ST. CLOUD, Minn. — On a line where he is listed as the heavyweight at 170 pounds, wing Zach Okabe still gets some good-natured ribbing from his teammates on his size.
Okabe, though, is listed one inch shorter than sophomore center Jami Krannila.
"Even for a small guy, he's pretty physical," said Krannila, who is listed at 165 pounds. "You can see it in the corners. He did a reverse hit on a 6-foot-3 guy and he's what? 5-4?
"That got our whole bench going and probably from there, we got going to our game plan more."
Okabe also showed off some skill with his stick with the game-winning goal and an assist on the game-tying goal by Krannila in a 3-2 win for the sixth-ranked St. Cloud State men's hockey team over Miami in an NCHC game Friday at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center.
The Huskies (10-6-0) moved one point ahead of idle North Dakota (10-3-1) in the fight for the NCHC regular season title. St. Cloud State has 30 points going into Game 2 of its series against last-place Miami (4-9-2). The RedHawks and Huskies play at 6:07 p.m. Saturday.
St. Cloud State has nine straight wins over Miami in the all-time series and improved to 18-1-2 in their last 21 games against the RedHawks.
Another big night for line
Miami led 1-0 and 2-1, but the momentum of the game changed on Krannila's goal with 1:06 left in the second period. During a good shift in the offensive zone, Nick Perbix carried the puck below the Miami goal line, got it to Okabe, who made a no-look, behind-the-back pass to Krannila out front for the goal.
"I think that's a chemistry thing," said Okabe, who played on a line with Krannila most of last season. "I heard him and I knew he was there. I just trusted that he was going to be there. It worked out well."
In the second period, the Huskies scored two goals, which is saying something against Miami goalie Ludvig Persson. Persson, a freshman from Hindås, Sweden, went into the game fourth in NCAA Division I in save percentage (.951) and sixth in goals-against average (1.54).
"I thought we were able to string together 5-6, maybe 7 seven shifts in the second period where we were really making people get on their toes and we were able to get a lot of (offensive) zone time and start to wear them down a little bit," Huskies coach Brett Larson said. "That (Veeti Miettinen-Krannila-Okabe) line is clicking and they've got some chemistry.
"One of our better shifts in the second period, Oaks was protecting the puck down low, won a few races to it and got it back again and then had a reverse hit on a defenseman, who is about a foot-and-a-half bigger than him. Then he went right to the net and took some cross-checks. He was a big part of that (game-tying) goal and he's playing hard and that's getting him the puck more."
After setting up Krannila for the game-tying goal, Okabe got the benefit of a good pass from Miettinen that barely got past a sprawling Miami defenseman on a 2-on-1 rush and scored from about 20 feet out at 2:03 of the third period to give the Huskies their first lead of the game.
"It just caught slowed down on the 'D's stick and I was lucky enough to follow it," Okabe said of his third goal of the season.
Miettinen, a freshman from Espoo, Finland, and a Toronto Maple Leafs draft pick, snapped a three-game skid in which he did not have a goal or an assist. He got a rebound goal on a power-play rush off a Sam Hentges shot at 3:15 of the second period to tie the game at 1-1.
Miettinen, Okabe and Krannila each had a goal and an assist in the game. The line accounted for 10 of the team's 40 shots and combined was a plus-6 in the game.
"I love it, playing on a line with some of my best buds, so it's awesome. We've got to be one of the youngest lines in the league and we really enjoy playing with each other and we buzz out there," said Okabe, who has three goals and 10 points in 16 games this season. "I feel really happy with where our game is going and we can get better."
Last season, Okabe had seven goals and nine points in 30 games.
- Eric Rud, Miami get used to long bus rides for NCHC road trips
- WJON appearance: Mick Hatten discusses Tom Nelson's legacy at SCSU, shares some North Stars memories, what went wrong for Huskies men's hockey team last weekend and more
- Huskies Hockey Insider podcast: Eric Rud discusses having 3 kids living in 3 states, Miami's recent success, the road from Oxford to St. Cloud and more
- Tom Nelson retires after working in SCSU media relations since 1996
2 lineup tweaks, Castor gets win
St. Cloud State had scored four goals in its last three games before breaking out for three goals on Friday. When a team is struggling to score goals, it is not unusual for a coaching staff to make some pretty dramatic changes to its forward lines.
But Larson and his staff made one minor lineup change to one line: sophomore Chase Brand replaced sophomore Kyler Kupka as left wing on a line with juniors Nolan Walker and Micah Miller. Brand was a healthy scratch in the second game last weekend at Western Michigan.
"We thought about it a little bit, but the last message we wanted to send to the team was after one bad game on Friday night (a 6-2 loss at Western Michigan) was that we were going to panic," Larson said. "We've responded pretty well to adversity this year and that's been a strength for us. We wanted to show the team that we believed them.
"(Assistant coach) Nick Oliver had a great line in our meeting this morning. He said, 'Listen, last Saturday night, when we got on that bus, I could look any one of you guys in the eye and tell you I was proud of how you played even though the game didn't go our way (a 3-1 loss)."
The other lineup change was Jaxon Castor got his second start of the season in goal for the Huskies. In his first start since a 5-3 win over Nebraska Omaha on Dec. 6, the sophomore from Phoenix, Arizona, stopped 20 of 22 shots to improve to 3-0.
"I thought he played well," Larson said. "On that rush on the second goal, we got out of position and it's too good of an opportunity to give up there with a 2-on-1.
"I thought he stopped the pucks he needed to stop," said Larson, who had given senior David Hrenak seven straight starts before Friday's game. "We had played David quite a bit and we thought getting Jaxon in there would let him still compete for the job and create competition, which is a good thing."
This season, Castor has a .903 save percentage and a 2.00 GAA, Hrenak is 7-5-0 (.908, 2.62) and sophomore Joey Lamoreaux is 0-1 (.808, 4.35).
No. 6 SCSU 3, Miami 2,
First period scoring — 1. M, Rourke Russell 1 (Matt Barry 9, Robby Drazner 2) 14:46 . Penalties — SCSU, Chase Brand (interference) 4:48; SCSU, Tyler Anderson (holding) 9:26.
Second period scoring — 2. SCSU, Veeti Miettinen 8 (Sam Hentges 6, Nick Perbix 9) 3:15 (pp); 3. M, Bray Crowder 2 (Barry 10, Russell 1) 11:07; 4. SCSU, Jami Krannila 5 (Zach Okabe 7, Perbix 10) 18:54. Penalties — M, Russel (cross-checking) 1:40.
Third period scoring — 5. SCSU, Okabe 3 (Miettinen 8, ) 2:03. Penalties — M, Derek Dashke (holding) 3:19; M, Jack Olmstead (slashing) 14:15..
Goalie saves — M, Ludvig Persson 12-11-14—37 (3 GA). SCSU, Jaxon Castor 9-4-7—20 (2 GA).
Penalties-minutes — M 3-6; SCSU 2-4.
Power plays (shots) — M 0-2 (1 shot); SCSU 1-3 (5 shots).
Referees — Cameron Voss and Tom Sterns.
Linesemen — Elliott Bucholz and Jeff Schultz.
Three stars of the game — 1. Okabe (SCSU), 2. Miettinen (SCSU), 3. Krannila (SCSU).