St. Cloud State advances to program’s first national title game
Junior forward Nolan Walker perfectly redirected Seamus Donohue’s point shot past Minnesota State goalie Dryden McKay with 53.2 seconds left, sending the Huskies to the national title game for the first time in program history.
“I kind of found that soft spot up top, on the high tracks, as we call it,” said Walker. "And Seamus, he made a great shot right on my stick. I was lucky enough that it went in.”
The Huskies managed to push five pucks past McKay, doing so without leading scorer Easton Brodzinski who suffered a season-ending injury to his leg in St. Cloud’s regional final win over Boston College.
With Brodzinski out, head coach Brett Larson reinserted into the lineup Brodzinski’s roommate on the road in Joe Molenaar.
It was his first game since Feb. 27, and one he made a major impact in, tying the game in the third period for the Huskies, before Walker worked his magic.
“It's been kind of crazy. When a guy like Easton goes down—he's a guy who has mentored me all year, my roommate on the road,” said Molenaar. “For the whole team it was tough. At first thinking he's such a big piece for our team, it's heartbreaking.”
The Huskies jumped out to a 3-1 lead, but the Mavericks clawed their way back into the game, eventually taking the lead on Dallas Gerads’ third period tally.
After taking their foot off the gas to allow the Mavericks to tie the game, and eventually take a lead, the Huskies got back to their game and ultimately, that made the difference in the contest.
“Fortunately tonight I thought our players came through at opportunistic times because Mankato made it, it was a man's game,” said Larson. “And they played a man's game and they made the ice very difficult out there. And like I said, I was happy that we were just able to convert when we did finally get a chance.”
It’s been a roller coaster of a ride for the Huskies since Larson took over behind the St. Cloud bench.
In Larson’s first year at St. Cloud in 2018-19, he led the Huskies to a 30-6-3 record and with it, the top seed in the NCAA Tournament. However, they were upset in the opening round of the tournament by American International.
They followed their disappointing tournament performance up with a sub-500 season in 2019-20, before COVID forced the cancelation of the NCHC Tournament, the lone chance the Huskies had at getting back to the NCAA Tournament.
And now, in year three, Larson and the Huskies find themselves one win away from the program’s first national championship.
“Last year didn't end. We never finished it. So who knows where we could ended up. We had a great group of guys that I thought really pushed this program to get better through a year when we lost 16 guys. Our senior group last year was a huge character group they didn't get a chance to finish it,” said Larson.
“I think what they did was help build the foundation for this group. And this group is built off of that. And I can't thank those guys enough, because they willed it through a tough year last year. And I think the lessons that they left has helped this team grow.”
The Huskies may not have the best team on paper, and may not be the most talented team on the ice, but they've got that playoff magic going for them. And in a season that's been so strange to many, given what it took to start and now finish it, that little bit of playoff magic may just be enough.
The Huskies will take on the Minutemen of Massachusetts-Amherst Saturday night. Another program looking to capture it's first national title.