ALBANY, N.Y. — Call it a game for the unsung heroes and for a goalie who had some rough appearances in two previous NCAA Division I men's hockey tournament appearances.
Luke Jaycox, Will Hammer, Nolan Walker and Micah Miller scored goals and David Hrenak made 26 saves to help second-seeded St. Cloud State beat top-seeded Boston College 4-1 in the NCAA Northeast Regional championship Sunday at Times Union Center. With the win, the Huskies (19-10-0) advance to their first Frozen Four since 2013.
St. Cloud State will play in the national semifinals against Minnesota State University-Mankato (22-4-1) on April 8 at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Pa. The Mavericks beat the University of Minnesota 4-0 in Loveland, Colo., for the West Regional championship on Sunday night to advance to their first Frozen Four. The other semifinal game will be between Minnesota Duluth (15-10-2) and Massachusetts (18-5-4). The national championship game will be on April 10.
Hammer, a Cathedral High School graduate from St. Cloud, ended up scoring the game-winner off a rebound at 15:15 of the second period to give the Huskies a 2-1 lead.
"We're always trying to get pucks to the net whenever we can," Hammer said. "Somehow the puck got to Nick Perbix from the side and we had a lot of bodies there. I just remember whacking and whacking and I looked down and the puck was there. I just tried to put it on net.
"It's a credit to the line and the whole team trying to get to the net," said Hammer, who is listed as the center on the fourth line on the line chart. "It's been fun playing with (Kyler) Kupka and Jerry (Cockrell) all year."
Nicklaus Perbix (#GoBolts) jumps into the play, puts the puck on net, and Will Hammer is johnny on the spot to send the rebound home.@SCSUHUSKIES_MH leads @BCHockey 2-1 in the 2nd period.https://t.co/wbEz7DKmbC pic.twitter.com/qswuCn93VX— Eliteprospects (@eliteprospects) March 28, 2021
Hammer was a walk-on after three seasons playing junior hockey in the North American Hockey League and it was his second goal of the season. His first two seasons with the Huskies, he played in a total of four games and he suffered from supraventricular tachycardia that had to be surgically repaired after the 2018-19 season.
Supraventricular tachycardia (SVT) is a faster than normal heart rate beginning above the heart's two lower chambers.
It undoubtedly was beating fast after he scored his second goal of this season (fifth of his career), which sent his hometown team into the Frozen Four for the second time in the Division I era.
"It's kind of surreal and it hasn't really hit me," Hammer said. "I don't even know what to say. I just know that I'm just so proud of the guys and I know how many people have put in extra hours. I'm proud of the guys and we'll try to get two more wins."
Hrenak is MVP
Going into this NCAA tournament, Hrenak had two rough games in his two previous national tournament appearances. The 22-year-old Los Angeles Kings draft pick from Považská Bystrica, Slovakia, had suffered two losses in the opening round of the tournament when the Huskies were the No. 1 overall seed in the 16-team field.
In losses to AIC and Air Force, Hrenak had an .868 save percentage (33 of 38). In this regional against Boston University and Boston College — two of the traditional powers in college hockey — he had a 1.50 goals-against average and a .952 save percentage (60 of 63) and was named regional MVP.
"I thought David saved his best hockey for now," Larson said of Hrenak, who is 4-1 in the postseason in 2021. "We're hoping he can keep building off it.
"I thought that he looked comfortable. Even when he got scored on, he didn't look rattled. He was able to bounce back from that. I felt comfortable the way he looked in the net. He looked confident. He looked solid."
The other players named to the All-Northeast Regional team were: defensemen Perbix and Jaycox; forwards Easton Brodzinski, Walker and Boston College's Matt Boldy. Boldy, a Minnesota Wild first round draft pick, scored Boston College's goal at 14:23 of the first period to give the Eagles a 1-0 lead.
This season, Hrenak is 16-9-0 with a 2.51 goals-against average, .910 save percentage and two shutouts. In 113 career college games, he is 65-32-10 with a 2.40 GAA, .910 save percentage and a school record 11 shutouts.
Brodzinski had two goals in the Huskies' 6-2 win over Boston University on Saturday. On Sunday, he went to the high slot with the puck and took a hit and injured his right leg less than one minute into the second period. Brodzinski, a senior from Blaine and the team's leader in goals (13), stayed on the ice for a long time and SCSU athletic trainer Bryan DeMaine had to come on the ice to look at him.
Eventually, he got off the ice, not putting any weight on his right leg and with his arms over the shoulders of two teammates. The Huskies scored three goals in the second period after Brodzinski got injured.
"The guys wanted to play for Easton," Larson said of Brodzinski. "He's a guy that's been her for four years and been a big, huge part of this program.
"We knew he was hurt. We still don't know the extent of the injury. He is with medical personnel now. I could sense and I could hear the boys saying, 'Let's play for Easton.' He's put his heart and soul into this program and I know the guys wanted to get it done for him."
Brodzinski has 55 career goals, which is 14th on the school's Division I era, in 140 college games.
"It's tough losing Brodzy," said Jaycox, who goes hunting and fishing with Brodzinski away from the rink. "He's a big part of our team, one of our brothers. It sucked.
"But we still had a goal to achieve and pushed us a little harder to work for, not only the team, but for Brodzy as well."
Big 2nd period
For the second straight game, SCSU's opponent scored the first goal. Boston College won a battle for the puck along the boards and got the puck to Boldy. Boldy made a couple strides toward the net and beat Hrenak with a low shot for a 1-0 lead, which held going into the second period.
But the Huskies rallied with the help of some veterans. On a good shift for the Veeti Miettinen-Jami Krannila-Zach Okabe line, Jaycox came crashing in to knock in a rebound off an Okabe shot at 9:21 of the second period to tie the game 1-1. It was the first goal of the season for Jaycox, a senior from Warroad playing in his 141st consecutive game and came back this season after having both of his hips surgically repaired in the offseason.
"We work on a lot of things all year long and I saw Oks coming up the wall with the puck and he looked at me and I could tell he was going to throw it at the net," Jaycox said. "It bounced out to me and I was lucky enough to put it in."
Hammer then scored to give the Huskies a 2-1 lead.
"He's a heck of a player and works his tail off every shift," Jaycox said. "It's great to see him rewarded for all his hard work. That's another thing we practice a lot is getting dirty around the net so we can bang those ones in."
Nolan Walker buries the shoulder & takes the puck to the net with Warren hanging on him, & it looks like he's scored a sick goal.— Eliteprospects (@eliteprospects) March 28, 2021
Call on the ice is goalie interference on Walker, a 2-minute minor
Really, he should get the goal just for how nice it was.https://t.co/Eg3BvWVURA pic.twitter.com/IZjCtYfwOB
The outlook of the game seemed to change entirely after Walker scored at 19:15 of the second period to give the Huskies a 3-1 lead. Walker got the puck in the neutral zone, burst up the right side, made a power move to get around Eagles defenseman Jack St. Ivany.
Walker shot it right before he got to the net and crashed into goalie Spencer Knight. Originally, the goal was waved off and Walker was going to get a penalty for charging the goalie. He still got the penalty, but was awarded a goal after a long video review.
"I just tried to drive the net and we've been working in practice on getting to the net and getting to the grease pan," Walker said, referring to the area directly in front of the net. "I got a shot on net and luckily, it went in.
"I was kind of freaking out in the (penalty) box," Walker said of his reaction as officials reviewed his goal. "I drove the net and I saw the puck go in before I hit the goalie. I thought it was a goal the whole time. I was kind of anxiously waiting in the box and excited to see they called it a goal."
Walker had three assists in the win over Boston University in the semifinals and has 22 points and is a plus-4 in 29 games one season after having 12 points and being a minus-24 in 31 games last season. The Huskies outshot the Eagles 20-7 in the third period and led 3-1 going into the third period.
Then to cap off the win, Miller, a junior from Grand Rapids, scored an empty-net goal at 19:16 left. It was his second goal of the regional and third of the season.
The win sends the Huskies to Pittsburgh, which oddly enough, was where the team played its first Frozen Four. But after hearing a lot about how the team had lost its last three NCAA tournament games in the first round, reaching the national semifinals means a lot to the veterans on the team.
"It's special," Jaycox said. "I came into this weekend not looking at the past. We were looking at this year and what we were trying to achieve this year. I think our goal was to put that behind us and to focus what we needed to do here. We got the job done and now we're headed to Pittsburgh."
SCSU 4, Boston College 1
First period scoring — 1. BC, Matt Boldy 11 (Alex Newhook 9, Mike Hardman ) 14:23.. Penalties — SCSU, Seamus Donohue (goalie interference) 10:58.
Second period scoring — 2. SCSU, Luke Jaycox 1 (Zach Okabe 15, Jami Krannila 12) 9:21; 3. SCSU, Will Hammer 2 (Nick Perbix 14, Jared Cockrell 5) 15:15; 4. SCSU, Nolan Walker 9 (Perbix 15) 19:15. Penalties — BC, Trevor Kuntar (hooking) 9:49; SCSU, Walker (charging the goalie) 19:15.
Third period scoring — 5. SCSU, Micah Miller 3 (Brendan Bushy 7) 19:16 (en). Penalties — None.
Goalie saves — SCSU, David Hrenak 10-7-9—26 (1 GA). BC, Spencer Knight 11-17-4—32 (3 GA).
Penalties-minutes — SCSU 2-4; BC 1-2.
Power plays (shots) — SCSU 0-1 (3 shots); BC 0-2 (3 shots).
Faceoffs — BC 32-30.
Referees — Ryan Sweeney and Mike Schubert.
Linesemen — Joe Sherman and Anthony Valley.
Attendance — 1,136.