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With three in 3:33, UMD forces a decisive Game 3 of its series at SCSU

Bulldogs beat the Huskies 5-1 to keep Minnesota Duluth's season alive

college men play ice hockey
Minnesota Duluth goaltender Zach Stejskal (35) stops a shot on goal against St. Cloud State during a NCHC quarterfinal game at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center Arena on Friday, March 10, 2023, in St. Cloud.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

ST. CLOUD — Technically, the three goals came in a span of 3 minutes, 33 seconds and it went from a tie game to a decisive victory.

Junior defenseman Wyatt Kaiser scored the go-ahead goal at 3:00 of the second period and freshman wing Ben Steeves and sophomore center Dominic James added goals 16 seconds apart.

"In all honesty, I thought it was 57 good minutes for us," St. Cloud State men's hockey coach Brett Larson said. "I thought it was a 57-minute battle where both teams were even and ... boy, three minutes we'd like to have back, for sure."

That burst helped fifth-seeded Minnesota Duluth beat fourth-seeded St. Cloud State 5-1 in Game 2 of their NCHC playoff series Saturday night. The deciding game of their series will be played at 6:07 p.m. Sunday at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center (FOX 9+).

The Bulldogs (16-19-1) had their season on the line and took control of the game in the second period.


UMD took advantage of an SCSU turnover and defenseman Wyatt Kaiser's shot from the slot gave the Bulldogs a 2-1 lead. UMD forced another turnover and Dominic James stole a pass on the wall and found Ben Steeves in the slot by himself and Steeves scored at 6:17 to make it 3-1.

"We had a couple of bad breaks on breakouts where we hit the refs (with the puck) and one of them, we probably should have been able to make a better play," Larson said. "They capitalized on their chances quick. The difference in the game was that they were able to capitalize on their chances and we weren't (able to). We had more than enough chances tonight to be in that game."

Then James scored a rebound goal at 6:33 to make it 4-1 and SCSU coach Brett Larson took his time out. One week earlier, the Huskies had rallied from a three-goal deficit for a 4-3 win in overtime over ... UMD.

"We just kind of lost it for a little bit and, credit to them, they took advantage of it," said Aidan Spellacy, one of SCSU's assistant captains. In the time out, Larson was "calming us down, letting us take a breath. We just needed to get back to what we were doing before that five-minute stint. Sticking to our game plan — getting pucks deep, taking the body. It's really the little things this time of year that cost you."

UMD junior goalie Zach Stejkstal made 34 saves to pick up the win.

"Anytime you get 35 shots in the game, you're feeling pretty good about yourself," Larson said. "For me, I'd like (Stejkstal) see less of them, having that traffic in front of him more. I thought Stejkstal was fantastic in the net tonight.

"The next 10 minutes after they went up 4-1, we must have created 5-6 Grade A opportunities and couldn't bury them. Kudos to them. They played well with the lead. Stejkstal played very well. They took advantage of their opportunities when they came and we weren't able to."

On Sunday, the winner heads to the NCHC semifinals. If UMD wins, it will still need to win the Frozen Faceoff title to reach the NCAA tournament. Regardless of what happens, the Huskies (21-12-3) are a virtual lock to make the national tournament, sitting at No. 8 in the PairWise Rankings. The PairWise try to mimic the criteria used by the NCAA committee to select the 16-team national tournament field.


Still, SCSU would like to head back to the Frozen Faceoff semifinals for the first time since it reached the championship game in 2021.

"We got outworked in our own barn and we can't let that happen," SCSU captain Spencer Meier said. "They had a 5-10 minute stretch where they outworked us and they went from there. They're a great team and we've got to make sure we don't let that happen (Sunday)."

The winner of this series will face the winner of the series between Nebraska Omaha and North Dakota.

SCSU UMD 3 11 23.jpeg
St. Cloud State defenseman Josh Luedtke (21) carries the puck past Minnesota Duluth forward Ben Steeves on Saturday, March 11, 2023, at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center.

NCHC playoffs, NCAA outlook

In the other NCHC series, Colorado College got a goal by Matthew Gleason at 12:08 of overtime to beat second-seeded Western Michigan 3-2 and the Tigers swept the series in Kalamazoo, Mich. Seventh-seeded Colorado College (12-21-3) will play in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinals for the first time since 2019. Western Michigan (23-14-1) is at No. 11 in the PairWise and is also a virtual lock to make the NCAA tournament. The Tigers also need to win the Frozen Faceoff to reach the national tournament.

Top-seeded Denver beat eighth-seeded Miami 7-2 to give the Pioneers a sweep in that series at Magness Arena in Denver. The Pioneers (30-8) are the defending national champions and are sitting at No. 3 in the PairWise and are a virtual lock for a No. 1 seed in an NCAA regional. Denver is assured of facing Colorado College in the semifinals because the Tigers will be the lowest advancing team. Denver is 4-0 against Colorado College this season.

In Omaha, North Dakota got two goals from junior defenseman Tyler Kleven to beat Nebraska Omaha 3-1 and force a decisive Game 3. The Fighting Hawks (17-14-6) and Mavericks (19-14-3) will play Game 3 at 5:07 p.m. Sunday at Baxter Arena (Midco Sports, NCHC.tv)

Thursday's sellout crowd of 5,061 was the third-largest Day 1 attendance in five regionals held at Scheels Arena and the largest since 2017.
The Huskies have won four-straight games and are now a win away from a trip to the NCAA Frozen Four.
Huskies get goals from Miettinen, Peart, Okabe, Cruikshank, kill three power plays to advance.
Sixth-seeded Huskies play 11th-seeded Mavericks in the region semifinals
Huskies will play the Mavericks for the third time this season and for the sixth time in three seasons.
Sights and sounds from Wednesday's practice day at Scheels Arena, where Minnesota State Mankato, St. Cloud State, Minnesota and Canisius all seek two wins and a trip to Florida for the Frozen Four.
Canisius, Minnesota, Minnesota State and St. Cloud State are set to take the ice Thursday for the opening round of the NCAA tournament



UMD 1-3-1—5
SCSU 1-0-0—1

First period scoring — 1. SCSU, Micah Miller 5 (Kyler Kupka 14, Aidan Spellacy 7) 7:08; 2. UMD, Carter Loney 3 (Kyle Bettens 2, Quinn Olson 16) 12:409. Penalties — SCSU, Jack Peart (cross-checking) 19:42; UMD, Will Francis (cross-checking) 19:42.

Second period scoring — 3. UMD, Wyatt Kaiser 5 (Jack Smith 5) 3:00; 4. UMD, Ben Steeves 21 (Dominic James 17) 6:17; 5. UMD, James 10 (Luke Loheit 11, Kaiser 16) 6:33. Penalties — None.

Third period scoring — 6. X, (en). Penalties — UMD, Francis (roughing) 12:07.

Goalie saves — UMD, Zach Stejkstal 4-12-18—34 (1 GA). SCSU, Dominic Basse 8-5-5—18 (4 GA).

Penalties-minutes — UMD 2-4; SCSU 1-2.

Power-play goals, opportunities (shots) — UMD 0-0 (0 shots); SCSU 0-1 (3 shots).

Faceoffs — SCSU 40-13.


Referees — Joe Sullivan and Timm Walsh.

Linesemen — Elliott Bucholz and Dana Penkivech.

Three stars of the game — 1. James (UMD), 2. Kaiser (UMD), 3. Stejkstal (UMD).

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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