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.

UND HOCKEY: OT Win Gives UND Another Home Sweep

Photo by Kelsey Lee/Violet Turtle Photography

GRAND FORKS, ND– In a very calculated game that didn’t yield too much offense, the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks got the overtime victory against St. Cloud State to sweep the weekend and finish the home portion of the first semester undefeated at 9-0-0. 

Most of the first period was played in the neutral ice with only 10 shots between both sides being shown in first frame. An errant turnover behind the net with 6:40 left in the first allowed Jack Ahcan to beat Adam Scheel and put the Huskies up first. The Fighting Hawks had a couple of chances, none that were too high of a threat to David Hrenak. 

The second started with a feeling out process before St. Cloud got into penalty trouble, including Kevin Fitzgerald getting a five minute major and game misconduct for hitting from behind. Most of that major, however, was negated by a Shane Pinto hooking call. Jacob Bernard-Docker finally got the Hawks on the power play, ripping one high blocker side on Hrenak to tie the game eight minutes into the second frame. While St. Cloud did get into more penalty trouble, the Hawks couldn’t find the right shot; opting to pass it around the zone in hopes to find a shot on goal. 

The third period was more of a chess match, with both teams only mustering seven shots total– UND with six, St. Cloud with one– and totalling 28 (UND 18-10) for the 60 minutes of regulation. More of the same in OT until Jordan Kawaguchi redirected a Matt Kiersted shot to end it in OT and give UND the weekend sweep. The win also marked head coach Brad Berry’s 100th with the Fighting Hawks. 

“Here in North Dakota, our culture and mentality isn’t about one guy,” mentioned Berry post game. “Very privlidged to be apart of 100 wins, but it’s the assistant coaches that spend hours in the Ralph Engelstad Arena, countless hours recruiting, it’s about the players and staff digging in each and every day to be part of something special.”

THEY SAID IT

“Everybody is like, ‘We’re back’– I don’t think we left. Last year we had trouble scoring goals. We haven’t change the way we played here in five years and now we’re starting to get some goal production from some guys and you know– that’s a big deal. So, I don’t think it’s a big surprise and I don’t ever think we were gone and I don’t think we’re back. We’re a good team that’s going to keep building.”– Berry on the hype about North Dakota’s quick start to the season. 

“We’re obviously rolling right now. We’re going to enjoy these wins, but I think at the same time– we’ve got to keep building. We haven’t accomplished anything yet at the end of the day. So we gotta keep getting better everyday and get back to work here on Monday.” — Bernard-Docker on the start of the season, but what needs to still be done.

“After the last two years, we’ve come in and missed the tournament two years in a row. I guess we’re the first class to do that in a long time. We kind of went into the summer and said, ‘Hey, it’s not going to be like that this year.’ We’re motivated, more than ever. We want to win.” — Kawaguchi on the junior class taking a big step this season.

UND HOCKEY: Hawks Keep Home Cooking Fresh, Beat St. Cloud 4-2

GRAND FORKS, ND– After getting into the top-five nationally this week, the University of North Dakota had to take on the St. Cloud State Huskies in an NCHC match-up. While the Huskies have struggled this year, the team still has a lot of solid players and made it a difficult sixty minutes for the Fighting Hawks. In the end, however, the Hawks came out with a 4-2 victory for their eighth straight home win of the season and 10th straight over the last two seasons.

Up to the first media timeout, St. Cloud looked like the team who was ranked in the top-five in the nation, controlling the play and forcing North Dakota to make ill-advised turnovers. However, after the first media timeout, UND got back on it as Shane Pinto put it behind David Hrenak after a great pick-pocket and pass by Westin Michaud. St. Cloud tried to charge back, but Adam Scheel was stellar in net to stave off the pressure. 

“We found a way to win, but we’ve got to be a lot sharper with our execution,” said head coach Brad Berry. “We came out in our first shift very good, but I thought half of our team tonight wasn’t that sharp and the other half was. When you’re playing a team like St. Cloud, everyone’s got to be sharp. The NCHC is a tight lead and you have to be ready to go every night.

An early power play in the second period yielded another Pinto goal, this time off a great pass from Jordan Kawaguchi cross-ice in Pinto’s wheelhouse and it was no doubt off his stick to the back of the net. Minutes later, however, St. Cloud got one back as Luke Jaycox found the puck after a mess in front to make it 2-1 for UND. Collin Adams restored the two-goal lead, putting it through Hrenak’s five-hole after a soft little pass from Kawaguchi at the side of the net. After a second too many men call, Nick Poehling banked a shot off the pads of Scheel and the power play goal cut it to a one-goal game again.

A back and forth third period yielded a few chances on either side, but both Hrenak and Scheel were stellar. Just before a minute to go, Cole Smith sealed another home win for the Fighting Hawks, as he put his fifth into the open net to make it a 4-2 lead and victory. 

THEY SAID IT

“He’s a strong, heavy-bodied centerman. The one thing on that power play goal is he drew that penalty and ironically scored that goal. He did a lot of good things to create the offensive game.” — Berry on Shane Pinto’s play tonight

“Wes is the Energizer Bunny. He’s always playing well and he’s always playing hard. He just always brings the energy. It’s good to be around and it’s good to uplift everyone.” — Pinto on having Westin Michaud as a teammate

“It’s nice having him out there. He’s seen it all. Playing for four years, it’s good to have that experience in our line-up. After practice, he’s always out there working on his shot. He pulls guys aside and ask them what they want to work on. He just wants to make people better around him.” Judd Caulfield on Westin Michaud.

NCAA WEST REGIONAL: Denver’s Lockdown, AIC Upset Headline Fargo’s Regional

FARGO, ND– The NCAA West Regional kicked off in Fargo on Friday. While the University of North Dakota did not make the tournament, there were plenty of green in the stands for those who decided to make the trip.

In the early match-up, they were able to watch a familiar foe in Denver University taking on THE Ohio State University in the first round match-up.

The first twenty minutes were a bit of a feeling out point, but Ohio State gradually got better as the period went on. However, despite the traffic in front of Denver’s Filip Larsson, there were no goals to be had. On the other end, Tommy Nappier had little work, only facing five shots in the first frame, the most challenge was a double-tip in the beginning, as well as a Tyson McLellan shorthanded chance that sailed over top of the goal, as McLellan was trying to go high short-side on Nappier.

A neutral zone battle took place for most of the second frame, with both Denver and Ohio State playing tighter hockey. The most chances came in the second half of the period, with both sides exchanging quality chances, but it wasn’t until late in the period when Denver broke the draw. With less than a minute left, Emilio Petterson feathered a pass over to Les Lancaster, who then beat Nappier on the glove side to make it a 1-0 game.

“That was a heck of a pass by him,” mentioned Lancaster of Petterson’s pass. “He has some great vision. I think a big part of my game is speed and I saw an opening to go up the ice and he found me. Nappier robbed me early in the period so it was good to get that one behind him.”

Ohio State had a solid chance to tie the game after Larsson had an adventure around his net, but could not bury anything in the open cage. Denver played a very tight game, in fact– they did not get any shots on Nappier with their only goal being an empty netter by Colin Staub to seal the game and advance to the Regional Final on Saturday.

Denver Wins/Photo Jen Conway

“I don’t know how many tickets were sold tonight with that game,” joked Denver coach David Carle after the game, “But I thought it was a really tightly contested game. Not a lot of open ice for either team since both teams are heavily involved on defense

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In the second match-up, the upstart American International College Yellow Jackets looked to give the St. Cloud State Huskies a run for their money. All the while, the Huskies tried to not be eliminated in the first round by an Atlantic Hockey team– like what happened last year against Air Force. It was also AIC’s first ever tournament appearance, which could be daunting to some, but for AIC– they seemed to take it in stride.

“I think we just had to play our game, the same way we played it all year,” mentioned Brennan Kapcheck. “We came in with big dreams and see the big crowd, which is not something we see all the time, but we played our game and it goes the right way.”

AIC was under the microscope, but were attacking early with plenty of chances, including one that rang off the crossbar. However, Joel Kocur found the back of the net, getting the first goal of the game by plugging away at a rebound around David Hrenak’s net and chipping it in for the 1-0 tally. After that goal, AIC went into a trap defense, which lead to more chances, as St. Cloud couldn’t get a good clean breakout, but the period ended 1-0 for AIC.

Knowing they needed to continue the pressure. AIC was able to play the trap defense perfectly against the Huskies, creating more turnovers and then creating another goal for the Yellow Jackets, as Brennan Kapcheck picked up the puck, threw it on net, and it squeaked through Hrenak’s five-hole to make it a 2-0 game. Despite power plays, the Huskes couldn’t put one past Zackarias Skog. Though AIC only put four shots on in the second, they were able to withstand the pressure of St. Cloud late in the period.

The Huskies, not wanting a repeat of last year, got off to a quick start, trying to get one goal back and start a rally. But thanks to stingy defense and Skog standing tall, their first onslaught was for naught. SCSU cut the lead in half on the power play, as a weird bounce off an AIC defender’s helmet went past Skog and was credited to Easton Brodzinski. After that, the Huskies went to work trying for the equalizer, but Skog and his defensemen in front were able to stave off the Huskies, upsetting the #1 overall seed by a score of 2-1.

It was AIC’s first tournament win in their first appearance during their first winning season, no less. It was also the second time in the entire athletics department that they have defeated a #1 seed, as the women’s soccer team defeated Saint Rose in Division II action.

“St. Cloud is a tremendous team,” mentioned AIC coach Eric Lang. “I could only take them in small doses. They’re as skilled a team that we’ve ever seen. But you know what, sometimes the puck bounces your way. I would say it’s puck luck, but in this sport in you earn your luck.”

AIC and Denver will take on each other on Saturday night to see who will represent the West Region in the Frozen Four in Buffalo.

UND HOCKEY: Hain, Bowen Net a Pair Each in Win Over St. Cloud

GRAND FORKS, ND– After a tough 3-1 loss on Friday night, the University of North Dakota looked to bounce back in game two Saturday against the top-ranked St. Cloud State. The Hawks would be without Grant Mismash after the hit he took on Friday, while St. Cloud had Jack Poehling and Robby Jackson out in what’s being called “unhealthy scratches.” With that boost and playing on emotion from the Mismash injury, the Fighting Hawks took down the top-ranked Huskies 5-1 on Saturday.

“I think what really fired us up was Mismash,” said UND coach Brad Berry. “That play there that probably ended his season– we took it to heart. We felt we got slighted there a little bit and you know, guys are prideful. That’s the on thing about North Dakota– we’re a team-first mentality here and our guys wear their hearts on their sleeves.”

With emotions high, Gavin Hain opened the scoring after Mark Senden took the puck away from Jimmy Schuldt, broke in and found Hain down the slot, catching David Hranek going side-to-side and pass his outstretched blocker. UND had control of the offensive game in the first half of the game, holding St. Cloud to only two shots through 16 minutes of play; but St. Cloud started to show signs of life by the end of the frame, getting five more shots in the last four minutes to close out the frame.

While St. Cloud started the period with sustained pressure, Senden was able get on the other side of the scoring sheet, with a great anticipation in his own zone to pick off a dump-in attempt, came rushing up the ice, and snapped a shot over the blocker of Hranek to make it 2-0 for the Fighting Hawks. Not to be outdone, Dixon Bowen picked the puck off the boards and was streaking down the right side, letting a shot go that slipped through the five-hole of Hranek. After that goal, Hranek’s night was over in lieu of Jeff Smith. Smith and SCSU withstood plenty of onslaught from UND before Schuldt was able to get a shorthanded goal after Adam Scheel kicked out a Patrick Newell shot that was retrieved by Schuldt and put past Scheel to cut UND’s lead to 3-1.

UND got off the hop quick in the third with plenty of chances, including Senden. It wasn’t until Colton Poolman picked off a pass in the neutral zone, tried to drive through the middle, but lost the puck. Luckily, Hain was trailing behind him, picked up the puck, fired at Smith, getting his own rebound to make it 4-1 UND, adding another goal to the Hain-Senden-Cole Smith trio.

Brad Berry/Photo by Jen Conway

“They’re super hard to play against,” Berry said about the line. “We had the match-up against (Blake) Lizotte’s line and they did an outstanding job limiting them in our zone, but they played in their zone. They made it hard to play against and possess pucks and not to mention score goals. So when you can get that from that line, you’re gonna win a lot of games that way.”

“We three have kind of a grind mindset,” Hain said of his linemates. “We get pucks down and support each other. Just work the puck below the goal line. We have been doing that all year. Sometimes we get some goals, like we did tonight, but other times we don’t. This time it worked out for us.”

With just under six minutes remaining, Dixon Bowen picked off a Patrick Newell own-zone cross-ice pass, had the initial shot get stopped by Smith, but the puck squeaked through Smith and Bowen had a tap-in.

“It was great on us,” said Bowen post game. “We came together this morning and talked about it. Put yesterday behind us and come today and have fun. Biggest key was staying disciplined and keeping them off the PP and we got a couple of bounces and got the W.”

Discipline was correct for the most part, but things fell apart at the end of the game, starting with Jasper Weatherby getting into a shoving match with Schuldt, then Gabe Bast slashing Ryan Poehling, and ended with UND having five players in the penalty box at the game’s end. It was for not though, as UND held on for the victory.

It doesn’t get much easier, as the Fighting Hawks will now be on the road for most of February and not be back at home until they host Minnesota-Duluth on February 22nd. UND will take on Denver next week, then a bye weekend, before going to Western Michigan after Valentine’s Day.

UND HOCKEY: Fighting Hawks Dropped Spirited Affair Against #1 Ranked Huskies

GRAND FORKS, ND– After a split of a weekend in Omaha, the University of North Dakota came home on Friday for their last season in a month at The Ralph and it would be no easy task for the Fighting Hawks, as they took on the top-ranked St. Cloud St. Huskies for the weekend. There was a buzz in the arena that I personally haven’t felt since Minnesota came to town last year, which was a welcome change for a game of this profile. However, most of the 11,608 were sent home disappointed, as St. Cloud beat UND 3-1 on Friday night.

While the first part of the opening frame was a feeling out process, North Dakota had a slight advantage in their offensive zone in the first half of the period. Nick Jones opened up the scoring for UND with a rebound from a Jordan Kawaguchi shot that hit off the backboards, flicking a backhand off SCSU’s David Hranek and into the net for the 1-0 lead. The best chance for SCSU came when UND’s Hayden Shaw turned the puck over in his own zone to give Patrick Newell a mini-break on Adam Scheel. Scheel– however, was equal to the task, flashing the glove to preserve the 1-0 lead at the end of the period.

Another back and forth period, but business picked up when St. Cloud appeared to tie up the game, as the puck bounced and appeared to bounce over the goal line, but after review– the evidence was inconclusive, which kept the game tied up at one. However, St. Cloud atoned for that when after a power play, Micah Miller got a cross-ice pass from Nolan Walker  and put it five-hole on Scheel to tie the game with 13.7 left in the frame.

St. Cloud showed off why they were the top-ranked team in the nation in the third, controlling the play in the neutral and offensive zone, moving the puck around to create several chances for themselves to break the tie. Luckily for UND, Scheel and the shot-blockers got in the way of many pucks to hold the tie. After UND killed another crucial penalty, Nolan Walker picked Colton Poolman’s pocket behind the net, slid a pass across to Patrick Newell, who beat a sprawling Scheel to make it a 2-1 Huskies lead.

Colton Poolman/Photo by Jen Conway

“I accept responsibility for that second goal,” an emotional Poolman said after the game. “I owe my teammates better to be more focused at a critical juncture in the game like that. That’s where it went sideways, so I accept responsibility for that.”

Later in the period, Grant Mismash took a hit by Jimmy Schuldt and was down on the ice in pain, but got a penalty for slashing the stick out of Schuldt’s hand. No penalty was given to Schuldt, as the refs told UND coach Brad Berry that they deemed the hit to be clean. A hit like that is reviewable by the referees, but neither decided to go to the scorer’s table to review it.

“I am very, very disappointed,” said Berry. “I’m not going to get in any trouble by making a comment, but that was a knee-on-knee play that should have been reviewed. We have a protocol in place and it was reviewed and I’m very disappointed. It’s not the result of the game I’m alluding to, it’s one of those things where you know when anything is 50/50 in a game like that, it’s got to get reviewed. We have that in our protocol.”

When asked about Mismash’s status for tomorrow, Berry simply said, “He’ll be out.”

As UND pulled the goalie, Blake Lizotte fired it into the open net to give SCSU the 3-1 win. Though, after the hit– you could see the emotion rising, plenty of activity after the whistle and in the penalty boxes, as well with both SCSU and UND players yelling at each other between the boxes. This should be a great precursor for the game on Saturday night.