The Frozen Faceoff pitted the four top seeds in the NCHC against each other. Three of the four, North Dakota, St. Cloud and Denver, had already qualified for the NCAA tournament, while Minnesota-Duluth’s win over North Dakota on Friday and a Minnesota loss to Michigan in the Big Ten championship assured the Bulldogs of a berth.
St. Cloud’s balanced offense
St. Cloud came into the Frozen Faceoff sporting the nation’s second-best offense and second-best power play, and has three seniors averaging over a point a game and two more just under that. The focus, rightly, is often on St. Cloud’s leading scorer, Kalle Kossila, who had a big weekend, getting two assists in each game.
However, it was a freshman, Mikey Eyssimont, who came through big. Eyssimont had struggled in his first half, only getting four points. In the second half, he heated up, scoring 24 points while moving to a line with Kossila and Patrick Russell and moving up to seventh on the team in scoring. Eyssimont scored the game-winning goal against Denver Friday night, just 1:41 into the third period, and he scored the game-winner Saturday against Duluth, his second of the game, picking up a rebound off the boards and sneaking it past Kasimir Kaskisuo.
Eyssimont was named tournament MVP. Also on the Frozen Faceoff All-Tournament Team from St. Cloud were defenseman Ethan Prow (two points) and goaltender Charlie Lindgren (40 saves on the weekend).
Duluth heats up
Minnesota-Duluth came into the Frozen Faceoff on a roll, having won six straight games. After falling behind to North Dakota Friday just 49 seconds into the game, Duluth turned it around in the second period, tying it just 28 seconds into the period on a Dominic Toninato goal and then getting a goal from Alex Iafallo just over three minutes later. Austin Farley scored the game-winner at 12:24 of the second, and Kasimir Kaskisuo made 22 saves.
The momentum carried over into the first period of the championship against St. Cloud, where the Bulldogs blitzed the Huskies in the first period, outshooting them 11-5 and taking the lead at 13:03 on a Carson Soucy goal off a beautiful pass from Frozen Faceoff All-Tournament Team defenseman Willie Raskob (three assists).
The Bulldogs continued to outplay the Huskies early in the second until Eyssimont tied it at 8:59. Even though St. Cloud was opportunistic, the Bulldogs outshot the Huskies in all three periods, including 9-5 in the third.
Third place doesn’t mean much
After losing on Friday night, Denver and North Dakota squared off in the third-place game Saturday afternoon. The two teams had split their regular season series, with North Dakota winning two in Grand Forks and Denver winning two in Denver. Fittingly, the game ended in a tie.
North Dakota, which struggled to score all weekend, took the early lead on a goal by Nick Schmaltz at 6:09 of the first on a beautiful setup by Drake Caggiula. Denver, which seemed to be struggling with motivation and sat six of its regular players and its starting netminder (North Dakota sat three regulars), finally struck back at 13:21 of the third on a goal from in close by Danton Heinen off a great feed from Trevor Moore.
“Playing a third-place game is tough for both teams coming in there, and I thought it was another NCHC battle,” North Dakota coach Brad Berry said.
“It’s the second year in a row unfortunately we’re in this consolation game, but I have to say, both times, the consolation game, I think from a fan’s perspective, was a better game to watch because plays were being made and the pace of game was really high, and it shows the character of both dressing rooms how hard they play in the consolation game,” said Denver coach Jim Montgomery.