ALBANY — In the 2018 and 2019 NCAA men’s hockey tournaments, St. Cloud State was the No. 1 overall seed. And both times, the Huskies were ousted in the West Regional semifinal by fourth-seeded teams, Air Force in 2018 and American International in 2019.
This year, the Huskies weren’t the top overall seed. They received the No. 2 seed in the Northeast Regional, and were bound and determined to try to make up for the failures of their previous two NCAA appearances.
Easton Brodzinski made sure of that.
The senior left winger scored twice, including the game-winner that capped a wild flurry of goals in the second period, leading the Huskies to a 6-2 victory over third-seeded Boston University in Saturday’s regional semifinal before an announced crowd of 1,136 at Times Union Center.
The Huskies (18-10-0) will face another Boston team in Sunday’s regional championship game at 5:30 p.m. Top-seeded Boston College (17-5-1) advanced to the final after fourth-seeded Notre Dame was forced to pull out of the regional on Thursday because of COVID-19 protocols.
“Third time’s the charm, I guess,” said Brodzinski, who has 13 goals and five assists on the season and is two points shy of collecting his 100th career point. “We stuck to our game plan. In years past, we got away from that. I think this team knows what it’s really like to stick to the structure and stick to what we know, because over the years we’ve had a lot of good teams here, and we’ve had a lot of downfalls, too. But I think this team has something special in it.”
The Huskies didn’t forget what happened in their last two tournament appearances (last year’s tournament was canceled because of the pandemic). They didn’t want a repeat.
“It really [stinks] what happened the last few years,” Brodzinski said, “but we put that on the back burners and we’re moving on. It’s a completely new team. These guys want to win. You can see it in their eyes once we got here [Saturday] morning. We knew what we needed to do, and we got it done.”
Brodzinski’s first goal snapped a 2-2 tie with four minutes left in the second period and capped a wild 3:46 span that saw the teams combine four goals that erased BU’s 1-0 lead on sophomore center Wilmer Skoog’s goal eight seconds into the second. Junior center Nolan Walker sent a pass from behind the goal line to Brodzinski at the bottom of the left circle. He fired it past freshman goalie Drew Commesso.
Midway through the third period with the Huskies up 4-2, Brodzinski sealed St. Cloud’s victory. He won a faceoff in the BU left circle and sent the puck to Walker to his right. Walker drove the net and shot, and Commesso kicked out the right pad to make the save. The puck hit Brodzinski’s skate and started rolling toward the net. Brodzinski got his stick on it just before it crossed the line. After video review, the goal stood and the Huskies had a 5-2 lead.
“ ‘Brodzie’s’ our go-to guy,” St. Cloud State head coach Brett Larson said. “In tough moments, he’s able to come through. He’s got hockey sense. He’s got a great stick. I think he showed [Saturday] that he can play in big-time games. He’s the guy that, when you need to have a play be made, or you need to find a way to get on that scoresheet, he’s the guy that’s got the ability to do it. Obviously, he was huge for us.”
Saturday’s game had some interesting moments.
Both teams received a five-minute power-play. St. Cloud State got one at 9:08 of the first period when BU was called for hitting from behind. The Huskies fired eight shots on goal during the power play, but Commesso stopped them all.
The Terriers (10-5-1) got theirs 3:29 into the third period when Chase Brand was penalized for contact to the head. Instead of scoring, the Terriers gave up a goal on a penalty shot. Huskies sophomore center Jami Krannila was on a breakaway when Terriers senior left winger Logan Cockerill dove and knocked the puck off Krannila’s stick. After the puck left Krannila’s stick, Cockerill tripped him. A penalty shot was called.
Krannila skated in and beat Commesso to the glove side to give the Huskies a 4-2 lead with 15:43 left in the third.
“It looked like a good play by our guy, to be honest with you,” BU coach Albie O’Connell said. “That was the turning point of the game.”
The Huskies started the second-period barrage on one of the more interesting goals you will ever see. Walker won a puck battle behind the BU net and somehow lofted it over the net. For a moment, the puck fluttered in the air as players continued to battle behind the net.
The puck landed at the top of the right circle and in front of Huskies junior right winger Micah Miller. Still, everyone was looking behind the net. Commesso was looking to his right to see what was going on.
Miller had a wide-open net and fired it home to tie the game 1-1. It took a few seconds for Commesso to realize what happened.
“That first goal was one for the ages,” O’Connell said. “It was about as strange as you get, where the puck shoots over the net, and no one knows where it is, except for the guy who’s standing in center field. [Miller] basically caught it, put it down and put it in the open net.”
Nick Prebix’s goal from the top of the right circle that gave St. Cloud State a 2-1 lead 1:15 later hit off Cockerill and then sophomore defenseman Alex Vlasic and went in.
BU tied it on Jake Wise’s power-play goal less than two minutes later before Brodzinski broke the tie 32 seconds after that.
Oh, and there was a delay to repair broken glass and board in the St. Cloud State right-wing corner in the third, and there was an ice issue later on in the period. The game lasted four minutes short of three hours.
“What else could happen,” Larson said. “All of a sudden, they’re bringing the fire hydrant thing out there and fixing a hole in the ice. . . . I actually think the glass going out was a little bit of a lucky break for us. We had just killed off a five-minute major. We really had a lot of guys expend a ton of energy on that kill. That may have been a fortunate break for us.”
Boston U. 0 2 0 — 2
St. Cloud State 0 3 3 — 6
First Period — None. Penalties — Peterson, BU, major-game misconduct (hitting from behind), 9:08; Miller, SCS (slashing), 15:14.
Second Period — 1, Boston U., Skoog 3 (Cockerill), :08. 2, St. Cloud State, Miller 2 (Walker, Trejbal), 12:14. 3, St. Cloud State, Prebix 7 (Hammer, Kupka), 13:29. 4, Boston U., Wise 1 (Tuch), 15:28 (pp). 5, St. Cloud State, Brodzinski 12 (Walker), 16:00. Penalties —
Third Period — 6, St. Cloud State, Krannila 11 (penalty shot), 4:17. 7, St. Cloud State, Brodzinski 13 (Walker), 10:04. 8, St. Cloud State, Miettinen 11 (Bushy, Krannila), 15:02. Penalties — Brand, SCS, major-game misconduct (contact to head), 3:29; Cockerill, BU (tripping), 4:17; Tuch, BU (roughing), 18:15; Jaycox, SCS (roughing), 18:15; Krannila, SCS (holding), 19:56.
Shots on Goal — Boston U. 10-10-16 — 36. St. Cloud State 14-12-12 — 38.
Power-play opportunities — Boston U. 1 of 4; St. Cloud State 0 of 2.
Goalies — Boston U., Commesso 6-4-1 (38 shots-32 saves). St. Cloud State, Hrenak 15-9-0 (36-34).
A — 1,136. T — 2:56.
Referees — Colin Kronfrost, Brett DesRosiers. Linesmen — Sam Shikowsky, Nick Bradshaw.