St. Cloud State is headed to the Frozen Four thanks to a couple of unlikely goal scorers coming up big against one of the top goalies in the country.
Huskies seniors Luke Jaycox and Will Hammer entered Sunday’s Albany Regional final with a combined one goal this season, but each of them scored against Boston College’s Spencer Knight in a wild three-goal second period that propelled No. 2 St. Cloud to a 4-1 win over the top-seeded Eagles and the second Frozen Four appearance in program history.
Nolan Walker and Micah Miller also scored for the Huskies, who were the top overall seed in the NCAA tournament in 2018 and 2019 but lost in the opening round each year. St. Cloud will face Minnesota State in Pittsburgh on April 8. The Huskies’ only other Frozen Four appearance was also in Pittsburgh, where St. Cloud lost to Quinnipiac in the 2013 semifinal.
“We came into this weekend not looking at the past; we were looking at this year,” Jaycox said. “Our goal was to put that behind us and focus on what we need to do here.”
David Hrenak had 26 saves for the Huskies (19-10) and was named the regional’s most outstanding player. Knight had 32 saves for BC, while Matt Boldy scored the lone goal for the Eagles. BC advanced to the regional final after Notre Dame withdrew from the NCAA tournament due to COVID-19 protocols.
It didn’t look good for St. Cloud early. The Huskies trailed 1-0 entering the second and then lost leading scorer Easton Brodzinski for the game in the opening minute of the period. The senior, who scored twice Saturday against Boston University, took a hard hit from the Eagles’ Trevor Kuntar and was on the ice for several minutes before being helped into the locker room. St. Cloud coach Brett Larson did not have an update on Brodzinski’s condition after the game.
“I could hear the boys saying ‘let’s play for Easton,’” Larson said. “He’s put his heart and soul into the program and the boys wanted to get it done for him.”
Jaycox started the scoring for the Huskies 9:21 into the second period, putting a rebound past Knight to tie the score. St. Cloud then went ahead on Hammer’s goal at 15:15. Knight made a pair of quick saves with a mass of bodies in front of the crease, but the Eagles couldn’t clear the rebound and the Huskies forward snapped a shot past Knight to make it 2-1.
“We work on a lot of things all year long and I saw [Zach Okabe] coming up the wall a little bit with the puck and he looked at me and I could tell he was going to throw it on net,” Jaycox said.
Walker capped a strong period for St. Cloud with a goal at 19:15 that was initially waved off due to goalie interference. But that call was reversed after a lengthy review, giving the Huskies a two-goal lead heading into the final period.
“I was kind of freaking out a little bit in the [penalty] box,” Walker said. “I drove the net and saw the puck go in before I thought I hit the goalie, so I thought it was a goal the whole time.”
Boston College (17-6-1) went up 1-0 on Boldy’s goal at 14:23 in the first after the Eagles’ forecheck freed the puck along the boards.
But St. Cloud shut down Boston College after that, holding the nation’s second-highest scoring offense to a combined 16 shots in the final two periods. Miller’s empty-net goal in the final minute of the third sealed the win for the Huskies. It was the junior’s second goal in as many nights after not scoring since St. Cloud’s season opener on Dec. 1.
“They are very good with the 1-2-2 defense in the neutral zone,” said Eagles coach Jerry York. “It was hard to generate any odd-man rushes. We were at our best when we chipped it in and tried to retrieve the puck.”
The Huskies’ win ensured that Minnesota will have three teams in the Frozen Four. It’s the first time a state has sent three teams to the Frozen Four since Michigan did so in 1992.
“We’re proud of our hockey there, from youth hockey all the way through high school, and into college,” said Larson, a Minnesota native who played for Minnesota Duluth. “When I grew up, I didn’t dream of playing in the NHL; I dreamed of playing college. I think that’s the way a lot of kids feel. … Most of us grew up on a rink from the day we were 4 or 5 and if you grew up with it, then you love it.”