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. 

——————–

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.

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