OMAHA, Neb. — If you are looking for the line for St. Cloud men's hockey team that will shoot the puck first and ask questions later, it's the line with center Jami Krannila and wings Easton Brodzinski and Veeti Miettinen.
Through nine games, Brodzinski and Miettinen had combined for 57 shots on goal, which makes up 21.1% of the team's shots on goal. So when Brodzinski and Miettinen both hit the crossbar in the second period Sunday, were they starting to feel a bit like it was not their night?
"No, we were just having fun there," Miettinen said. "We know it's going to go in and it went in, so we're happy about it."
Miettinen, a freshman from Espoo, Finland, scored a power-play goal at 10:26 of the third period for the game-winner as the ninth-ranked Huskies beat No. 7/8-ranked Denver 3-1 on Sunday afternoon at Baxter Arena. With the win, St. Cloud State finished NCHC Pod play with a 6-3 record and the Pioneers are 3-6-1.
The assists on the game-winner went to Nolan Walker and Brodzinski to give the Huskies a 2-1 lead.
"We had a great power play there and there was a free puck in the corner and I was wide open there," said Miettinen, who was standing near the boards, close to the top of the faceoff circle. "I just walked in and shot it."
Miettinen scored the game-winner from the high slot, near the top of the circle. It was the third straight game that the Toronto Maple Leafs draft pick has scored.
"When he has his stick on it in the slot — in the house — it's most likely going in," Huskies senior wing Jared Cockrell said. "Having a guy like that takes a lot of pressure off a lot of guys on the team. Everyone can go and play and know that a lot of guys can score and he's been coming up huge for us."
It was the second straight game that Miettinen scored on the power play. St. Cloud State was 1-for-3 with nine shots on goal on the power play against Denver.
"We got some confidence early in the game and we had five shots on net on that first power play and it felt like we got some really good looks," Huskies coach Brett Larson said. "Even if you don't score, you can gain some momentum if you've got the other team on their heels and you're creating chances. I think that bled into the next power play that we had. We won a puck battle (in the corner) and Veeti's, obviously, got that knack."
The Huskies added an empty-net goal by sophomore wing Zach Okabe at 19:01 of the third period to put the game away.
- Denver has 49 shots, has to settle for shootout win over Western Michigan
- SCSU overcomes 3-goal deficit with unusual goals to win, 4-3 in OT
- SCSU makes it the hard way, but beats No. 4 Denver
Hammer's line scores
The Huskies' line — the fourth of the four lines listed on the lineup chart — of center Will Hammer with Cockrell and Kyler Kupka on the wings picked up the other goal for the Huskies. Kupka, a sophomore from Camrose, Alberta, stole the puck in the neutral zone and then got a return pass from Cockrell and redirected it in from close range to tie the game at 1-1 at 12:43 of the second period.
"Kups got two good turnovers in the neutral zone just by taking away the middle," Cockrell said. "They coughed one up and we were quick to transition and jump on the opportunity and we came up big there, which was great."
The line started each period of the game and also played key minutes down the stretch to secure the win.
"We've been looking at that line as three really smart, intelligent players that make subtle, smart, simple plays throughout their shifts and they manage their shifts well," Larson said. "Hammer can win a lot of faceoffs and it's a line that we've grown a lot of trust in. You can play them against a top line. You can play them against a fourth line. You certainly play them a lot when you have a lead because they continue to do the right things."
Hammer, a senior from St. Cloud, was 17-10 on faceoffs Sunday and leads the team's centers in faceoff win percentage (85-65, .567) this season.
After a game off, senior David Hrenak got the start in goal for the Huskies and stopped 31 of the 32 shots he faced to pick up his fourth win of the season. Hrenak had stopped 17 of 21 shots in his previous start, a 4-3 overtime loss to North Dakota on Wednesday and did not play in a 4-3 overtime win over Colorado College on Friday.
"This was maybe our best total team effort throughout the Pod," Larson said. "We got contributions from each line either on the (score) sheet or just playing the right way. I thought the 'D' core was solid on our breakouts.
"David Hrenak, coming off a game where we sat him to show him there's real (goalie) competition on the team, really responded well."
The win gives Hrenak 53 career wins (in 94 games), which moves him into a tie with Ryan Faragher (53-34-8, 2011-14) for second on the team's list in the NCAA Division I era. Brian Leitza (66-56-7, 1994-98) is the program's all-time leader in wins.
Hrenak, a Los Angeles Kings draft pick, is 53-25-10 with a 2.39 goals-against average and .910 save percentage in his career, including 4-2 with 2.68 GAA and .910 save percentage this season.
If you are looking for some of the more positive signs from the Pod for the Huskies, try a few of these on for size:
>>> St. Cloud State improved to 3-3 when the opponent scores the first goal in a game this season. The Huskies were 3-12-3 when the opponent scored first last season.
>>> Of the team's six wins, the Huskies have trailed at one point in all but one game, the 5-3 win over North Dakota. The wins include:
- Trailing Western Michigan 3-2 going into the third period before coming back for a 4-3 win on Dec. 1.
- Trailing Denver 2-1 in the second period before coming back to win 4-3 on Dec. 5.
- Trailing Nebraska Omaha 2-1 after the first period before coming back for a 5-3 win on Dec. 6.
- Trailing Colorado College 3-0 in the first period before coming back for a 4-3 overtime win on Dec. 18.
- Trailing Denver 1-0 in the second period before coming back for Sunday's 3-1 win.
And in their overtime loss to North Dakota, they trailed 3-1 in the second period, but came back to force overtime.
SCSU 3, Denver 1
First period scoring — None. Penalties — D, Ryan Barrow (goalie interference) 11:12; SCSU, Zach Okabe (tripping) 14:56.
Second period scoring — 1. D, Carter Savoie 7 (Cole Guttman 5) 8:35; 2. SCSU, Kyler Kupka 2 (Jared Cockrell 1) 12:43. Penalties — SCSU, Micah Miller (unsportsmanlike conduct) 17:30; D, Mike Benning (unsportsmanlike conduct) 17:30.
Third period scoring — 3. SCSU, Veeti Miettinen 4 (Nolan Walker 4, Easton Brodzinski 4) 10:26 (pp); 4. SCSU, Zach Okabe 2 (Sam Hentges 3) 19:01 (en). Penalties — SCSU, Micah Miller (slashing) 7:26; D, Griffin Mendel (holding) 9:37; D, Jake Durflinger (tripping) 15:30; SCSU, Seamus Donohue (interference) 19:54.
Goalie saves — D, Magnus Chrona 16-6-9—31 (2 GA). SCSU, David Hrenak 12-9-10—31 (1 GA).
Penalties-minutes — D 4-8; SCSU 4-8.
Power plays (shots) — D 0-3 (0 shots); SCSU 1-3 (9 shots).
Faceoffs — SCSU 35-26.
Referees — Tom Sterns and Brian Hankes.
Linesemen — Andy Dokken and Luke Bisbee.
Three stars of the game — 1. Kupka (SCSU), 2. Miettinen (SCUS), 3. Hrenak (SCSU).