As senior left winger Easton Brodzinski lay crumpled on the ice clutching his right leg early in the second period in the NCAA men’s hockey tournament Northeast Regional championship game against Boston College, his St. Cloud State teammates knew they had to do something special for him.
The second-seeded Huskies did just that. And now they are headed to the Frozen Four.
They erased a 1-0 first-period deficit by scoring three times in a dominating second period that saw them hold a 20-7 shots on goal advantage, and they went on to beat the top-seeded Eagles 4-1 on Sunday before an announced crowd of 1,136 at Times Union Center.
The Huskies (19-10-0) advance to the Frozen Four semifinals April 8 in Pittsburgh. It’s their second Frozen Four appearance. Ironically, their first Frozen Four appearance was also in Pittsburgh in 2013.
Early in the second period, Brodzinski, who scored twice in Saturday’s 6-2 semifinal victory over third-seeded Boston University, was checked by BC freshman left winger Trevor Kuntar in the slot on the BC zone. Brodzinski’s right leg took the brunt of the check, and he fell awkwardly to the ice and was in pain. Brodzinski, who is two points shy of 100 for his career, had to be helped off the ice, and he didn’t put any weight on the leg.
After the game, St. Cloud State coach Brett Larson said he didn’t have an update on the severity of Brodzinski’s injury other than to say he was with medical personnel.
“The guys wanted to play for Easton,” Larson said. “He’s a guy that’s been here for four years and been a huge part of this program. They knew he was hurt. We didn’t know how bad.
“I sensed on the bench [and] I could hear the boys on the bench saying, ‘Let’s play for Easton.’ The kid has put his heart and soul into this program, and I know the guys wanted to get it done for him.”
The players responded.
“It’s tough losing ‘Brondzie,’ ” Huskies senior defenseman Luke Jaycox said. “He’s a big part of our team. He’s one of our brothers. It [stunk], but we still had a goal to achieve and it kind of pushed us to work harder not only for the team, but for ‘Brondzie,’ too.”
Added junior center and linemate Nolan Walker: “It was just a next-guy-up mentality. They kind of came at us hard in the first period, and we responded in the second period. Once he went down, we all responded well. We wanted to do it for each other, and especially for him.”
Jaycox started the scoring for the Huskies. He came in from the right point and put home the rebound of a Zach Okabie shot past BC sophomore goalie Spencer Knight at 9:21. Knight kicked out Okabie’s shot from the left point with his left pad, but it ended up on the stick of Jaycox, who fired it into the net.
Nearly six minutes later, there was a scramble in front of Knight. The puck kept bouncing around before Huskies senior right winger Jared Cockrell got a shot off that Knight stopped. Then Huskies junior defenseman Nick Perbix came in from the right point to get the rebound, which Knight stopped. Senior center Will Hammer collected the rebound and put it home.
Walker, who had a miraculous assist on a high pass from behind the net in Saturday’s game against BU, then was involved in Sunday’s most interesting play with 44.7 seconds left in the period.
He was skating down the right wing with the puck and headed to the net. He got to the net, shoved the puck past Knight, and then collided with him.
A penalty was called, and the goal was waved off. However, officials reviewed the play.
After about a 10-minute review, Walker was credited with the goal and penalized for charging the goalie.
“I was kind of freaking out in the [penalty] box,” Walker said. “I saw [the replay]. I drove the net. I saw the puck go in, I thought, before I hit the goalie. I thought it was a goal the whole time. I was just anxiously waiting in the box. I was excited to see that they called it a goal.”
On the other hand, BC head coach Jerry York was not happy with the turn of events.
“They said the goal was scored one frame before the penalty was taken,” York said. “It was clear to the referee. That was a big play for us because we were going to go on a power play and wondering. We didn’t think it was a goal. The goal was called off. They reviewed it. They made the correct call according to our people upstairs.”
Micah Miller sealed the win on an empty-net goal with 44 seconds left in the game. Now, the Huskies will get ready to face Minnesota State in one of the April 8 semifinals. The other semifinal pits two-time defending NCAA-champion Minnesota Duluth, which beat overall No. 1 seed North Dakota 3-2 in five overtimes early Sunday morning in the West Regional final, against UMass. Minnesota Duluth beat UMass in the last championship game in 2019. Last year’s tournament was canceled because of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“Obviously, we’re just excited right now and enjoying the night as a team,” Larson said. “I feel very fortunate to be walking out of here and heading to the Frozen Four.”
St. Cloud State goalie David Hrenak was named the regional’s Most Outstanding Player and to the all-tournament team. Also on the all-tournament team from the Huskies were Brodzinski, Walker, Jaycox and defenseman Nick Perbix. Matt Boldy, who scored BC’s first-period goal, was also named to the team.
The NCAA men’s hockey tournament returns to Times Union Center next year with the East Regional.
St. Cloud State 0 3 1 — 4
Boston College 1 0 0 — 1
First Period — 1, Boston College, Boldly 11 (Newhook), 14:23. Penalties — Donohue, SCS (goalie interference), 10:58.
Second Period — 2, St. Cloud State, Jaycox 1 (Okabe, Krannila), 9:21. 3, St. Cloud State, Hammer 2 (Perbix, Cockrell), 15:15. 4, St. Cloud State, Walker 9, 19:16. Penalties — Kuntar, NC (hooking), 9:49; Walker, SCS (charging goalie), 19:16.
Third Period — 5, St. Cloud State, Miller 3 (Bushy), 19:16 (en). Penalties — None.
Shots on Goal — St. Cloud State 11-20-5 — 36. Boston College 11-7-9 — 27.
Power-play opportunities — St. Cloud State 0 of 1; Boston College 0 of 2.
Goalies — St. Cloud State, Hrenak 16-9-0 (27 shots-26 saves). Boston College, Knight 16-4-1 (35-32).
A — 1,136. T — 2:49.
Referees — Ryan Sweeney, Mike Schubert. Linesmen — Joe Sherman, Anthony Valley.