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SCSU rallies from 3-goal deficit against UMD, picks up emotional win on Zach Okabe's OT goal

Huskies trail 3-0 after first period, but claw their way back to beat the Bulldogs and snap a 5-game losing streak to UMD. SCSU honored 7 seniors, 5 graduate students in last regular season home game

college men play ice hockey
St. Cloud State players celebrate after winning in overtime against Minnesota Duluth at the Herb Brooks National Ice Center on Saturday, March 4, 2023, in St. Cloud.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

ST. CLOUD — Brett Larson is in his fifth season as the head coach of the St. Cloud State men's hockey team. On Saturday, three players who have played all five seasons for him (Brendan Bushy, Spencer Meier and Micah Miller) played their last regular season home game.

It was also the last home game for graduate students Aidan Spellacy and Grant Cruikshank, two transfers, and six fourth-year players (Dylan Anhorn, Chase Brand, Jami Krannila, Kyler Kupka, Zach Okabe and Ondrej Trejbal) were honored after the game.

Then throw in that the Huskies were playing Larson's alma mater, Minnesota Duluth, and two of the Bulldogs' graduate students (Tanner Laderoute and Jesse Jacques), were players he helped recruit when he was an assistant coach at UMD.

So it is not surprising that Larson had some emotions before the game even started.

"There was a lot of emotion in the locker room before the game," Larson said. "I usually give a brief 30-second speech before we give the lineup and go. But I went through each group of guys.


"I started with Micah and Bush and Spenny and what they mean to me. I didn't recruit those guys ... but we've been in it for the long haul, for five years. Then I talked about the next group of guys with the transfers — Spelly and Shanker and Anhorn — and what they've added to our culture and how they've brought so much character in and what they've done.

"Then with that whole (senior) class. You think about their freshman year was the year we had just lost Ryan Poehling, Jimmy Schuldt, Jon Lizotte, Blake Lizotte and I could keep going. There were like 12 of them. It was their job to keep this program going in the right direction. They've played in a national championship game, league championship game and put this team in the national tournament, hopefully, one more year. That was big torch to carry and they've done a great job of that."

Fittingly, two seniors were in on the game-winning goal in a 4-3 overtime win for the Huskies over the Bulldogs on Saturday in an NCHC game at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center.

Okabe caught and a pass in close and scored in one motion off a pass from Kupka with 14.3 seconds left in overtime for the sixth-ranked St. Cloud State men's hockey team.

"Me and him always joke about how, if we ever get out there together, we've got to make the most of it," Kupka said with a smile. "Four years here and we haven't been on the same line for one. We always joke about that. It's kind of funny how that never worked out."

"Kups is usually my overtime or 4-on-4 linemate and we've kind of played a lot together in those situations," Okabe said. "I just knew when he went behind the net that I could get open on that strong side. He made a really good pass and it went in."

The goal capped a comeback from a three-goal first period deficit to help the Huskies snap a five-game losing streak to Minnesota Duluth on Saturday before a sold-out crowd of 5,636.

Now it's on to the NCHC playoffs where the fourth-seeded Huskies (12-9-3 NCHC, 20-11-3 overall) will play host to ... the fifth-seeded Bulldogs (10-14, 15-18-1) for the second straight year. UMD swept the NCHC series against the Huskies at the Brooks Center.


”It’s tough to beat a team four times in a row," said UMD coach Scot Sandelin, whose team won the season series 3-1. "We won the tiebreaker for fifth. We knew we were going to play these guys (in the playoffs). We should have a lot of confidence. It's going to be a tough series, hopefully a lot of games like this.”

Big comeback

St. Cloud State tied the game at 3:36 of the third period with a short-handed goal. Kupka won a race to a puck in the neutral zone and got it deep into the UMD zone and then Spellacy won a puck battle behind the Bulldogs net. Spellacy tried to pass the puck to Kupka in front of the net, but missed him. The puck went out to Bushy at the point and his shot made its way through traffic and in to tie the game 3-3.

"I got a tick on that pass when they were trying to enter our (defensive) zone," Kupka said of how the play started. "Honestly, I was trying to hit Spelly in the middle and the puck ended up going into the corner. That was all Spelly winning a race and getting it out front and a good shot by Bushy.

"I tried to pick up (the pass) and it handcuffed me. I didn't even know Bushy was behind me, so it wasn't like I was leaving it for him. When you work hard, good things happen."

college men play ice hockey
St. Cloud State forward Veeti Miettinen (29) shoots the puck past Minnesota Duluth defenseman Darian Gotz (2) and Minnesota Duluth goaltender Zach Stejskal (35) at the Herb Brooks National Ice Center on Saturday, March 4, 2023, in St. Cloud.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

The Huskies got back into the game in the first five minutes of the second period. Veeti Miettinen, a Toronto Maple Leafs draft pick, scored two goals in the first 4:38 to cut the deficit to 3-2. Miettinen scored on the power play at 1:35 and then on a 2-on-1 rush at 4:38 for the Huskies for his first multi-goal game of the season.

"I was just playing our game and coach told me to keep shooting," said Miettinen, who had five shots on goal. "I was just playing for the seniors. It was their night. I'm not going to let them go down like that."

The Bulldogs, for the second straight game, jumped out to the lead. UMD got goals from Ben Steeves (7:33 on the power play), Owen Gallatin (10:01) and Isaac Howard (18:11) to take a 3-0 lead after the end of the first period. UMD led 2-0 after the first period on Friday on its way to a 4-3 win over SCSU.

But in the third period and the overtime, the Huskies outshot the Bulldogs 12-3 to pick up the win.


"I thought the first 7-8 minutes of that game were as good as we've had," Larson said of the start of the game. "We came out with a ton of jump, got a bunch of chances and couldn't put one home — kind of like (Friday) night. Then it felt like everything that could go wrong did go wrong. We pushed out on Steeves on the power play and we were there and he still got it through. Then the one off the glass and it lands right on the (Gallatin's) tape. The breakaway was on us and we needed to play that better.

"There were guys that, you could just tell — there was no way they wanted to end this thing on a loss," Larson said of the regular season. "(Kupka) basically willed us to this win. I thought Micah Miller was in the same boat and, all weekend, was willing us to get back into (Friday) and win this one."

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The Huskies head into the postseason at No. 8 in the PairWise Rankings, which try to mimic the criteria used by the NCAA committee to select the 16-team national tournament field.

Bushy, who is from Thief River Falls, played in his 171st career game to move into a tie for second on the program's record for most games played. He is tied with Drew LeBlanc (2008-13) and is five games behind Easton Brodzinski (176, 2017-22). The goal he scored was his third of the season, which is his career-best. He also has a career-best 10 points and is a career-best plus-15 in 34 games this season.

20-win seasons at SCSU

The Huskies picked up their 20th win of the season, which is the 17th time since the program moved up to the NCAA Division I level that it has won that many games in a season. Here are the previous 20-or-more-win teams for the Huskies under their three head coaches:

CRAIG DAHL (1987-2005, 6 times)

1993-94 — 21-13-4
1996-97 — 23-13-4
1997-98 — 22-16-2
1999-2000 — 23-14-3
2000-2001 — 31-9-1
2001-2002 — 29-11-2


BOB MOTZKO (2005-18, 8 times)

2005-2006 — 22-16-4
2006-2007 — 22-11-7
2009-2010 — 24-14-5
2012-2013 — 25-16-1
2013-2014 — 22-11-5
2014-2015 — 20-19-1
2015-2016 — 31-9-1
2017-2018 — 25-9-6

BRETT LARSON (2018-current, 3 times)

2018-2019 — 30-6-3
2020-2021 — 20-11-0
2022-2023 — 20-11-3

college men play ice hockey
St. Cloud State forward Jami Krannila (13) is not happy with the play of Minnesota Duluth defenseman Will Francis (23) in front of the net at the Herb Brooks National Ice Center on Saturday, March 4, 2023, in St. Cloud.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

No. 6 SCSU 4, UMD 3

UMD 3-0-0-0—3
SCSU 0-2-1-1—4

First period scoring — 1. UMD, Ben Steeves 20 (Wyatt Kaiser 15, Dominic James 15) 7:33 (pp); 2. UMD, Owen Gallatin 6 (Will Francis 1, Dominic James 16) 10:01; 3. UMD, Isaac Howard 6 (Jack Smith 4) 18:11. Penalties — UMD, Steeves (holding) :29; SCSU, Josh Luedtke (slashing) 7:24; UMD, Smith (tripping) 12:58.

Second period scoring — 4. SCSU, Veeti Miettinen 9 (Cooper Wylie 3, Grant Cruikshank 11) 1:35 (pp); 5. SCSU, Miettinen 10 (unassisted) 4:38. Penalties — UMD, Carter Loney (slashing) 1:15; UMD, Steeves (tripping) 9:41; SCSU, Mason Reiners (holding) 16:09.

Third period scoring — 6. SCSU, Brendan Bushy 3 (Spellacy 5, Kyler Kupka 12) 3:36 (sh). Penalties — SCSU, Jami Krannila (slashing) 1:42; SCSU, Zach Okabe (tripping) 4:32; UMD, Carter Loney (interference) 6:03.

Overtime scoring — 7. SCSU, Okabe 16 (Kupka 13, Bushy 7) 4:45. Penalties — None.


Goalie saves — UMD, Zach Stejkstal 10-6-8-2—26 (4 GA). SCSU, Dominic Basse 7-10-3-0—20 (3 GA).

Penalties-minutes — UMD 5-10; SCSU 4-8.

Power-play goals, opportunities (shots) — UMD 1-4 (4 shots); SCSU 1-5 (3 shots).

Faceoffs — SCSU 33-24.

Referees — Nick Krebsbach and Nathan Wieler.

Linesemen — Elliott Bucholz and Dana Penkivech.

Three stars of the game — 1. Okabe (SCSU), 2. Miettinen (SCSU), 3. Bushy (SCSU).

Attendance — 5,636.


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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