Zach Okabe's hat trick helps 'resilient' Huskies overcome 3-0 deficit, sweep UND
The senior from Okotoks, Alberta, picked up a natural hat trick to lead the Huskies to a 6-3 win. SCSU trailed 3-0 to open the game.
ST. CLOUD, Minn. — The St. Cloud State men's hockey team had a discussion in the locker room before Saturday night's game against North Dakota. A topic that came up ended up foretelling a bit of what would happen.
The Huskies were coming off a win against the Fighting Hawks and had not swept UND since Nov. 2-3, 2001 at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center.
The team had a pregame talk where the players were asked a question.
"We asked our guys before the game, 'What's our biggest strength?'" SCSU coach Brett Larson said after the game. "They said, 'Resiliency.' They are willing stick with it, no matter what. They are a group of guys that sticks together through tough times. They did that tonight.
"They didn't fall apart and didn't break down into individual play. They stuck together and found a way to get it done."
The third-ranked Huskies did it in impressive fashion and pulled off something that has not happened in more than 20 years.
St. Cloud State rallied from a three-goal deficit, scored six unanswered goals and beat North Dakota 6-3 for an NCHC series sweep before 5,017 at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center.
It is the first SCSU sweep of North Dakota since Nov. 1-2, 2013, in Grand Forks. It was the first sweep for the Huskies over the Fighting Hawks in St. Cloud since Nov. 2-3, 2001.
"I think we're a really mentally strong team, something we take pride in," Huskies senior defenseman Dylan Anhorn said. "A lot of teams would get really deflated by (trailing 3-0). With our mental strength, our team was really able to bounce back and try to get a lot of energy to get extended offensive zone shifts ... which we were able to do.
"That goal by Bush (Brendan Bushy) with a great play by (Grant) Cruikshank was really a kick-starter for us. It just helped us build that energy," Anhorn said of SCSU's first goal of the game. "This wasn't the first time this year. We've battled through some situations and come out on top because we're working together as a group and we have a really strong sense of belief."
Zach Okabe is a sign of that resiliency. He did not have a shot on goal in the first period, but scored three straight goals for a natural hat trick after Bushy's goal to lead the way. It was his second career hat trick (four goals, Dec. 28, 2020 vs. MSU-Mankato).
"Early on in that game, our line wasn't doing much," said Okabe, who was on a line with center Jami Krannila and wing Veeti Miettinen. "We stayed really positive. Between intermissions, we were talking about trusting our game and getting back to it."
Okabe leads the way
Since 2019, St. Cloud State has had four hat tricks — two of them are by Okabe, a senior from Okotoks, Alberta.
On his first goal, he finished off a play in which teammates made two great passes. Freshman Adam Ingram made a drop pass to Anhorn, who carried the puck across the slot, spun around and found Okabe on the back door for a goal with 1:48 left in the second period to cut the deficit to 3-2.
"We always talk about being resilient and I think it's one of the best characteristics of our team," Okabe said. "Things might not go our way in a game, but just stay with it and face adversity. Between intermissions, there was no doubt. There was no negativity. It was all positive."
Okabe scored 54 seconds into the third period on a rebound to tie the game. He added a power-play goal on a wrist shot from the top of a faceoff circle at 7:04 to give the Huskies a 4-3 lead that they would not relinquish.
"He's got a pretty exception skill set," said Anhorn, who is in his first season as Okabe's teammate after transferring from Union. "His vision, his puckhandling abilities. When he's hot like he was tonight, he's a real offensive driver for us.
"Not only that, but he's a real confident guy and gives our team a lot of swagger and that was on full display tonight."
With the three goals, Okabe has 11 for the season, which ties his career-best, which he had as a junior.
Kupka comes back, scores in back-to-back games
After Okabe's three goals, Kyler Kupka tipped in a shot by Anhorn for a goal at 14:13 of the third period to give the Huskies a 5-3 lead.
Kupka, a senior from Camrose, Alberta, had a goal and an assist in Friday's 7-2 win and has four goals on the season.
This was Kupka's first series since Oct. 28-29. He had to have an appendectomy during the week before the Huskies played a series Nov. 4-5 at Denver.
Chase Brand, a senior from Nevis, Minn., also played both games in the series after sitting out the previous series at Colorado College after taking contact to the head in back-to-back series. Brand had two assists in Friday's win.
Bushy has suddenly gone on a four-game point streak. He picked up his second goal of the season Saturday and has points in four straight games after having no points in the team's first 12 games. For his career, he has four goals and 26 points in 153 games.
Anhorn had two assists and has points in five straight games. His 18 points are tied for the NCAA Division I lead among defensemen with Minnesota senior Jackson LaCombe and North Dakota fifth-year senior Chris Jandric. Jandric leads the nation's defensemen in assists with 16 and Anhorn has 15.
The 13 goals scored in the series by SCSU were the most by the team since scoring 19 in two wins over Miami last season. It was the most goals that the Huskies have scored in a series against North Dakota since that Nov. 2-3, 2001 sweep when they scored 14 (8-4 and 6-1 wins).
SCSU (6-2 NCHC, 13-3 overall) is in sole possession of second place in the NCHC, two points behind Denver. The 13-3 start is the best for the Huskies since starting the 2018-19 season 13-1-2. St. Cloud State's last series before the holiday break is Dec. 9-10 at Miami (1-6-1, 5-9-2).
No. 3 SCSU 6, NORTH DAKOTA 3
First period scoring — 1. UND, Matteo Constantini 1 (Judd Caulfield 7) 11:44; 2. UND, Gavin Hain 8 (Jackson Blake 10 Chris Jandric 15) 15:46 (pp). Penalties — UND, Matteo Constantini (roughing) 4:50, SCSU, Ondrej Trejbal (roughing) 4:50; SCSU, Adam Ingram (high-sticking) 8:27; SCSU, Josh Luedtke (tripping) 15:24; UND, Jandric (tripping) 18:11.
Second period scoring — 2. UND, Riese Gaber 11 (Jandric 16, Jake Schmaltz 5) 1:41 (pp); 4. SCSU, Brendan Bushy 2 (Grant Cruikshank 7, Ingram 5) 2:04; 5. SCSU, Zach Okabe 9 (Dylan Anhorn 14, Adam Ingram 6) 18:12. Penalties — SCSU, Micah Miller (hooking) :59; SCSU, Ingram (slashing) 6:54.
Third period scoring — 6. SCSU, Okabe 10 (Veeti Miettinen 12)
:54; 7. SCSU, Okabe 11 (Josh Luedtke 1, Jack Peart 12) 7:04 (pp); 8. SCSU, Kyler Kupka 4 (Anhorn 15) 14:13; 9. SCSU, Peart 2 (unassisted) 17:47 (en). Penalties — SCSU, Jami Krannila (cross-checking) 4:26; UND, Bench (too many men) 5:24; UND, Cooper Moore (interference) 18:15.
Goalie saves — UND: Drew DeRidder 6-5-2—13 (5 GA); SCSU: Dominic Basse 9-8-6—23 (3 GA).
Penalties-minutes — UND 4-8, SCSU 6-12.
Power plays (shots) — UND 2-5 (8 shots); SCSU 1-3 (6 shots).
Faceoffs — SCSU 34-27.
Three stars of the game — 1. Okabe (SCSU), 2. Ingram (SCSU), 3. Anhorn (SCSU).
Attendance — 5,017.
Referees — Nathan Wieler, Brandon Schmitt.
Linesmen — Dana Penkevich, Nick Biondich.