Minnesota Hockey Magazine https://minnesotahockeymag.com Minnesota's leading online hockey destination. Thu, 08 Apr 2021 12:40:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.8 https://minnesotahockeymag.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/cropped-IMG_8923-1-32x32.jpg Minnesota Hockey Magazine https://minnesotahockeymag.com 32 32 Founding Father https://minnesotahockeymag.com/founding-father/ https://minnesotahockeymag.com/founding-father/#respond Thu, 08 Apr 2021 12:40:44 +0000 https://minnesotahockeymag.com/?p=34552 Don Brose laid the foundation for Minnesota State’s current success

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As the final seconds counted down in Minnesota State University’s 4-0 NCAA West Regional final win over the Golden Gophers of Minnesota, giving the Mavericks their first-ever berth in the Frozen Four, the happiest man alive in that moment was cheering among throngs of purple-bleeding fanatics in a Buffalo Wild Wings 800 miles away from the Loveland, Colo. regional site.

Don Brose, the architect of the Minnesota State hockey program, it’s father who raised it from its outdoor infancy to the pinnacle of Division II and guided it into its current Division I era, proudly witnessed his baby exorcise it postseason demons from a bar in Mankato.

“That game against the Gophers was textbook, the way they took away chances against the Gophers,” Brose said of the Mavericks who advanced in the Division I NCAA Tournament for the first time in seven tries. “I don’t think many people gave us a chance.”

While the balance of college hockey power within Minnesota’s borders has shifted considerably across the decades, the Gophers have long been, and continue to be, the dragon everyone wants to slay, even taking Minnesota Duluth’s massive success in recent years into consideration.

Did that make this win that much sweeter for Brose?

“Very much so because, let’s face it, people tend to look down on our league,” Brose said of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. “I think that gives a lot of credence to our league so I’m very happy for our league besides being very happy for coach Hastings and our players.”

MSU’s foray into the Frozen Four marks a first for the program but the last for the WCHA as a conference after all members, with the exception of the Alaska schools and Alabama-Huntsville, opted to leave the league for the re-born Central Collegiate Hockey Conference (CCHA) under the leadership of former Minnesota coach Don Lucia as its commissioner.

While he would love to see the Mavericks send the league out in a blaze of glory, Brose has mixed feelings on the matter.

“It really makes me ill for what happened to the WCHA, how it broke up,” Brose said. “Because the [John] Mayasiches and the Red Berensons, you know, their historic pride in the league, what they did to build up the league and make it so strong, and now they have nowhere to hang their hat.”

Don Brose is flanked by captain Steve Forliti (left) and Steve Loomis (right) as the trio poses with Minnesota State’s 1980 NCAA Division II men’s hockey trophy.
Photo courtesy of Minnesota State University Athletics

The Mavericks in the Frozen Four is something Brose admitted he never could have imagined as a 29-year-old first-year coach flooding the outdoor rink for his upstart program to play on. Minnesota State was a split campus in those days with most of the athletic facilities located on the upper campus. The Mavericks played on a rink built on the lower campus football field which was already equipped with lights.

Brose was also an assistant baseball coach for nine years at Minnesota State and says it was sometimes colder playing baseball than it was to make ice for hockey.

“You never knew what kind of ice you were going to have,” Brose said. “If All-Seasons Arena wasn’t built, we probably wouldn’t have a program.”

Which would have been a shame considering Brose amassed a 536-335-79 record in his 30 seasons behind the MSU bench, including a Division II national championship to conclude the 1979-80 season. Brose would later steer the Mavericks into Division I in 1996, leading them through three seasons as an independent before making Minnesota State’s first season as a member for the WCHA (1999-00) his last behind the MSU bench.

The Mavericks, obviously, never trailed the Gophers in Loveland but history would not allow Brose to take anything for granted until the game’s latter stages.

“Well, I tell you what, I hated to play with a two-goal lead again,” Brose said. “When they got ahead two to zero, in the back of my mind, I thought, ‘Are we going through this again?’”

Brose can be forgiven for the fact it was actually a three-goal cushion barely 11 minutes into the game that got away from the Mavericks in 2019 before allowing six unanswered goals to Providence in their most recent NCAA tournament appearance.

Only most recent, though, because Minnesota State, like every other program in the country, had its NCAA postseason dreams dashed when the 2020 COVID-19 outbreak forced the NCAA to cancel its tournaments. The 2020 Mavericks might have been the program’s strongest ever, going 31-5-2 (.842) through the first round of WCHA tournament play before having the plugged pulled on its season.

As thrilled has Brose is for this year’s team, he can’t help but wonder what could have been.

“It’s sort of bittersweet because last year’s team was just a magnificent team,” Brose said. “To not have them get a chance was very bitter but to see this team make up for it and carry through was very good.”

We’ll never know if the 2020 team, and its gaudy record would have gotten Minnesota State over the hump of its 0-6 record all-time in NCAA Tournament games but the 2021 version, now sitting 22-4-1 (.833), flattened it, despite nearly being one-and-done themselves.

“It didn’t look good for a seventh time either when you get behind,” Brose said.

The Mavericks opened the NCAA West Regional against Quinnipiac and trailed the Bobcats 3-1 deep into the third period. But MSU scored twice in the final six minutes to send the game to overtime where Ryan Sandelin completed the comeback win at the 1:25 mark. 

Don Brose greets former Mavericks star Aaron Fox on his way to the ice.
Photo courtesy of Minnesota State University Athletics

Awaiting the Mavericks in Pittsburgh is St. Cloud State, one of Minnesota State’s oldest rivals going all the way back to the inaugural 1969-70 season. It’s the first NCAA Tournament meeting between the two schools separated by a little more than 100 miles and the Mavericks own a 63-56-13 all-time advantage over the Huskies in Division I and II play.

 

The matchup could not be more appropriate for Minnesota State’s virgin venture to the Frozen Four.

“That was one team that would play us all the way throughout the years; they gave us a chance our first season,” Brose said. “I look back to all the games we played against (long-time SCSU coach) Charlie Basch. He and I are very close friends. We would get together and play golf in the summer and we’re both Concordia (Minn.) graduates so I look at that a really being neat.”

While Brose passed the Minnesota State coaching torch on long ago, first to his assistant Troy Jutting before Mike Hastings arrived in 2012, he remains close to the program he birthed and believes it could not be in better hands.

“I think he’s the best coach in the United States,” Brose said of Hastings. “I think he can coach anywhere and I’m glad he’s coaching at our place.

“He demands a lot of the kids but he gives a lot back and he’s been a winner everywhere he’s been.”

Brose said he has never watched a practice in his going on 21 years of retirement, but prior to COVID he enjoyed congratulating the coaches and players personally after a win at home and he and Hastings exchange texts after big road wins. He envisions big things ahead for his beloved Mavericks under Hastings.

“I might have been part of setting the blocks, building the foundation for the program, but he is certainly the person that’s putting the skyscrapers on top of that foundation.”

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Making a STATEment https://minnesotahockeymag.com/making-a-statement/ https://minnesotahockeymag.com/making-a-statement/#respond Wed, 07 Apr 2021 16:18:20 +0000 https://minnesotahockeymag.com/?p=34544 State of Hockey places three in Frozen Four

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Storylines at this year’s Frozen Four will be as numerous as shots on goal, with Minnesota’s three best surviving college hockey teams all in Pittsburgh participating in the 2021 NCAA men’s hockey tournament.

In a record-breaking year for success, all five Division 1 college teams in Minnesota made the 16-teams selected by the NCAA to play in four regionals, with two-time defending champion Minnesota-Duluth forced to play in Fargo at the Midwest Regional where No. 1 ranked North Dakota was top seed, while Big Ten playoff champion Minnesota was the No. 1 seed at the West Region in Loveland, Colo., where WCHA season champ Minnesota State-Mankato was also positioned and won the final. In the Northeast Region, Bemidji State earned the right to play from the WCHA, as the fifth team from Minnesota.

The only interloper is Massachusetts, better known as UMass, in a return to the Frozen Four where they lost a 3-0 final to UMD two years ago in the last Frozen Four before the pandemic shut things down a year ago.

In an amazing display, all five Minnesota teams won their opening regional semifinal games, including Bemidji State’s huge 6-3 upset over Big Ten regular-season champion Wisconsin. The game was 5-1 midway through the third period before the stunned Badgers got two late goals. That sent the Beavers into the Bridgeport, Conn., region final, where they were struck down 4-0 on a pure hat trick by Carson Gicewicz and the shutout goaltending of Filip Lindberg.

In a cruel twist, Gicewicz and Lindberg were among four UMass players ruled out of the Frozen Four by positive tests for COVID-19, so they will be unable to help their team against UMD.

In the West regional, Minnesota jumped to a 3-0 first-period lead and cruised past Nebraska Omaha 7-2 behind two goals from Mason Nevers, while MSU-Mankato needed a sensational finishing rally to squeeze past Quinnipiac 4-3 in overtime in the other semifinal. Mankato trailed 2-0 after one, cut it to 2-1 on a goal by Jake Jaremko in the second, but fell back behind 3-1 midway through the third. Nathan Smith cut it to 3-2 with a goal for the Mavericks at 14:54 of the third, and with star goaltender Dryden McKay pulled for a sixth attacker, Cade Borchardt tied it with 1:02 remaining. The game went to overtime, and after 11:13 had elapsed, Ryan Sandelin — son of UMD coach Scott Sandelin — battled to the crease to score after spotting a loose rebound, for a 4-3 triumph.

On Sunday, MSU-Mankato, the pride of the WCHA, took on Minnesota, the last remaining hope of the Big Ten, which has yet to convince other college leagues that it has reached parity. That quest remains, because Mankato completely squelched the Gophers in Loveland, Colo., scoring two minutes apart in the first period as Ryan Sandelin set up Sam Morton’s opening goal, then scored himself for the 2-0 jump-start. There was no scoring in the second period, but goaltender Dryden McKay kept the Gophers off the board, and goals by Nathan Smith and Dallas Gerads in the third carried the Mavericks to a shocking 4-0 triumph.

It’s fitting, in a way, that the proud WCHA and all its 37 NCAA champions since 1951 will end its days as the top men’s conference in the country with one last representative heading for the Frozen Four. The league will cease to operate men’s hockey next season as a third uprising will see the formation of the “new” CCHA, following departures that started the Big Ten and NCHC operations.

Minnesota Duluth’s Kobe Roth (10), Hunter Lellig (8), Jackson Cates (20) and Matt Anderson (3) rejoice in what was thought to be Roth’s game-winning goal in the first overtime of the Midwest Regional Final. The joy was short-lived as the goal was reversed upon review. But the Bulldogs would have the last laugh, however, on Luke Mylymok’s winner four overtimes later.
Photo by Russell Hons

The NCHC, won by North Dakota in both regular season and playoffs, will have great camaraderie as well as solid representation from UMD and St. Cloud State. Scott Sandelin takes his UMD Bulldogs to their unprecedented fourth straight Frozen Four, in quest of their third consecutive championship. St. Cloud State is coached by Brett Larson, who twice assisted Sandelin in building two of those UMD champions.

The Huskies went to the East region and earned their way to the Frozen Four by dispatching Boston’s top two rivals in Albany. St. Cloud State spotted Boston University a 1-0 second-period lead before Micah Miller and Nick Perbix scored retaliatory goals, and after BU tied it 2-2, Easton Brodzinski broke the tie with a goal for a 3-2 St. Cloud lead. In the third period, the Huskies finished off the Terriers with precision, as Finnish imports Jami Krannila and Veeti Miettinen scored goals, sandwiching the second goal of the game by Brodzinski for a 6-2 victory. BU threatened, getting a major power play, but Krannila got hauled down on a short-handed breakaway and scored on the ensuing penalty shot.

That victory sent St. Cloud State back to Times Union Center to face top seeded Boston College, which took a 1-0 first-period lead on a goal by Matt Boldy, who was to sign an NHL contract with the Wild a few days later. The Huskies facilitated that move by burying the Eagles under a 3-goal barrage in the second period. Luke Jaycox, Will Hammer and Nolan Walker connected for a 3-1 lead, and Micah Miller scored his second in two days in the third period to clinch a 4-1 victory.

That will send St. Cloud to its first Frozen Four, where the Huskies will face off against Mankato, its biggest rival through the years in all sports, especially basketball and football, until hockey took both programs to Division 1.

UMD got an unexpected boost in Fargo, when Michigan was forced to drop out of the tournament with an outbreak of COVID-19 — leaving UMD without an opponent in the semifinals. North Dakota, meanwhile, crushed American International 5-1 in the semis and stormed back to Scheel’s Arena in Fargo for the showdown against UMD.

The game was called by many the best-played game of the season, and it took on legendary proportions when UMD broke a scoreless tie in the third period with goals by Jackson Cates and Cole Koepke barely a minute apart. Goaltender Zach Stejskal made the 2-0 lead stand until the closing two minutes, when the Fighting Hawks pulled their goalie and scored twice for a 2-2 tie that forced overtime. Make that “overtimes,” because they played into the fifth overtime before little-used freshman Luke Mylymok raced end to end up the left boards and sent a pinpoint shot between the legs of a screening defenseman and through the legs of goaltender Adam School for a 3-2 victory that ended the longest game in NCAA tournament history — 142 minutes and 13 seconds, spanning 6 hours and 12 minutes.

For more storylines, Stejskal made 57 saves before severe cramps knocked him out in the fourth overtime, and fellow-rookie Ryan Fanti stepped in to make six more saves in 17:36 to close out the game.

St. Cloud State teammates Kevin Fitzgerald, Nick Perbix and Seamus Donohue congratulate junior forward Sam Hentges on the Minnesota Wild prospect’s third period goal in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship game on March 16, 2021 in Grand Forks, N.D.
Photo by Russell Hons

In St. Cloud’s victory, scoring leader Easton Brodzinski was carrying the puck when a BC player delivered a hard, legal, but blindside hip check that dropped Brodzinski to the ice. He was helped to the bench and the dressing room, and then an Albany hospital where the injury was diagnosed as a fractured leg, to end his senior season on the sidelines. The Huskies vowed to keep going in the name of their fallen senior leader, and whipped BC as evidence.

“The toughest part is for him,” said coach Larson. “Here’s a guy who has poured his heart and soul into our program, and now he can’t be part of it. Our guys all know we want to do it for Easton, and all have bought into it a little bit more.

“Nobody picked us to be in the top 20 at the start of the year,” Larson added. “We knew it would be tough, because the NCHC is the toughest league in college hockey. We played North Dakota when we had our first nine games in the pod, and we played Duluth seven times. All of that helped prepare our resilience, and we didn’t ever get rattled.”

MSU-Mankato’s victory over Minnesota was its seventh in a row against the Gophers, spanning the years when the WCHA teams branched off and now the five Minnesota colleges play in three different conferences.

UMass goaltender Filip Lindberg was the seventh-round draft pick of the Wild in 2018, and he finished his senior year with a 9-1-4 record in Hockey East, where he led the league with a 1.33 goals-against average, and he led the league and the nation with a .946 save percentage. Gicewicz, a senior who transferred to UMass from St. Lawrence, wound up with 17 goals and 24 points after his hat trick against Bemidji State. The loss of the quarantined players leaves only senior Matt Murray as a goaltender. He went 9-4 in 13 of the first 15 games, with a .913 save percentage.

Coming out of the NCHC’s season-opening pod in Omaha, UMD faced St. Cloud State in four consecutive games, with UMD winning 4-3 in overtime and losing 3-1 at St. Cloud, then heading North, where St. Cloud State swept, winning 4-3 and then 1-0 in an overtime classic. The teams concluded the regular season with another series, with the Bulldogs winning a 5-1 blowout at AMSOIL Arena before St. Cloud State blew a 3-0 lead but won 4-3 in overtime at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center. They weren’t done yet, as they collided again in Grand Forks in the NCHC playoff semifinals, with Chase Brand’s short-handed goal standing up to give the Huskies a 3-2 victory.

They could meet one more time, if St. Cloud State gets past Mankato and UMD can beat UMass, and that would pit coach Sandelin against former assistant Larson. Of course, if UMD beats UMass and Mankato gets past St. Cloud State, the Bulldogs and Mavericks would meet with coach Sandelin against his son, Mankato sophomore Ryan Sandelin.

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Title Crusade https://minnesotahockeymag.com/title-crusade/ https://minnesotahockeymag.com/title-crusade/#respond Wed, 07 Apr 2021 04:33:28 +0000 https://minnesotahockeymag.com/?p=34537 Hammer hopes winding hockey road leads to championship

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Coming from three years of junior hockey in the North American Hockey League into a high-caliber National Collegiate Hockey Conference was a challenging transition for Will Hammer, a senior forward with St. Cloud State University. He had to get up to speed with some of the elite players in the conference, plus find his overall role within the Huskies.

Once he got past his sophomore year and into his junior season, he had a better understanding of where his piece fit into the St. Cloud State puzzle.

“So that was good for me, confidence-wise of knowing that I can fill this fourth-line role,” Hammer said. “And I think it fits the player that I am.”

Hammer, a St. Cloud native, doesn’t have monster offensive numbers. He scored three goals and an assist in 32 games his junior season and has two goals and seven points this year.

But that second goal this year was a big one. It was the eventual game-winner in the NCAA Regional Final in a 4-1 victory over Boston College that helped send St. Cloud State to its second Frozen Four. The Huskies (19-10-0), coached by Brett Larson, face Minnesota State at 4 p.m. CT on Thursday.

The Huskies tied the game 1-1 midway through the second period against Boston College on March 28. About six minutes later, Hammer took an initial shot on goal from the front of the crease. As he and his teammates crashed the net looking for a rebound, Nick Perbix fired another shot on goal. Hammer bounced that rebound into the net for a 2-1 lead.

“It’s not every day that I’m contributing on the scoresheet,” Hammer said. “So it was fun to get that goal, on the team’s behalf. I was the beneficiary of the play.”

He credited his linemates who worked to get the puck and get bodies in front of Boston College goaltender Spencer Knight.

“I just happened to be the one to put it home,” Hammer said. “It was a fun moment. One I’ll never forget, for sure.”

He may have that unforgettable goal, but Hammer’s journey to the Frozen Four with St. Cloud State was filled with plenty of ups and downs.

Will Hammer as a St. Cloud Cathedral Crusader.
Photo by Tim Kolehmainen

Hammer jumpstarted his post-high school hockey career with four years on the St. Cloud Cathedral boys’ team where he scored a total of 65 goals and 145 points. He was the squad’s leading scorer his senior year in 2013-14 with 23 goals and 48 points in 26 regular-season games.

That season ended with a trip to the Minnesota boys’ state hockey tournament. Cathedral beat Totino-Grace 4-3 in overtime in the Class 1A quarterfinals before losing to eventual champ East Grand Forks. The Crusaders, coached at the time by Eric Johnson, took fourth place in the tournament.  

From there, Hammer played two seasons with Aberdeen in the NAHL where he had an “OK” first season and “not the greatest” second season, he said. He scored nine goals and 33 points across 109 games in his two seasons. A new coaching staff came into Aberdeen after his second year, and Hammer was traded to the Minnesota Magicians in Richfield.

“Which was kind of challenging in itself for anyone who’s been traded, it’s not an easy thing to go through,” Hammer said. “You kind of get a little perspective of what the professionals go through on a very small scale.”

Hockey went well for him with the Magicians, where he scored 18 goals and 41 points in 60 games, and he talked with a few colleges along the way. But nothing worked out. Then he was all set to go to Augsburg College, a Division III program, after his time with the Magicians. Luckily, a spot opened up on the St. Cloud State roster instead.

Another thing he’ll never forget? The call asking if he’d like to be part of the St. Cloud State men’s hockey team. He was outside at home.

“I know exactly where I was,” Hammer said. “It was fun being able to tell my family and friends, too, because I felt like they were in the trenches with me.

“It was exciting, not only for me, but for my whole family. Something that we’ve enjoyed and will never forget.”

Though his hockey journey turned out good in the end – and maybe even better with a national championship – Hammer acknowledges it was tough, too. Playing in juniors for three seasons and then moving on to collegiate hockey, it was always a challenge when he’d compare himself to other players, especially with the access of social media seeing where others are in their careers, he said.

“That was a lesson I learned throughout my junior experience is that everybody has their own path,” Hammer said. “Here I am today and playing in the Frozen Four.

“I never would’ve imagined I would be in the Frozen Four here in my senior year in my hometown.”

Photo by Kylie Macziewski

Every player has tough moments in their hockey careers, Hammer said, adding that the trade from Aberdeen was a tough one for him. He also had a health scare during his sophomore year at St. Cloud State, giving him another hurdle to clear before he was good to go and continue playing. He’s thankful to have such a great support system around him, too, with family and friends.

The Huskies are two victories away from a national championship. First up, they need to beat a tough Minnesota State team in Thursday’s Frozen Four semifinal. Hammer knows that every team at this stage of the tournament is good, and the Mavericks are no different with great coaching, a solid forecheck and detailed, structured team.

St. Cloud State will need to focus on themselves, as they have throughout the rest of the playoffs, Hammer said. It will be key to work on the opposing D and own the front of not only the Huskies net but the Mavericks net as well, according to Hammer.

“I think if we do that, then we like our chances,” Hammer said. “So that’s what we’re going to focus on. We’re just going to focus on that first game and trying to play Husky hockey for 60 minutes.”

For Hammer, his ultimate dream was to play college hockey and win a national championship. Still striving to achieve the last part of that dream this week, he also said it will be the end of the road for him, hockey-wise. Outside of the rink, he has an internship with CentraCare, a local hospital in St. Cloud, and hopes to pave a career in health administration.

Even though his hockey path might be coming to an end with this Frozen Four, he’ll be able to look back and recall the adversity he made it through and the confidence he gained.  

“I think, with anything, confidence is over half the battle,” Hammer said. “So I was able to get a little more confidence in my time here at SCSU.”

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Top Chef https://minnesotahockeymag.com/top-chef/ https://minnesotahockeymag.com/top-chef/#respond Wed, 07 Apr 2021 02:36:27 +0000 https://minnesotahockeymag.com/?p=34531 When the heat is on, it's UMD's opponents most likely to be chopped.

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The best chef in Northern Minnesota used to work at the Rustic Inn, owned by his parents in Castle Danger, on the North Shore. His productions were usually beautiful to look at and even better to taste. We once suggested we’d really like a good salad and he said, “OK,” and walked away from our table. He returned with a huge platter that easily fed four, with all sorts of diverse ingredients mixed into an unforgettable blend.

The next time we stopped there, we weren’t starving, so we asked if there was any way he could duplicate that salad — just the salad — as our lunch. He hesitated and said, “I have no idea what I put in that one.”

He’s working in the Twin Cities now, and my new nomination for the best chef in the region is Scott Sandelin. Yes, the coach of the UMD hockey team. I have no idea if he is a master on the outdoor grill or poaching an egg, but his master-chef status is assured each season, when he creates a hockey salad out of assorted players in a work of art that is different enough from previous seasons to take the full season to prepare. He must pick the ingredients, sometimes by trial and error, always by hunches and instincts, then sprinkle in some spices and herbs, and tossing the whole thing onto the NCAA Hockey Tournament platter, where it always comes out as a masterpiece.

If you ask Sandelin how he assembled this year’s Bulldogs and got them to knock off No. 1 ranked North Dakota to advance to their fourth consecutive NCAA Frozen Four, he might have no idea how he attempted to duplicate last year’s team — which might have been his best team, knocked out of a bid for a third straight championship by the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic and the immediate shutdown of all events nationwide.

Undeterred, the Bulldogs are making an unprecedented fourth consecutive trip to the Frozen Four, a feat that has caused college coaches all over the country to declare UMD as having the premier hockey program in the country. This spring, two other Minnesota teams — St. Cloud State and Minnesota State-Mankato — will challenge that claim, and try to prove that they, too, have created the best entree.

UMD goalie Zach Stejskal makes one of his 57 saves the hard way in the Bulldogs’ 3-2 5-OT Midwest Regional Final win over North Dakota on March 27, 2021 at Scheels Arena in Fargo, N.D.
Photo by Russell Hons

Among the new ingredients at UMD this season, Sandelin had to find a replacement for goaltender Hunter Shepard, who anchored the 2019 and 2019 championship teams and was at his best in 2019-2020. He did it with a pair of goalies, Ryan Fanti from Thunder Bay and Zach Stejskal, former Grand Rapids state tournament star. Sometimes it seemed Sandelin was blindfolded while reaching for salt or pepper, and whichever he chose made the salad work.

The early signing of Hobey Baker Award winner Scott Perunovich, the spectacular defenseman from Hibbing who signed with the St. Louis Blues after last season, left an irreplaceable hole. Sandelin calmly plugged in Wyatt Kaiser, right out of Andover High School and right into the most important and pivotal roles on defense.

Up front, Sandelin put some line combinations together and almost stubbornly kept them intact, with captain Noah Cates centering Quinn Olson and Nick Swaney on the first line, while brother Jackson Cates centered Cole Koepke and Tanner Laderoute on the second unit. That left Hermantown junior Jesse Jacques to center seniors Koby Bender and Kobe Roth on the third line, and about six skaters rotating in and out on the fourth line. By playoff time, that line had sophomore Luke Loheit centering freshman Blake Biondi, another of the Hermantown contingent, and Luke Mylymok, who hadn’t played for a month and scored only once in eight games.

When Sandelin saw a drop in production, he might move some of those forwards around, but they pretty much returned to his preconceived recipe. Often, an explosive rush by the speedy Bender, from Cloquet, or a brilliant set-up from Bender to Roth, from Warroad, would be the play of the game to inspire the Bulldogs. Or Koepke, an assistant captain as a junior from Hermantown, might prove how he can beat you with speed, with force, with a neat stick handling move, or, mostly, with a hard and deadly shot. Swaney, a senior from Lakeville, got his first collegiate hat trick in a 5-1 victory over St. Cloud State in perhaps the best Bulldog performance in his final game at AMSOIL Arena, and in the rematch at St. Cloud a week later, the revised third line, with Jackson Cates centering Roth and Bender, scored twice in a spirited rally from a 3-0 deficit, before third-unit freshman defenseman Connor Kelley from Maple Grove whistled in the third-period goal that forced overtime in a 4-3 loss to the Huskies to close the regular season and determine second place in the NCHC.

The point of such a varied display of game-breaking big plays was the key part of Sandelin’s winning recipe. Virtually every game, somebody different might rise up to make the game-winning play. That actually is the same formula that carried the Bulldogs to the 2017 Frozen Four and a championship game heartbreaking loss to Denver. One year later, Sandelin boldly sent five freshmen out to play defense, along with sophomore Nick Wolff, and then-sophomore Shepard in goal, and instead of being a problem, they led the Bulldogs to the 2018 championship, just because Sandelin’s trust flushed them with confidence. It happened again to capture the 2019 title, with a dominant 3-0 victory over UMass — the same foe in this Thursday night’s semifinals.

Frozen Four time, so it must be time for the UMD Bulldogs to hit an unbeatable peak. UMD will take on the University of Massachusetts in the second semifinal at Pittsburgh on Thursday, April 8, after St. Cloud State and Minnesota State-Mankato meet in the all Minnesota first semifinal. In the days leading up to the Frozen Four, UMD was the beneficiary for the second time of a COVID-19 outbreak, this one costing UMass its star goaltender and its leading goal-scorer among four players scratched from its roster.

 Nonetheless, UMD will take nothing for granted and will be hard-pressed to match its own  standard established in the Midwest Regional title game in Fargo, where the Bulldogs beat No. 1 ranked North Dakota 3-2 in a 5-overtime marathon.

When UMD was assigned to the Midwest Regional, it seemed unfair for the NCAA selection committee to pair the two long-time NCHC rivals in the same region. North Dakota beat American International 5-1, while UMD had the task of getting by Michigan to get to the regional final. The NCAA used to strive to avoid interconference matchups in the regionals, but now it seems more concerned about having three teams from one conference reaching the Frozen Four.

That scenario happened, but not exactly by design. Michigan dropped out of the tournament after testing positive for Covid-19, giving UMD a free pass to the final. Because of their intense rivalry, the final looked intriguing, even though North Dakota had won the league title and built a 22-5-1 overall record, while UMD finished third and was 14-10-2 overall.

The matchup lived up to its billing: North Dakota is the best team in the country and fully deserving of the No. 1 rank, but UMD simply doesn’t lose at NCAA tournament time.

True, in the last four years, UMD has made it to all three NCAA tournament Frozen Fours, with last year being cancelled, of course. In those three years, the Bulldogs seemed to spend much of the season smoothing out their balanced team concept and saving their best for last, when they recorded a cumulative 11-1 record in NCAA tournament games.

Why should this season be any different? Nobody knew if Sandelin’s final recipe would work against powerful North Dakota in the Fargo Regional, but that elusive Sandelin magic still prevailed.

Junior forward Coale Koepke (17) and senior Nick Swaney celebrate Koepke’s third period goal in UMD’s 3-2 Midwest Regional Final win over North Dakota on March 27, 2021 at Scheels Arena in Fargo, ND.
Photo by Russell Hons

In a game best suited to a time capsule, UMD broke a scoreless tie when Jackson Cates deflected one in at 3:21 of the third period, and barely a minute later, Cole Koepke broke free and, at speed, drilled a perfect 25-footer in off the left pipe. Stejskal was brilliant at the other end, holding the Fighting Hawks off the scoresheet. When the Hawks pulled goaltender Adam Scheel at the end, UMD made two uncharacteristic mistakes at a most critical time — the final two minutes. Not once, but twice the Bulldogs withstood the pressure of North Dakota’s forecheck but gave in to the temptation of firing the puck at the waiting empty net 150 feet away. Both times they missed, for icing calls. The face-offs came back to UMD’s end, and both times the puck didn’t leave the zone until they were picked out of the UMD net. The first one was a fluke ricochet by Collin Adams from the end boards, off the goaltender and in with 1:41 remaining, and the second when a shot from the left point deflected wide to the right, where North Dakota sniper Jordan Kawaguchi had a wide-open net to hit with 57 seconds left.

Then the game turned into a marathon. They played one overtime, then another, then a third and a fourth, but all failed to produce a winning goal, although throughout both teams sped back and forth, attacking and back checking as if unaware they should be too exhausted to continue. UMD’s third line, which had been a trigger throughout the last few weeks, came through for an apparent winner in the first overtime when Koby Bender raced up the left side, cut toward the middle, and fed a perfect pass across the slot where Kobe Roth one-timed his shot into the net. As the Bulldogs mobbed Roth, and the Fighting Hawks consoled goaltender Adam Scheel, the officials reviewed all aspects of the goal. They decided that when Bender rushed into the Hawk zone, he carried the puck on his left side, and an ever-so-slight bobble as he crossed the line meant, in their view, he didn’t have full control, as his back skate cleared the blue line about a millimeter or two before the puck did.

The play was ruled offside. No goal.

It was hard to imagine the Bulldogs were able to follow Sandelin’s demeanor, stay calm, and play on. They did that. In the fourth overtime, Stejskal went down near the goal and summoned help. No matter how much liquid he consumed, his body was cramping from dehydration, and Sandelin sent Fanti in. ESPN announcers sympathized with him for going in cold but because of Sandelin’s random hunch-playing, Fanti had played in UMD’s last previous game, so he wasn’t far from his best rhythm, which showed when he made a slick glove save immediately. He followed with several more over the final 17:36, as the teams went into the fifth overtime — making it the longest NCAA tournament game in college hockey history.

“He played great,” said Sandelin. “They both played great.”

Sandelin also defied gravity a bit when he didn’t use his full roster until late in the marathon. The fourth line, with Loheit centering little-used freshman Mylymok on the left and fellow freshman Biondi on the right, hadn’t hit the ice together through the first two “games” worth of ice time. Mylymok, in fact, hadn’t dressed for a game for a month.

“I sent them a player or two out there a couple times late in the third,” Sandelin said, “Then I thought, ‘They’re fresh,’ so I decided to use all four lines in the fourth overtime, and started getting them in there.”

Freshman forward Luke Mylymok (left) and fellow freshman Blake Biondi celebrate Mylymok’s game-winning goal in the fifth overtime of UMD’s 3-2 Midwest Regional Final win over North Dakota on March 27, 2021 at Scheels Arena in Fargo, ND.
Photo by Russell Hons

That, too, paid off in the fifth overtime. On the line’s, first turn, Mylymok, who had scored one goal all season, got the puck in his own zone and broke up the left boards. On fresh legs, he sped into the North Dakota zone, veered toward the slot and in one deft motion pulled the puck in toward his feet and shot, low and hard — through the legs of the screening defenseman and through the legs of Scheel in goal. This time the celebration didn’t stop. It came at 2:13 of the fifth overtime, after the teams had pushed the longest-game record to 142 minutes and 13 seconds.

Sandelin and North Dakota coach Brad Berry were teammates at North Dakota and later in pro hockey, and they share respect for each other and their coaching philosophies, and it carries over to their teams. There were no cheap hits or chippy penalties as the teams sped back and forth, and when it finally ended an hour or so into Sunday morning, Berry mingled on the ice with the celebrating UMD players to congratulate them. Fanti, UMD’s relief goalie, skated over into the North Dakota team gathering to congratulate Scheel.

That was a game for the ages, and a perfect sendoff for UMD’s fourth consecutive trip to the Frozen Four, where the Bulldogs will try for their third consecutive championship. Every team in the NCAA playoffs is determined to win, and UMD is no different. But Sandelin and the Bulldogs also have found the secret ingredient in the winning recipe: finding a way to avoid losing at tournament time.

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Whitecaps prepare for Whale of a game https://minnesotahockeymag.com/whitecaps-prepare-for-whale-of-a-game/ https://minnesotahockeymag.com/whitecaps-prepare-for-whale-of-a-game/#respond Fri, 26 Mar 2021 03:42:03 +0000 https://minnesotahockeymag.com/?p=34506 NWHL to crown a champion this weekend on national TV

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The last time the Minnesota Whitecaps played a semifinal game in the Isobel Cup Playoffs, it was one of the last sporting events in a pre-pandemic world. Fans packed TRIA Rink in St. Paul on March 8, 2020 – International Women’s Day – to see the Metropolitan Riveters take on the defending-champion Whitecaps.

A tight, physical game was scoreless at the end of regulation. But 6:39 into overtime, Allie Thunstrom gave her team a 1-0 victory and a trip to Boston for the championship game scheduled for the next week.

“Their D pinched and I was able to chip it around and then we ended up on that odd-man rush,” Thunstrom said. “I passed it across to Jonna (Curtis) and then she made a nice play back. And it was something we’ve been looking for all game, and there it was in overtime.”

Of course, that next game never happened because of the pandemic. The National Women’s Hockey League returned to play January in Lake Placid for a bubble-type situation. But positive COVID-19 tests ended play early. The NWHL is back this weekend at the Boston Pride’s home rink for two semifinal games and a championship to finally crown an Isobel Cup champion.

The Whitecaps are the No. 2 seed and will face the 3-seed Connecticut Whale Friday night following the 1-seed Toronto v. 4-seed Boston game at 4 p.m. Central time with the winners meeting at 6 p.m. Central Saturday night.

The games this weekend will be broadcast on NBCSN, marking the first women’s professional hockey league championship games that will air on a major national network in the United States.

Playing in front of a national television audience is an incredible opportunity, Whitecaps captain Winny Brodt Brown acknowledged.

“Just because when I started playing hockey when I was 4 with all the boys, and then growing up playing until I was 17 years old, I never thought that playing on national TV would ever even be a possibility,” said 43-year-old Brodt Brown.  

The Whitecaps practiced regularly for the past couple of weeks. In addition, the coaching staff told the players to keep in shape on their own with individual workouts.

They’re confident everyone is healthy and ready to go. But they’ll also be without two of their top four defensemen on the trip: Sydney Baldwin (1-2—3 in Lake Placid) and Emma Stauber. Amanda Boulier is added to the roster, however.

Stauber will be occupied with another hockey game this weekend. She’s the head coach of the Proctor/Hermantown girls’ hockey team that qualified for the Class 1A girls’ state high school hockey tournament at Xcel Energy Center with quarterfinals Friday and Saturday.

The Whitecaps went 3-1 in the bubble games this winter, losing to the league’s new team this year, Toronto. The Whale and Whitecaps did not face each other, although a game was originally scheduled but wasn’t played because of COVID-19 cases.

Speedster Allie Thunstrom looks to lead the Whitecaps to another NWHL title this weekend in Boston. (MHM Photo / Rick Olson)

Brodt Brown finds it more exciting to play a new opponent.

“Because you just go out there and you just play and you don’t overthink it,” Brodt Brown said. “I think as a player, it’s kind of fun playing an opponent you haven’t played before. Everyone’s going to be playing their best, and it’s going to be an intense game.”

One of the newcomers who showed off her skills this year was defenseman Maddie Rowe. She leads the team, and it’s not close, this season with 19 blocked shots.

“She just is always very positive, brings a lot of energy to our team and gets everyone around her pumped up,” Brodt Brown said.

Nina Rodgers leads the team with 6 points, which includes a pair of power-play goals and four assists. Audra Richards (1-3—4) and Meghan Lorence (0-4—4) follow with four points each. Newcomer Haley Mack left a mark as a rookie in Lake Placid, scored a pair of goals and an assist.

Getting some scoring from a few new names was helpful for the Whitecaps. The pair of Curtis and Thunstrom have been the team’s go-to top scorers since the team joined the NWHL in 2018-19. Thunstrom led the league in goals last season with 24 and was the league’s co-MVP. But this year, Curtis had one goal in four games while Thunstrom hasn’t registered a point.

Whitecaps coach Jack Brodt called it surprising that the team received scoring from all over the roster while top goal scorers Curtis and Thunstrom were shut down in that category.

“But their presence on the ice and the hard work that they do in the defensive zone is very important,” Brodt said. “If we get into a run-and-gun game, we’re probably going to lose that game. We’ve had more success where we’ve kept the scores down rather than elevating the scores.”

Two other goal scorers for the Whitecaps this season? Brooke White-Lancette and Brodt Brown, who have been Whitecaps players from the very beginning.

In goal, Amanda Leveille will take her usual spot with her calm and collective demeanor.

Brodt Brown often refers to Leveille as a “gamer,” and this week called her the team MVP since she’s a competitor in every game.

“With her back there, we’re confident,” Brodt Brown said. “We’ve just got to help her out as much as we can and let her do her thing.”

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Wild enjoy homecooking https://minnesotahockeymag.com/wild-enjoy-homecooking/ https://minnesotahockeymag.com/wild-enjoy-homecooking/#respond Tue, 23 Mar 2021 03:42:20 +0000 https://minnesotahockeymag.com/?p=34502 The last time the Wild played in St. Paul, it was riding a five-game winning streak with a perfect 5-0 homestand that included a trio of shutouts. They beat the first-place Vegas Golden Knights and then swept Arizona three straight games. Both Wild goaltenders hardly gave up any goals. Kaapo Kahkonen put up very solid […]

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The last time the Wild played in St. Paul, it was riding a five-game winning streak with a perfect 5-0 homestand that included a trio of shutouts. They beat the first-place Vegas Golden Knights and then swept Arizona three straight games. Both Wild goaltenders hardly gave up any goals. Kaapo Kahkonen put up very solid numbers in his rookie season.

Despite a couple of dud games (the Wild got outscored 11-1) in Colorado that ended the overall streak, the Wild returned to its winning ways on home ice. A 2-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks on Monday pushed the team’s streak to nine consecutive victories at home, a new franchise record.

“It was a little bit sloppy, but not every game is going to be pretty,” said defenseman Carson Soucy. “We’re not going to have all these fancy goals. We know that we can stick with it though.”

Two goals ties the least amount the Wild has scored on its home winning streak. But every game won’t be scoring six goals with everybody all smiles, said defenseman Ryan Suter. They’ll have to grind out wins, too, he added.

“I think we’re going through a bit of a slump with energy, but we’re finding ways to win, which is important,” Suter said.

It’s true that Monday’s game wasn’t the prettiest. The first period alone seemed disjointed and saw one solid Wild scoring chance from Nico Sturm. The Wild took a pair of penalties and were outshot 10-5 in the first 20 minutes.

In the second, the Wild didn’t have a shot on goal until nearly five minutes into the period. It was more of the same type of play with not a lot of shots, not a lot of consistent offensive-zone time.

Then the Wild found themselves down 1-0 at 5:17 of the second on an unassisted goal from Troy Terry after Mats Zuccarello lost an edge with the puck at neutral ice. Terry roofed a backhander past goalie Cam Talbot.

The Wild were awarded three power plays in the second period though. Of course, that hasn’t seemed to matter much on the scoresheet for the league’s worst power play. The Wild rank 31st with a power play that came into the game 8-for-94 at 8.5%.

On the third power play, Kevin Fiala fanned on a shot. Zuccarello turned the puck over. But a minute into the advantage, Suter wound up for a shot from the point. It made it through traffic and into the back of the net, tying the game for his first goal and 10th point of the season.

Still tied in the third, the Wild generated a few strong shifts early on. Forward Nick Bjugstad tossed the puck out to neutral ice off the boards and carried the puck into the offensive zone. He passed the puck over to Nick Bonino, but that play was broken up, so Sturm took a shot that went off the end boards. Bjugstad tried to backhand the puck on net from the side. The puck went out to Soucy in the high slot who fired the puck.

“It starts in the D-zone,” Bjugstad said. “It was an all-around good shift.”

With Anaheim goaltender Ryan Miller way out of position and among bodies in front, the rebound drifted over to a waiting Bjugstad, who put the puck in the open net for the go-ahead and eventual game-winning goal.

Nine of Bjugstad’s 12 points this season have been scored on home ice. The pride of Blaine couldn’t put a finger on what exactly is so different playing at home versus on the road. Although being a fan of the rink growing up maybe helps.

“It’s nice being home, sleeping in your own bed, being around family,” Bjugstad said. “Maybe that’s it. I couldn’t tell you. It’s fun playing here. I’ve always loved the Xcel Energy Center since I was a young kid.”

In goal, which hasn’t been a problem at all for the Wild, Cam Talbot improved to 7-5-1 overall with 24 saves. He’s working on a home win streak of his own, going 5-0-0 with a 1.31 GAA and a .949 save percentage in the six games he’s played in St. Paul this season. He’s allowed one goal or less in five of those games.

Talbot came up with some big saves near the end of Monday’s second period to keep the game tied.

“Not only the saves, but his ability to recognize when we were reeling a little bit,” said Wild coach Dean Evason. “Just recognizing the feel of the team. His calming presence and leadership was very valuable tonight.”

The Wild’s nine-game winning streak started Jan. 31, with a 4-3 overtime victory over Colorado. The next one didn’t happen until nearly a month later, after the Wild sat out a couple of weeks due to a COVID-19 outbreak and had a six-game road trip.

The Wild has been one of the best teams in the NHL since mid-February and its return to play, with a big chunk of that coming during the recent 5-0 homestand.

“We’ve stressed on how we want to be dominant here,” Soucy said. “With nine in a row, we want to keep that going, keep those games, keep building off of them.”

An eight-game home win streak was recorded three other times in franchise history: Nov. 23 to Dec. 29, 2016, Dec. 5, 2006 to Jan. 2, 2007 and Oct. 5 to Nov. 2., 2006. The Wild have outscored opponents 30-12 on the current streak at home, including three shutouts in goal.

“We’ve been able to win big, we’ve been able to win tight games,” said Zach Parise, who added how important it is to win in the home rink. “I think we’re going to have to continue that for the rest of the season, try to make this place a tough place to play.”

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Kahkonen gets down to business https://minnesotahockeymag.com/kahkonen-gets-down-to-business/ https://minnesotahockeymag.com/kahkonen-gets-down-to-business/#respond Fri, 12 Mar 2021 15:07:41 +0000 https://minnesotahockeymag.com/?p=34495 Rookie goaltender's play gives Wild a pair of legitimate Calder candidates

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Two goaltenders took to the ice this week in St. Paul. One is a three-time Stanley Cup champion with more than 800 NHL games under his belt. The other is a 24-year-old rookie who already looks like an NHL veteran.

It was the veteran for the Vegas Golden Knights, Marc-Andre Fleury, who was pulled from his net with more than 11 minutes remaining in regulation after surrendering four goals on 29 shots against the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday at Xcel Energy Center.

At the other end of the ice stood Finland native Kaapo Kahkonen looking calm, cool and collected for much of the game. He wasn’t significantly tested until late in regulation, when Vegas made a push and turned a 4-1 deficit into what ended up being a 4-3 Wild victory.

No matter how they got there, Kahkonen made 24 saves and his winning streak reached an impressive eight games.

“I think it was still a fun game to play,” Kahkonen said. “Just a tight game. We got the lead there in the third, but they pushed back hard.

“It’s just a grind sometimes. You’ve got to find a way to win different ways.”

By the numbers, things keep getting better for Kahkonen. He’s 11-4-0 this season with a 2.19 GAA and .922 save percentage. His eight-game winning streak continues the franchise record for rookie goaltenders; it’s also the longest streak by any NHL goalie this season, rookie or not. He leads all NHL goalies in wins since Feb. 18.

Kahkonen’s eight-game streak is tied with 11 other players in NHL history. Six others won nine games in a row, the last being Jordan Binnington (St. Louis) in 2018-19. Ross Brooks holds the record with a 12-game streak for Boston back in 1973-74.

His 11 victories so far this season put him second on the list of Wild rookie goaltenders, tied with Josh Harding (2007-08). One more victory this season and Kahkonen will tie Darcy Kuemper (2013-14) for the most wins by a Wild rookie goaltender.

With his calm demeanor in the postgame, Kahkonen was a man of few words when it came to his winning streak.

“It’s been a fun time,” Kahkonen said. “Winning’s always fun.

“Right now, it’s tough what to think about that stretch other than it’s been fun.”

Despite playing well last week in Vegas, the Wild dropped both games in that mini-series, with Cam Talbot in net both games.

The argument could be made that Kahkonen had earned his shot for a start in Vegas, especially after his strong start to the season. To prove the point, he picked up his first career NHL shutout in the return to St. Paul, a 2-0 Wild victory over Vegas in which Kahkonen came up with 26 saves.

According to NHL notes, only 7 other rookies have earned multiple victories in head-to-head starts against Fleury during one regular-season campaign. Before Wednesday, it hadn’t been done since 2011-12.

Wednesday, the Wild’s Joel Eriksson Ek scored 19 seconds into the game before Vegas answered back 1 minute 42 seconds in on Dylan Coghlan’s first goal from the slot through lots of traffic in front of Kahkonen.

Throughout the rest of the game, Kahkonen made some point-blank saves and kept a very good Vegas team off the board. It was a similar story Monday in his shutout, which was mostly a 1-0 game.

“He was outstanding,” said coach Dean Evason after Monday’s game. “It was such a grinding game tonight. But he was just very calm, very solid. Obviously very good.”

In the saga of Wild goaltenders, the story the past few years was Devan Dubnyk, who came in as a bit of a savior for the second half of the 2014-15 season. It’s Dubnyk that holds the Wild record for the longest winning streak by a goaltender, when he achieved a 10-game streak in December 2016.

Then things shifted last season with South St. Paul native Alex Stalock vaulted from his backup role into the top spot.

When Wild general manager Bill Guerin signed Cam Talbot in the offseason, an on-paper scenario would have been to have Talbot be looked at as the top goaltender, or at least split time with Stalock. But COVID-19 had other ideas. Stalock was out from the start of the delayed season, which meant Kahkonen made the roster out of training camp.

Jump ahead to March, and a lot has changed. The Wild had a COVID-19 outbreak and were shutdown for a couple of weeks, Talbot missed time being on the protocol list, Stalock was picked up off waivers by Edmonton and Kahkonen quietly jumped into a No. 1 role in the net.

Kahkonen played in five games with the Wild last season. He played for the Iowa Wild in 2018-19, going 17-14-8 in 39 games with a 2.78 GAA and six shutouts.

His game from the AHL in Iowa is certainly transferring over to NHL play.

“He’s a gamer,” said Wild defenseman Carson Soucy. “We saw it in Iowa all the time. We had a good team that last year when we made the playoffs, and he was a big reason. Both of our goalies. We saw just game in, game out, he’s a gamer. He’s going to compete. He’s going to make those big saves and those timely saves.

Evason sees a type of player in Kahkonen that simply cares about getting into the net and competing.

“He just goes about his business,” Evason said. “I don’t think if he was guaranteed a spot it would be any different than if he came in and won a spot.”

There’s no question that the long-awaited arrival of Kirill Kaprizov has captured the attention of Minnesota hockey fans this season. The rookie is making his case for the Calder Memorial Trophy with his highlight-reel style of play as a superstar that this fan base has longed for since the start of the franchise 20 years ago.

But Kahkonen has his own merits as a rookie and is giving Kaprizov a run for his money in the attention department. Right now, the Wild finds itself with two outstanding rookies.

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Kirill Delivers the Thrills https://minnesotahockeymag.com/kirill-delivers-the-thrills/ https://minnesotahockeymag.com/kirill-delivers-the-thrills/#respond Mon, 01 Mar 2021 02:37:54 +0000 https://minnesotahockeymag.com/?p=34478 Rookie phenom making patience pay off for Wild and fan base.

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Good things come to those who wait, Minnesota Wild fans. Safe to say, Kirill Kaprizov was worth the wait.

The young NHL rookie has been a showstopper since game one this season, when he scored the overtime winner in Los Angeles.

He already had a pair of assists in his first NHL game when he pounced on a loose puck at neutral ice in overtime. He turned that into a breakaway with a nifty move in front before casually fluttering the puck past goaltender Jonathan Quick.

It was enough to make the veteran Quick glance over almost in disbelief at Kaprizov celebrating in the  corner.  

That goal and that game weren’t flukes.

Kaprizov’s dazzled ever since, with his skating abilities, unreal passes to set up teammates and a few highlight-reel goals of his own. The only real complaint might be that he can be too selfless with the puck at times. But that’s a hard argument to justify at the moment, when his playmaking abilities create some of the best chances and scoring opportunities, too.

He’s even found himself in the right place at the right time on broken-stick plays.  

Early in the second period of Saturday’s game against Los Angeles, Victor Rask fanned on a pass at the blue line. He later took a slapshot but broke his stick in the process. As the hockey gods would have it, the puck went right to Kaprizov.  

He didn’t miss the one-timer and made it a 3-0 Wild lead that eventually ended in a 4-3 Wild overtime victory on Hockey Day Minnesota as Matt Dumba scored as time expired.

“He’s an unbelievable player,” teammate Kevin Fiala said of Kaprizov, following Saturday’s game. “He does it every night on a consistent basis, and he’s very strong.”

Kaprizov can create havoc for the opposition, being hard to read with the way he opens up his hips, said Joel Eriksson Ek on Saturday.

“You don’t know which way he’s going,” Eriksson Ek said. “He’s super smart, too. He’s been great for us.”

Kaprizov’s sixth goal of the season and team-leading 17th point also brought him into some more history among Wild rookies. His point streak is up to five games with Saturday’s goal, bringing him into a four-way tie (Ryan Donato, Nick Johnson, Pascal Dupuis) for Wild rookies with the longest point streaks.

He also needed the fewest number of games to reach 10 points in the league among NHL rookies to debut with the Wild. He reached 11 points in 14 games (3-8—11).

On the current six-game winning streak for the Wild, Kaprizov had three consecutive multi-point games. He came into Saturday night leading the Wild and NHL rookies in assists with 11 and points, now up to 17 in 18 games.

It’s not only about the skill and scoring goals either, according to Fiala.

“It’s the work ethic,” Fiala said. “You see when he loses the puck, he gets it back. He does all the little things right now to make a skilled player. Just everything works.”

Taking a look back at some of Kaprizov’s other goals this season, there was a six-game gap between his first and second, coming Jan. 28 against the Kings.  

Already up 2-0 in the first period, Kaprizov tossed the puck from the top of the zone down into the corner. Marcus Johansson corralled it and made a heads-up centering pass to Kaprizov who made a beeline for the slot. The pass connected perfectly, and Kaprizov didn’t miss his chance to bury the puck, top-shelf.

It’s no secret the Wild’s power play has been abysmal this season, 5-for-63 and 30th in the league. But one of those power-play goals came from Kaprizov Feb. 2 in Colorado, the final game the Wild played before being shut down for two weeks because of a COVID-19 outbreak.

Already down 2-0 with a power-play chance in the second period, Kaprizov made himself wide open for a quick pass from Zach Parise behind the goal. The puck wasn’t on Kaprizov’s stick long as he fired the shot.  

Things really started to gel for the Wild starting with a pair of victories in Anaheim after the return to play with a near-full lineup. By Feb. 22 in San Jose, a new dominant line really took shape with Mats Zuccarello, Rask and Kaprizov.

The line already had a goal in the 1-1 game early when Rask started the next scoring play at center, dishing it off to Carson Soucy, who made a cross-ice pass to Zuccarello who then found Kaprizov right on the doorstep of the goal. All he had to do was have his stick on the ice for the tap-in, tic-tac-toe goal.

Kaprizov’s assists are about as fun to watch as his goals.

Take his assist on Ryan Hartman’s goal in Colorado to wrap up the recent road trip. Kaprizov took the puck into the offensive zone and battled 

along with boards with a defender right on him. Buying time, he eventually turned the other way and fired a brilliant pass toward the goal and a streaking Hartman who finished the play with a backhand goal.

Not only did Kaprizov keep puck possession along the boards when many players might get pushed off the puck or opt to simply dump it around the boards, but then he finished it off with a spectacular pass that connected through the opposing players.

The benefit of Kaprizov is more than the numbers he puts up, according to coach Dean Evason, who noted Kaprizov’s “team-first” mentality.

“How he’s as excited about somebody else scoring a goal or somebody else making a play as he is,” Evason said. “That’s what really resonates with us, and I think his teammates as well.”

Once the Wild finally returned to Xcel Energy Center for the first time in nearly a month, to face Los Angeles on Feb. 26, it was a battle of winning streaks. The Kings had won six in a row, the Wild four in a row.

The Wild weren’t intimidated and came out flying with a three-goal first period, scoring three goals in about three minutes. Kaprizov got it started.

Wraparound attempts to score a goal are fairly common. A player takes the puck behind the goal, maybe tries to fake one way but goes the other. The execution of the play is usually met with a goaltender’s pad save along the post.

Kaprizov rewrote the book on wraparounds with this particular tally. He had the puck behind the goal line, defended by veteran Drew Doughty. Kaprizov dished the puck out to the point for a Jonas Brodin shot, then took a rebound shot on goal. Denied, he grabbed his own rebound, when behind the net with Doughty on his tail and slid the puck into the net for the wraparound goal as he was falling to the ice. Quick was out of position, still trying to get his stick in the way on the other side of the net.

That goal opened the floodgates for the Wild. Nick Bjugstad and Eriksson Ek added goals. On each one of those, the FSNorth director immediately cut to a shot of Kaprizov’s reaction on the bench.

The spotlight is indeed on the 23-year-old.

“We knew as an organization that we were getting a special player. There was no secret there,” said coach Dean Evason after Friday’s victory. “We’ve all watched tape on him. Watched his abilities last year.

“He hasn’t disappointed.”

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Gallery: Royal Flush https://minnesotahockeymag.com/gallery-royal-flush/ https://minnesotahockeymag.com/gallery-royal-flush/#respond Mon, 01 Mar 2021 02:18:11 +0000 https://minnesotahockeymag.com/?p=34482 Dumba's thrilling OT winner completes sweep of Kings

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A Lifetime of Giving Kids a Chance https://minnesotahockeymag.com/jake-mccoy-lifetime-giving/ https://minnesotahockeymag.com/jake-mccoy-lifetime-giving/#respond Sat, 06 Feb 2021 15:00:17 +0000 https://minnesotahockeymag.com/?p=27024 Well-Known Player/Coach Jake McCoy Passes at 79

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(Photo: Former Olympians Jake McCoy (left) and Ron Naslund talk at the 2019 Parkers reunion)

Well-Known Player/Coach Jake McCoy Passes at 79

It is with great sadness that we have lost one of Minnesota’s and Minneapolis’s outstanding hockey figures of our generation.  It was reported yesterday (Friday, Feb 5, 2021) that Thomas “Jake” McCoy passed away.  It was my pleasure and privilege to have spent several hours interviewing Jake for the article below in preparation for his MHM lifetime achievement award presented to him 2 years ago.  RIP Jake McCoy.  Funeral arrangements are pending.

This Article was also Republished for HDM Minneapolis 2020

Jake McCoy

Minnesota Hockey Magazine is proud to announce that its Marv Jorde Memorial Lifetime Achievement Award will be given to Jake McCoy at the Dec 22nd Parker’s Reunion event at Tom Reid’s Hockey City Pub. Jake is well known in the hockey community as a player and longtime coach in Minneapolis and Richfield High School. Festivities begin at noon and is open to all senior hockey players and friends at no cost. Join us!

Jake’s Playing Days.

Thomas James (Jake) McCoy, born in 1942, grew up playing hockey on the local ponds and playgrounds of South Minneapolis. Like many kids from that era, the local outdoor ice was where you learned to have passion and love for the game. It wasn’t clear, however, that hockey was going to be Jake’s sport of choice.

McCoy, center, led DeLaSalle to a state tournament birth in 1959

Most people don’t know, but he was actually a basketball player at first and did not play organized hockey until 1953 as an 11 year old sixth grader. He played basketball in 7th and 8th grade, but continued to spend many hours during the winter skating at Pearl Park, playing pick-up hockey.

In 9th grade, while a freshman at DeLaSalle, Jake finally became a full time hockey player on local Bantam (PeeWee) teams since DeLaSalle did not have a varsity high school team yet. As a senior, he led his DeLaSalle Islander team to its first ever Independent State High School tournament appearance in only its second year of varsity hockey. Remarkably, at the same time, he was playing on a local senior amateur team called the Royal 58 Beer. This team won both the Minnesota State and National Amateur Championships that year.

As a Gopher, back row, 3rd from left

After playing one year at St. John’s University, he transferred to the University of Minnesota as a walk-on. He was not eligible to play varsity his sophomore year, but played on the freshmen team. As a junior and senior in 1962 and 1963 he finished his college playing days for John Mariucci’s Gophers.  

Of his Gopher playing days, Jake says, “I was deeply indebted to John Mariucci for giving me the chance to play varsity hockey. He didn’t play politics and didn’t have to give me a chance, but he did”.

In the fall of 1963, Jake attended open tryouts for the 1964 USA Men’s Olympic Team at Wakota arena in South St. Paul.

Just eight years after giving up basketball for hockey, he made the team as a defensemen while competing for a position against many Olympic veterans, college All-American’s and pros. He competed in the 1964 Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria. 

About the tryouts, Jake recounts, “Every day new guys were coming and going. You just took it one day at a time.”  

His experience in Innsbruck was memorable,”I’ll never forget. The setting was fabulous, the teams were great. The Russians and Czechs were ferocious when they played. The Canadians were full of WCHA players we had played with and against in college.”

Team USA, 1964 Olympics

After the Olympics in 67/68 he played in the USHL with the Minnesota Nationals, a farm team for the USA National team. In 68/69 he played with another USHL team in Duluth, the Duluth Port Stars, and then the Rochester Mustangs when the Duluth team folded.

He went on to play many years of senior amateur hockey throughout the United States and Canada, first for Steven’s Buick, then with Marv Jorde’s Parkers Hockey Club where he won 8 Minnesota State and 6 National Senior Men’s Championships.

Former teammates have high praise for not only his on-ice talents but also for his dedication to coaching and, in general, his character, friendship and humor off-ice.  

Rich Brown, USHL, IHL and Parker player said, “Jake ranks with Marv Jorde for enthusiasm for the love of the game. He blocked shots as very few could. He was like a rock on defense and moved the puck. He was always a factor in the game he was in.” 

Dave Arundel, a former youth player for Jake, Wisconsin Badger and eventual teammate of Jake’s after playing some pro hockey adds, “Playing with Jake was the most fun I have ever had playing hockey. Jake was a tough, tough D-Man, and very skilled. The BEST passer I ever played with.  Usually played with no helmet and NO ONE blocked more shots than he did. And…he was the most unselfish D partner you could ever have. He was always dishing you the puck with a perfect pass. He made you look GREAT out there.” 

A Coaching Legend.  

Jake started coaching Minneapolis youth hockey teams in 1960. He coached hockey in Richfield at all levels from mites through head hockey coach from 1966-2013 and was also the head hockey coach at Minneapolis Washburn from 1986-1990.

McCoy as youth hockey coach

He continued to coach youth hockey in Richfield and in Eden Prairie for his grandson’s squirt team. In all he spent over 50 consecutive years coaching hockey in Minnesota. He still does some youth coaching today.

Jake coached at a time when Richfield’s many outdoor skating rinks were loaded with kids hoping to someday play high school hockey for the hometown Spartans.  There were several successful years – six appearances in the old one-class state tournament, including a championship game appearance in 1976. With dwindling numbers over the years, the Richfield team fell on hard times until, in November 2016, the decision was made to shut down its program. It was a difficult thing to take for Jake and the community at large. 

Jake commented, “It was a sad day. We just ran out of kids.” Of his Richfield teams he said, “We played in a very tough Lake Conference. The best part of  coaching the Richfield kids was that they were blue collar. They played hard and they worked hard. When we lost, the kids just kept working harder.”  

Richfield started hockey back in 1954-55. Jake added, “It was hard to see that kind of history end.”

Jake, Richfield Hockey Coach

Jake always enjoyed being a coach and learned that the game of hockey is very important to kids’ development at all levels. He believes if you give kids a chance to play in crucial situations, they will have success both on and off the rink.

He commented, “If you give kids a chance, they will surprise you. Today’s win-at-all-cost thinking comes at the expense of the kids. I’m glad I played all the kids. It instills confidence in them and they will give back.”

He was inducted into the Richfield Athletic Hall of Fame in 2004 and the Minneapolis Hockey Hall of Fame in 2016.

Dave Arundel said, “He was my bantam coach in 7th, 8th and 9th grades. I was in AWE of him. First of all…I wanted to be like Jake. I wanted to play hockey like him, I wanted to talk like him and I wanted his sense of humor. If I have had ANY success as a hockey player it was due to Jake!”  

Coach Jake McCoy

Arundel summarizes how many of his former players thought of him, “Jake McCoy was, is and will always be my idol and hero. He is one of the top 2 or 3 most influential people in my life. Selfless, encouraging, humorous, understanding and unconditional with his love.” Quite the testimonial.  

You can also add “humble” to the list of adjectives to describe Jake. In discussing his playing and coaching career, Jake very much downplayed the success he has had over the years, “I had a lot of good fortune and think I am one of the luckiest guys in the world. I had a great run. I had fun and success and you can’t beat that.”

Lifetime Achievement Award.

For Jake’s long time playing and coaching achievements and for his significant, generous and caring contributions to youth and high school hockey in Minnesota, Minnesota Hockey Magazine is proud to bestow on Jake McCoy the Marv Jorde Memorial Lifetime Achievement Award.  Now!

Congratulations, Jake!

Jake is dedicating this award to the late Marv Jorde, another person who had a remarkable influence on those he touched.

(Credits: Some information and photos taken from previous web-based articles on Jake McCoy and Richfield hockey history.)

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