give a way to have an outdoor game in a pandemic. But it’s only because they couldn’t have fans anyway and the golf courses weren’t actively being used in February. Just don’t be surprised when it doesn’t happen for another five years or so and everything is stabilized. Then you can have stories of how people tried to break into the closed event.

UND HOCKEY: Fighting Hawks Capture Back-to-Back Penrose Cups

Photo via University of North Dakota Twitter

GRAND FORKS, ND– With the Penrose Cup for best regular season record in the NCHC in the building, the North Dakota Fighting Hawks came into the day looking to take care of some business on home ice. They did just that with a big 7-1 win against the Omaha Mavericks, capturing their second straight Penrose Cup and fourth in the program’s history. 

“I’m extremely proud of this team,” head coach Brad Berry stated, “I’ve been here a lot of years. This ranks up there as one of the highest in trying to capture it. Players who come here, they have to be team first, but at the same time there’s chances to go to the next level. There are guys who could have went elsewhere after last season, but chose to come back. This has to rank as one of the toughest to win because of pod at the beginning of the season, because you grind away and  then have to come back and wait for the weekend game and try to stay focused. This one is at the top with all that adversity they went through.” 

It took less than 90 seconds for UND to get on the board, as Shane Pinto made a backhanded pass from behind the net out in front to Brenden Budy, who put it past Isaiah Saville to make it 1-0 Fighting Hawks. While UND tried to control the pace, Omaha wouldn’t go away. Their consistency paid off as Kevin Conley redirected a Kirby Proctor shot and made it 1-1. The Fighting Hawks answered with under 90 seconds left in the period, as Tyler Kleven picked up a Jasper Weatherby pass and wired it past Isaiah Saville to make it 2-1. 

The second had Omaha get plenty of control in the offensive zone, but couldn’t cash in thanks to Adam Scheel. Just after a flurry by the Mavericks, a turnover in the neutral zone after a Mavericks’ defenseman lost an edge allowed Jordan Kawaguchi to break in alone and beat Saville blocker side to make it 3-1. Penalty trouble plagued the Mavericks, as back-to-back calls against Omaha allowed for North Dakota’s power play to be out there and after one unsuccessful round, Jasper Weatherby wired home his 10th of the season after great work from Jake Sanderson and Jacob Bernard-Docker to move the puck around the perimeter to start the power play. After trading penalties, Collin Adams notched another power play goal off a rebound from a Riese Gaber shot, which ended the night of Saville. 

Penalties were on the mind of Omaha in the third, after a quick start for the Mavericks to get some shots on Scheel. However, after Shane Pinto got denied by Austin Roden, Pinto made good for it with a rocket on the power play to extend UND’s lead to 6-1. As North Dakota was playing somewhat conservative, another Collin Adams goal happened off the face-off thanks to a solid pass by Judd Caulfield, who had an Omaha defender draped all over him. 

With under a minute left, many emotions boiled over as Louis Jamernik cross checked an Omaha player off the face-off and all hell broke loose. The result was Gabe Bast, Louis Jamernik, Jackson Keane, Griffin Ness, and Tyler Kleven from UND and Jonny Tychonick, Brandon Scanlin, Noah Prokop, Joey Abate getting ejected from the last minute. 

When all was said and done, the North Dakota Fighting Hawks came out a 7-1 winner and lifted their second straight Penrose Cup for best team in the NCHC’s regular season. However, there’s still two games left for UND over the next two weekends– both against Omaha. Berry, who started to rest some of the top players at the end of this game, said they’ll start to focus on how to go about the rosters on Monday.

“It’s a good thing we clinched,” said Berry. “It’ll allow us as a coaching staff on Monday to look at what we’ve got and make sure we’ve got everyone at the top of their game going into the playoffs.” 

THEY SAID IT

“You could feel it in the morning skate and  going into the meetings. There wasn’t a lot of laughing and guys being loose, it was a business attitude. You kind of knew we were going to get our best tonight. Everyone was focused and I  gotta hand it to them– they dug in and focused and tried to hang another banner.” — Berry on the mentality of the team going into Saturday’s game.

“They’re a team on the rise and we both play hard. We’re all trying to get top four, when you get two top teams in the conference, that’s what happens. The NCHC gets you ready for the postseason by grinding it out during the season. The NCHC has success because of the gauntlet going on in the regular season.” Berry on the budding UND/Omaha rivalry

“It was a lot of unexpected turns of events. The first half in the pod, nothing like that has happened. Then you have to go back and deal with the rescheduling and all that. You have to roll with the punches and overcome the adversity.” — Scheel on the craziness of the season

“It’s the friendship in the room. We’re best friends off the ice and that’s why we play so well on the ice because we all play for each other.” — Scheel on the comradery of this year’s Fighting Hawks team.