SCSU solves Denver goaltender, moves into tie with Pioneers atop NCHC
Huskies get second period goals from Jack Rogers and Zach Okabe, 19 saves from Jaxon Castor to beat Pioneers 2-0 and earn series sweep.
ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Denver has company atop the NCHC standings.
St. Cloud State got two goals from close range and 19 saves from Jaxon Castor on its way to a 2-0 win over Denver, the defending NCAA Division I champion, in an NCHC game Saturday before 5,148 at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center.
"We talked about being in the grease pan, we had to have traffic and we couldn't let him see it," Huskies coach Brett Larson said of his team executing against Denver goalie Magnus Chrona, who is 6-foot-5 and had two straight shutouts before playing SCSU. "We had to get in his grill to score. We knew that. Guys committed to that and I thought that was one of our most consistent 60-minute performances of the year in terms of playing the right way."
With the win and series sweep, the Huskies (10-4 NCHC, 18-6 overall) move into a tie for first in the conference with Denver (10-4, 19-7) with 10 games remaining in the regular season. The win also moved St. Cloud State into No. 2 in the PairWise Rankings, which try to mimic the criteria used by the NCAA Division I committee to pick the 16-team national tournament field at the end of the season.
"It feels good and it's always fun playing those guys," Huskies senior wing Zach Okabe said. "It's always a battle. I really liked our team this weekend."
Getting to the net
There were no goals in a first period that had SCSU outshooting Denver 5-3 in a tight-checking 20 minutes.
But the Huskies took a 2-0 lead into the third period.
St. Cloud State got goals on two shots from close range. Jami Krannila got his stick on a pass behind the Denver net, it bounced out front and Jack Rogers knocked it in with a backhand for his second goal in two nights at 7:33 for a 1-0 lead.
"I just have been getting more pucks on my backhand recently than my forehand and luckily, I was able to put it home," said Rogers, a freshman wing from East Northport, N.Y. "That was a loose puck created by Jami. He kind of poked one out there to the high slot. I tried to get it off as quick as I could because I knew the goalie would be scrambling. I don't think he saw it."
It was the third goal of the season for Rogers, who is playing on a line with graduate student center Aidan Spellacy and freshman left wing Ryan Rosborough.
"His hard work is paying off," Larson said of Rogers. "He's strong. He's got a heavy stick. He extends offensive shifts by being able to play low, below the (faceoff) dots. It's fun to see him get rewarded for it."
Then Krannila took a snap shot that Magnus Chrona stopped, but Zach Okabe knocked in the rebound from just outside the crease at 10:26 on the power play for a 2-0 SCSU lead.
"We just moved the puck quick and Jami made a good play off the pillows," Okabe said, referring to Chrona's leg pads. "I was just in the right spot, right time. Thankfully, I put it in."
The Huskies were 1-for-2 on the power play Saturday after going 3-for-5 on the power play Friday. That played a big factor in the series, particularly when you consider that SCSU had gone 0-for-15 on the power play in its previous five games.
"We were kind of cold there on the power play for a little bit, but we were sticking with it because we were getting chances," said Okabe, who leads the team with five power-play goals. "Eventually, they were going to go in. We didn't change too much. Obviously, with different teams and different penalty kills, you change them a little bit.
"But we just stuck with it and stayed confident."
OKABE WITH THE POWER PLAY GOAL🚨— Husky Productions (@hphky) January 22, 2023
Huskies up by ✌️ #HuskyHockey@Fox9Sports @kinglinguist @SCSUHuskies_MH pic.twitter.com/Onx6yZgqi9
2 goals reviewed, not allowed
There were two video reviews for goals, one for each team.
The first came after a play with 1:15 left in the second period. Denver forward Casey Dornbach took a shot from the right side that SCSU goalie Jaxon Castor got a piece of, but the puck slowly trickled through him and over the goal line. The problem was, one of the referees had whistled the play dead quickly after the puck hit Castor.
The second one came in the third period when a shot went off the Denver post and in, according to Larson. That goal was disallowed for the same reason.
"The puck was clearly in the net — everyone knew that, but it was whether or not the whistle had blown," he said of the one for SCSU that was not allowed. "Oddly enough, the same exact review at both ends of the ice."
While there were lots of smiles for the Huskies after the game, there is some bad news to report. St. Cloud State defenseman Dylan Anhorn was originally listed as being in the lineup, but was scratched before the game due to an injury. Larson said the injury occurred Saturday and that he was "waiting to hear an evaluation" on it.
Anhorn was seen in the lobby after the game on crutches. He has been a huge part of the Huskies' success this season since transferring from Union. Anhorn, a senior from Calgary, Alberta, went into the game leading the nation in assists by a defenseman (20) and was second in points by a defenseman (25). He was replaced in the lineup by junior Brady Ziemer. Anhorn had been playing on the top defensive pairing with sophomore Josh Luedtke. Saturday, Luedtke's partner was graduate student Brendan Bushy.
Krannila had his third straight two-point game and has moved within four points of becoming the 37th SCSU player with 100 career points. Krannila, a Hobey Baker Award nominee, leads the Huskies in points (29) and plus/minus (plus-21). He also has a career-best 16 assists in 24 games.
Speaking of career-bests, Okabe's goal was his 15th of the season, the most he has had in one season. He is one point away from tying his career-best points in a season (28, 2021-22).
The series sweep was the first for the Huskies against Denver since sweeping the Pioneers Nov. 9-10, 2018, at the Brooks Center.
The shutout was the fifth of the season for the Huskies, who are getting closer to the school record of seven, which was set in 1999-2000.
The Huskies improved to 11-2 at home. The school record for home wins in a season is 17 (2018-19). SCSU has two regular season home series remaining (Feb. 3-4 vs. Miami, March 3-4 vs. UMD). The Huskies could also host a best-of-three NCHC playoff series if they finish in the top four in the conference.
The win was Larson's 99th since taking over the Huskies in 2018. He is 99-53-13 in five seasons. Larson could pick up his 100th win next weekend when the Huskies play a series at Minnesota Duluth (5-9, 10-13-1). Larson spent two stints as an assistant coach for the Bulldogs and played defense for UMD from 1991-95.
No. 4 SCSU 2, No. 3 DENVER 0
First period scoring — None. Penalties: SCSU, Jack Peart (interference) 8:58; SCSU, Zach Okabe (cross-checking) 14:03; D, Carter Mazur (embellising) 14:03.
Second period scoring — 1. SCSU, Jack Rogers 3 (Jami Krannila 15, Joe Molenaar 4) 7:32; 2. SCSU, Okabe 15 (Krannila 16, Jack Peart 15) 10:26 (pp). Penalties: D, Mazur (hooking) 9:15.
Third period scoring — None. Penalties: D, Sean Behrens (tripping) 14:14.
Goalie saves — D, Magnus Chrona 5-9-5—21 (2 GA). SCSU, Jaxon Castor 3-8-8—19 (0 GA).
Penalties-minutes — D 3-6; SCSU 2-4.
Power play goals-opportunities (shots) — D 0-1 (0 shots); SCSU 1-2 (3 shots).
Faceoffs — SCSU 30-24.
Referees: Joe Sullivan, Andrew Wilk.
Linesemen: Elliott Bucholz, Andy Dokken.
Three stars of the game: 1. Rogers (SCSU), 2. Krannila (SCSU), 3. Castor (SCSU).