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NCHC Frozen Faceoff notebook: International Exchange Line re-emerges with 3-goal performance for SCSU

Also, Hunter McKown, Kaidan Mbereko lead Colorado College to first championship game; why Magnus Chrona was lifted in a one-goal game late in the third period for Denver

St. Cloud vs. North Dakota
North Dakota forward Carson Albrecht (13) and defenseman Ty Farmer (3) sandwich St. Cloud State forward Mason Salquist during the first period at the NCHC Frozen Faceoff on Friday, March 17, 2023 at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Contributed / Jim Rosvold / NCHC

ST. PAUL — The highest scoring line for the St. Cloud State men's hockey team had been in a funk going into Friday's NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinals game.

The International Exchange Line of wings Zach Okabe and Veeti Miettinen and center Jami Krannila had combined for three goals and two assists in their previous five games. In the 31 games before that, the line had combined for 42 goals and 95 points.

But on the biggest stage of the season, the line that has been together the better part of three seasons came up big. All three had goals and they combined for seven of the team's nine points in a 3-2 overtime win over North Dakota before 10,242 at Xcel Energy Center.

The Huskies improved to an NCHC record 6-0 in semifinals games and will be looking for their second conference tournament title (2016) when they play Colorado College (13-21-3) at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Xcel.

On the game-winner Friday night, Krannila got the puck across the UND blue line and hit Okabe with a pass going to the net and Okabe flipped a backhand in at 5:45 for the game-winner.


"Veeti made a great play to get it to me," Krannila said of Miettinen, who sent a cross-ice pass between two UND players in the neutral zone to get it to Krannila. "I kind of had a 1-on-2. I saw Oky coming up and I've never seen him skate that fast.

"I just tossed the puck towards him and luckily, it got through and he made a great move and scored."

Okabe's last goal was an overtime winner against Minnesota Duluth on March 4. But this one, all three guys on the line made nice plays to put the game away.

"Veeti made good defensive play to get it over to Jami," Okabe said. "I just saw an opening in the middle. I knew Jami had space when he took the (blue) line. I just decided to drive the net and see if I could make something happen and, luckily, I did."

The Huskies were facing an elimination game against Minnesota Duluth in their quarterfinals series on March 12 and head coach Brett Larson said that he had a stern talk with the line to try to spark them.

"We really challenged them big time before the Sunday game," Larson said of the conversation before Game 3 against UMD. "I basically challenged them as people, as teammates, everything. That's probably as hard as I've gotten on a line.

"I actually remember doing the same thing once with (Blake) Lizotte, (Robby) Jackson and (Patrick) Newell," Larson said of his top line in 2018-19. "I thought (Krannila's line) played extremely well on Sunday (vs. UMD) and I thought they played well tonight and finally got rewarded for it. You could just feel it coming."

Denver vs. Colorado College
Denver forward Jared Wright (18) and defenseman Sean Behrens (2) battle with Colorado College forward Hunter McKown in a semifinal matchup on Friday, March 17, 2023 at the 2023 NCHC Frozen Faceoff at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Contributed / Jim Rosvold / NCHC


Playing CC for the 5th time

Keeping with their theme this postseason, the Huskies will be playing an opponent for the fifth time this season for the championship. SCSU ended up playing the Bulldogs seven times and North Dakota five times this season.

Against Colorado College, the Huskies went 3-1 during the regular season, but the one loss was 4-2 on Jan. 13 in St. Cloud.

All three of those postseason opponents — UMD, UND and CC — have had to win or their seasons would be over.

"They're going to be a desperate team and their season is on the line," Krannila said. "If they lose they're out. If you give it all you got, I think we'll be fine."

Tigers goalie Kaidan Mbereko made 23 saves to upend No. 3-ranked Denver, 1-0, in the semifinals on Friday. Mbereko has given up three goals in three postseason wins over Western Michigan and Denver, two of the top-scoring teams in the country. In those three games, he's stopped 76 of 79 shots (.962 save percentage).

"They've been good all year and they make my job easier," Mbereko said of the team's defensemen on Friday. "We had some big blocked shots and big faceoff wins from our centers. It was a team effort and those guys really stepped up."

And for the Tigers, they go into the game with a Cinderella story. Colorado College finished seventh in the NCHC during the regular season, but swept second-seeded Western Michigan on the road and then snapped an 11-game losing streak to Denver on Friday. If they win on Saturday, the Tigers would be the first team to make the NCAA tournament with a losing record since Alabama-Huntsville won the CHA championship to advance with a 12-17-3 record.

Colorado College went 0-11-2 in their last 13 games of the regular season.


"Incredibly proud of our guys and the effort and the commitment and the belief and the character," CC coach Kris Mayotte said. "We went 13 games without winning in regulation or OT, but we still built belief and continued to get better. That's so hard. Our guys will never get enough credit for the adversity.

"Every team faces adversity — I get it. But when losing a lot is your adversity, it's so hard to continue to be enthused about what the potential is. If we didn't have the captains we do, if we don't have the seniors ... we wouldn't be having this conversation right now. They're special. They deserve this."

2022 Frozen Four -- Michigan vs Denver
Mackie Samoskevich (11) of the Michigan Wolverines attempts to fire a shot against goalie Magnus Chrona of the Denver Pioneers in a 2022 Division I Men’s Frozen Four semifinal game Thursday, April 7, 2022, at TD Garden in Boston, MA.
Jim Rosvold / The Rink Live

Chrona leaves game late

Denver senior Magnus Chrona was named the NCHC Goaltender of the Year on Thursday night. Chrona, though, had not played in four straight games due to an injury.

He started against Colorado College and stopped 20 of the 21 shots he faced before coming out of the game with 9:28 left and his team trailing 1-0. Chrona could be seen walking to the locker room after he came off the ice, but eventually returned to the bench to watch the end of the game.

After the game, Denver coach David Carle was asked about the decision to take Chrona — the winning goalie in last year's national championship — out of the game in favor of Matt Davis.

"He's fine. I pulled him," Carle said. "I wanted Marty in there to be able to play the puck a little bit more. Snoose had gotten the touches on the pucks that he needed. Magnus is just fine."

Carle was then asked if he was pulled from the game due to an injury.


"Not an injury issue," Carle said. "That was falsely reported."

Graduate student defenseman, forward sign with the Kalamazoo Wings
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The 6-foot-1, 190-pound defenseman came close to leading the Nanooks to the NCAA tournament this season.
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Also, there have been a few early pro signings, including the Tigers' Hunter McKown, North Dakota's Tyler Kleven, Western Michigan's Max Sasson and Denver's Carter Mazur
Junior wing Luke Mylymok is leaving the Bulldogs after three seasons and with two years of eligibility left.

NCHC Frozen Faceoff history


Colorado College 1, Denver 0
St. Cloud State 3, North Dakota 2, OT
Colorado College vs. St. Cloud State, 7:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)


Minnesota Duluth 2, Denver 0
Western Michigan 4, North Dakota 2
Minnesota Duluth 3, Western Michigan 0


St. Cloud State 3, Minnesota Duluth 2
North Dakota 2, Denver 1, OT
North Dakota 5, St. Cloud State 3


St. Cloud State 5, Colorado College 2
Minnesota Duluth 3, Denver 0
Minnesota Duluth 3, St. Cloud State 2 (2 OTs)


St. Cloud State 3, North Dakota 2 (OT)
Denver 3, Minnesota Duluth 1
Denver 4, St. Cloud State 1


Minnesota Duluth 5, Western Michigan 2
North Dakota 1, Denver 0
Minnesota Duluth 4, North Dakota 3



Minnesota Duluth 4, North Dakota 2
St. Cloud State 4, Denver 2
St. Cloud State 3, Minnesota Duluth 1


St. Cloud State 3, North Dakota 1
Miami 6, Denver 3
Miami 3, St. Cloud State 2


Denver 4, Western Michigan 3
Miami 3, North Dakota 0
Denver 4, Miami 3

Mick Hatten is a reporter and editor for Forum News Service and helps manage TheRinkLive.com, a website dedicated to hockey. He began working for Forum Communications in November 2018 and has covered St. Cloud State University hockey since 2010. A graduate of St. Cloud State, he has more than 30 years of experience as a journalist and has been a youth hockey coach since 2014. mhatten@forumcomm.com

For more coverage of St. Cloud and the surrounding communities, check out St. Cloud Live.
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