Pittsburgh, PA- Senior Nolan Walker tipped a Seamus Donohue slap shot from the blue line past Hobey Baker Finalist Dryden McKay with just 53.2 left in the game to break a 4-4 tie and send the St. Cloud St. Huskies to their first-ever National Championship game on Saturday.
When senior Easton Brodzinski got hurt in the Boston College game in Albany, NY, Head Coach Brett Larson had to make some changes to his lineup two weeks ago. Those changes led to Kyler Kupka moving up to be line-mates with Micah Miller and Walker. It also created a spot for forward Joe Molenaar, and each would score a big goal for the Huskies in the win.
“Fortunately, I thought (Kyler) Kupka held his own on that line. He was able to play his game. He didn’t try to change his game,” said Larson. “And that’s what we asked out of him. And (Joe) Molenaar went into a huge game after not playing for a while and came up big for us. So obviously, having those two players fill the roles we needed really helped.”
The Huskies capitalized on a Brendan Furry Hooking penalty. Defenseman Spencer Meier banged home a rebound at 3:18 of the first period for the early 1-0 lead. Zach Okabe and Kevin Fitzgerald assisted on the goal.
Minnesota St. forward Nathan Smith tied the game with SCSU’s Donohue in the box for Holding at 16:09. The sophomore’s wrist shot found its way through traffic in front of Huskies goalie David Hrenak (24 saves).
The tie game lasted all of ten seconds after Huskies forward Kupka buried a feed from Walker past McKay making it 2-1 St. Cloud at 16:19
Mavericks junior forward Julian Napravnik tried a no-look drop pass in the Mavericks defensive zone. His pass went directly to Huskies forward Will Hammer, who beat McKay to make it 3-1 Huskies at 2:40 of the second period.
Walker Duehr gave the Mavericks life at 12:07 when he banged home a Dallas Gerads rebound to the right of Hrenak, cutting the deficit to 3-2.
Smith tied the game at 14:27 with a rocket to the top corner glove-side high on Hrenak. The goal was Smith’s second power-play goal of the game as SCSU’s Chase Brand was off for Tripping.
Minnesota St. jumped ahead 4-3 when Gerards deposited a Duehr pass past Hrenak at 4:18 of the third.
The freshman Molenaar tied the game 4-4 for the Huskies when he tapped in a loose puck at the top of the Mavericks crease at 10:14.
“I kind of found that soft spot up top, on the high tracks, as we call it,” said Walker of his game-winning goal. “And Seamus (Donohue), he made a great shot right on my stick. I was lucky enough that it went in.”
“I think you’re always judged at the end, but we didn’t throw the towel in,” said Mavericks coach Mike Hastings. “We kept — we kept staying with the process, even though we had a poor start. I thought we had a fantastic second half of the game.”
“And again, when you have two evenly matched teams, a play at the end of the game can make a difference. And they found a way to do it, and we didn’t. And we’ve got, as much as it hurts, we’ve got to own the outcome,” added the nine-year coach.
The Huskies will take on the winner of the Massachusetts vs. Minnesota Duluth game for the NCAA National Championship at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh.