PITTSBURGH, Pa. — There is one St. Cloud State men's hockey player who was at the 2013 Frozen Four when the Huskies made their last appearance.
Easton Brodzinski was at that game with his parents to watch his older brother, Jonny, play for the Huskies. Unfortunately for SCSU, Brodzinski will be an observer again in their return trip.
"It was more of a spectator thing back then, but I guess it's the same thing now, but I'm a little more engaged with the team," Brodzinski said.
The 24-year-old wing from Blaine, Minn., made the trip to Pittsburgh and will be in the stands when the Huskies (19-10-0) play Minnesota State University-Mankato (22-4-1) at 4 p.m. Thursday (ESPN2) at PPG Paints Arena in the national semifinals. Brodzinski suffered a broken femur in the Northeast Regional championship game against Boston College on March 28 and had to have surgery to help repair the damage.
"There's still some hiccups here and there, but there's nothing too crazy," Brodzinski said. "I've got crutches and then a wheelchair once I'm at the rink.
"It was good to see the team out there again. It was the first practice that I've seen since my injury happened. It was good to see those guys out there, smiling, having a good time and getting excited to play in this tournament."
Brodzinski is staying with the team at the hotel, as he would on any road trip, and with his regular road roommate, wing Joe Molenaar. Molenaar, a freshman from Minnetonka, Minn., is likely to be in the lineup against the Mavericks after being a healthy scratch for the last six games.
"Most likely, Joe Molenaar will be in the lineup and he's done a good job for us whenever he's gone in," Huskies coach Brett Larson said. "He's been a little bit of a victim of (good) depth this year. We certainly didn't take him out of the lineup because he was playing poorly.
"He's a smart player, plays the right way and I know his teammates and the staff have full confidence in him."
An educated guess would have Molenaar playing wing on a line with senior center Will Hammer and senior wing Jared Cockrell. Sophomore Kyler Kupka has been moved onto a line with junior center Nolan Walker and junior wing Micah Miller, according to Walker in the team's press conference on Wednesday.
The Brodzinski-Walker-Miller line was the most productive of the four for the Huskies in the regional. In the regional, the Huskies had 10 goals. That line had five goals, three assists and was a combined plus-8 in the regional.
"It's a big loss that Brodzy is out," Walker said of Brodzinski, who leads the team with 13 goals this season and has 55 in his career. "He's such a big part of this team. We're just going to rally behind him and do it for him. It's a next guy up mentality. Obviously, it hurts that he's out. Kyler Kupka is going to come in and play with me and Micah and we're excited for that and we've had some good chemistry so far."
"Obviously, it sucks to have Brodzy go down like that and that's how the whole team feels," said Miller, who has played the last 10 games on a line with Brodzinski. "But we're kind of motivated to do it for him a little bit and just keep rolling."
Brodzinski was injured when he was checked in the first minute of the second period of the game against Boston College. Brodzinski was still in the locker room being attended to when equipment manager Jeremiah Minkel came down the hallway and yelled at him that senior defenseman Luke Jaycox had scored his first goal of the season at 9:21 of the second period to tie the game at 1-1.
"I was so happy for him," Brodzinski said. "He works so hard. He definitely deserved that one."
He was at the hospital, had gotten an X-ray and knew that he was going to surgery when he made a request of the staff.
"They were about to put me down for surgery and I made them wait to give me the anesthesia so that they could tell me the score of the game," Brodzinski said of the Huskies' 4-1 win. "I found out right before I went into surgery.
"I was pretty happy when I heard that news."
Brodzinski said that he has not set any goals yet for returning to the ice and is trying to focus on small things as he recovers.
"It's definitely a new experience for me and you've just got to kind of take it on the chin, take it one day at a time and each day you get a little bit better," he said. "Getting the little goals I make each day, get as much movement in it as I can."
- SCSU has big 2nd period, beats Boston College 4-1 to advance to Frozen Four
- In a game with odd moments, bounces, SCSU beats BU for 1st NCAA win since 2015
- SCSU's Easton Brodzinski flies back, gets good report after surgery
Miller goal, big game experience
Miller spoke to the media for the first time since the regional and was finally asked about the bizarre goal he scored against Boston University in the first game of the regional in Albany, N.Y.
With Walker and Brodzinski behind the BU net, Miller went to the front and received a bizarre pass. As he was being knocked down to the ice, Walker's stick made contact with the boards and the puck. The puck catapulted high over the front of the net where Miller was one of the few players on the ice who knew where it was. He knocked it in to tie the game at 1-1.
"It was definitely a weird play," Miller said. "Going toward the slot because Walks and Brodzy are below the net. The puck kind of popped up in the air and I didn't really see how it got there, but I saw it right away.
"Even (defenseman Luke Jaycox) saw it behind me. He was yelling in my ear, 'Shoot it. Shoot it.' I just found it and put it in the net."
There's something to be said for being in the right place at the right time. But you don't need to tell Micah Miller that, as he collects the puck in the slot and sends it past the BU goalie to get @SCSUHUSKIES_MH on the board. pic.twitter.com/zwtyOEZbuW— Eliteprospects (@eliteprospects) March 27, 2021
Miller added an empty-net goal in the region championship game and was a plus-3 in the regional. It was not his first game playing on the big stage, however. Miller helped Grand Rapids win the 2017 Class AA boys state high school hockey title, playing on a line with Gophers forward Blake McLaughlin and North Dakota forward Gavin Hain.
Miller also helped the Sioux City Musketeers to reach the United States Hockey League's Clark Cup championship series. So is there anything he can take from those pressure situations into playing in the Frozen Four?
"You just know how to handle the nerves and how to handle it better," Miller said. "Obviously, everybody is excited to get up for this game. It should just be a lot of fun."
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Walker played for a national title game when he played for Culver Military Academy in Indiana.
"Obviously, there's going to be nerves to start," Walker said. "There were nerves last weekend in the (regional) tournament in the first period. We've just got to take it shift by shift, play as hard as you can and you can live with the results.
"But I think playing to our identity is really important on having a fast start."
Brand wins Elite 90 Award
St. Cloud State's Chase Brand, a finance major from Nevis, Minn., is the second player in program history to earn the prestigious Elite 90 honor at the NCAA Frozen Four. Brooks Bertsch earned the honor back in 2012-13.
The Elite 90 is presented to the student-athlete with the highest cumulative grade-point average participating at the finals site for each of the NCAA's championships.
In order to be eligible for the award, student-athletes must be either a sophomore, junior and senior who has participated in their sport for at least two seasons with the institution. Brand has four goals, four assists, 19 penalty minutes and is a plus-9 in 25 games this season.
Add another award for SCSU recruit
St. Cloud State signee Jack Peart has had a good couple of days. Peart, a senior at Grand Rapids High School, was named the winner of the Reed Larson Award on Wednesday. The Reed Larson Award goes to the top defenseman in the state and is awarded by Let's Play Hockey. On Monday, Peart was named the 37th Mr. Hockey Award winner as the state's top player.
Peart, who has signed a national letter of intent to play for the Huskies in the fall, recently rejoined the Fargo Force of the USHL. In 18 high school games, he led Grand Rapids in assists (24) and points (35). In 18 games with the Force, Peart has 11 assists, 10 penalty minutes and is a plus-4.