Larsson’s 24 Save Shutout Leads Denver to the Frozen Four With 3-0 Victory over AIC

(Photo Credit:Kelsey Lee-Denver Athletics)

Coming into this one we had an idea of what we might see today. Filip Larsson stole the show in net for the Pioneers of Denver yesterday afternoon and he added to his lore with another shutout in the West Region Final in Fargo for Denver. The team played superb defense around him, and like so many games before this one, helped him withstand  a furious American International College (AIC) comeback in the third to get a 3-0 win and their 16th trip to the Frozen Four in Buffalo in a few weeks.

This one, like so many before, did not come easy for the Pioneers. However, they almost seem to play better this season when getting out shot and counter-punching. Their goals against goalies have all come on counter attacks and have all started with the Pioneers displaying a team-focused effort on defense. Once again, despite getting out shot 26-24 on the evening including only mustering two shots on net in the third, Denver found a way to win.

One injury for Pioneers fans to keep an eye on is the hand, or arm of forward Emilio Pettersen. According to Head Coach, David Carle, the Pioneers will re-evaluate his condition in the coming days. Pettersen left the game in the first period and did not return to the bench.

The Pioneers have a confidence in Larsson that he can take them all the way to the top. As Head Coach David Carle said “(We have) confidence in our goaltender to make big saves in key moments.

As to the scoring side of things, the first period was scoreless despite Denver playing arguably their best period of the weekend. They out shot AIC 10-4 and spent the majority of the period on the attack. The second period featured an opening of the scoring ledger for the Pioneers. 15:45 into the second, the Pioneers capitalized on a bounce behind the AIC net. Ryan Barrow threw a puck in space to Colin Staub on the glove side of AIC netminder Zackarias Skog. Staub wired a shot to the net as quick as he could and was able to beat Skog high to the blocker side to provide the game winning tally. Skog finished the night with 22 saves on 24 shots.

To AIC’s credit, even after the Staub goal, they never gave up. They arguably were the better team at the end of the second and throughout the third period. The only reason why AIC was shutout for the first time all season was Larsson. He was named Most Outstanding Player of the region. The Red Wings’ prospect made 10 saves in the third period and had to fight off multiple grade-a chances. The Pioneers only mustered two shots on net in the third, doubling their output from the semifinal against Ohio State in the third.

Fortunately for Denver, both of those shots found the back of the net. Liam Finlay provided an insurance marker for the Pioneers 16:30 into the third before Jarid Lukosevicius sealed it with an empty net marker 18:37 into the final frame in Fargo. Denver moves on to take on a Massachusetts-Amherst team lead by super prospect and future Colorado Avalanche defender Cale Makar.

As to AIC, this team played a superb game and represented Atlantic Hockey well all weekend. Head Coach Eric Lang noted that in building this team that he and his staff had to ” turn over a lot of rocks.” Well his staff found some pure gold for this team. Of the Yellow Jackets’ side, they graduate two seniors that played a game this season in Captain Shawn McBride and Ryan Polin, along with Ryan Papa who played an advisory role for the Yellow Jackets this season due to a concussion issue.  Skog and center Hugo Reinhardt were the first two European recruits Lang’s staff convinced to play at AIC and their success arguably is a marker for the future. This team was built from all around the world and after turning over many rocks, Lang and his staff, with this weekend in their back pocket, opened many fans, and recruits’ eyes to why the value of AIC should not ever be dismissed in college hockey circles again.

For the Yellow Jackets, this team will return and this weekend was the most important one in their program’s history. They capitalized on their win yesterday and spent a lot of time calling recruits in the period between their win and the game last night. The final thing for Yellow Jackets to look forward to this season is the publication of the final rankings. To a lot of fans of a lot of other teams, these rankings can seem insignificant. To the Yellow Jackets and Coach Lang, these rankings mean the world.He said, ” we’d love to sit inside the top 20 and sit on that for an entire summer. It would make the summer go better so if I can make the pitch and tell those people on some of these polls…I do think if you’re one of the last eight teams standing, you should be top 20 in the country.”





“You Earn Your Luck”: How AIC Defeated St. Cloud State 2-1 for First NCAA Tournament Win in Program History

Coming in to the second game of the West Regional Semis in Scheels Arena, American International College (AIC) Head Coach Eric Lang noted that he could only watch St. Cloud State , the number one team in the nation, in small doses in his pre-scout. If he tried to watch them any longer Lang said he would “get sick to my stomach.”

Last night, Lang’s team made the Huskies of St. Cloud State feel their worst all season. AIC won 2-1 thanks to 32 saves on 33 shots from under-recruited junior Swedish netminder Zackarias Skog. His counterpart in net, SCSU netminder David Hrenak finished with a mere 11 saves on 13 shots. The Huskies had plenty of chances towards the end but could not find the equalizer. Did AIC get a little puck luck? Well, yes, but as Lang said on the win “I would say it’s puck luck, but in this sport in you earn your luck.”

At the beginning of the game AIC came out and hung with the speed of SCSU through the first few minutes. Joel Kocur was able to put a puck past the pad of Hrenak as he came off the post for a split second 6:01 into the opening frame. It was enough to give AIC the lead and stun the 4220 fans at Scheels Arena. After the opening goal, AIC began to play a similar style to what Air Force was able to do last spring against the Huskies. As coach Lang noted, the team played to TV timeouts and was able to maximize its defensive output despite having to defend SCSU for the majority of the game. Skog made multiple grade-a saves throughout the game and kept AIC ahead.

In the second period, Brennan Kapcheck benefited from a soft pick play that AIC ran in the Huskies’ defensive zone. He was able to walk down the wall and wire a strong wrist shot just through the five hole of Hrenak that had just enough power to slink over the goal line 7:32 into the second period.

That goal would prove to be the game winning tally. Despite a heart-pounding third period where the Huskies threw everything at AIC, the Yellow Jackets held on. The only Huskies goal came 9:27 into the final frame on the power play. Easton Brodzinski fired a puck that went off the head of a Yellow Jacket and by Skog. The Yellow Jackets still persisted. They played the entire game in five minute segments getting to the television timeouts. These timeouts to them are a luxury that they are not afforded playing in Atlantic Hockey.

At the end of the game after Skog saved a Robby Jackson shot, time ran out and most of the fans at Scheels Arena walked away stunned as their team and[ presumptive favorite to win the National Championship lost again in the first round to a team from Atlantic Hockey. No one not associated with the Yellow Jackets picked AIC to win this, no one but the team from all around the world thought they could hang on to pull off this victory. Eric Lang gave his team that belief through three years of building up a program from the ground floor and through celebrating small victories along the way. Last night those small victories, compounded, resulted in the biggest win in AIC history.

Now AIC is preparing to take on a very strong Denver side that plays a speed game and is backstopped by one of the best goalies in the nation in Filip Larsson. Saturday night at Scheels Arena, a West Regional Champion will move on to the Frozen Four.

Grand Theft Larssony: How Denver Earned a 2-0 Regional Semis Victory over Ohio State

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee- Denver Athletics)

Coming into this game, we knew both Denver and Ohio State played a similar type of game. Both teams are structured and do not break ranks in their own end very often. The winner of this one was going to need not to out shoot their opponent as Ohio State did 24-13, but to capitalize on the rare occurrences of bad play in their opponent’s defensive zone. In addition, that team would need perfection in net. Denver got all of that tonight as Filip Larsson,once again, stole a game from a team that did nearly everything better than Denver but put pucks behind him.

On the evening Larsson finished with 24 saves with half of those coming in a frantic first period. In that period and for the majority of the second, the Buckeyes controlled the pace of play and looked to slow down the Pioneers. He utilized his calm demeanor and style to keep the Pioneers tied with the Buckeyes, the moment was never too big for him and he was composed all game.

The game remained tied until the 19:20 mark of the second period. Senior graduate transfer defender Les Lancaster found a rare opening and walked into the void. He took a feed from Emilio Pettersen and lasered a perfect shot through the five-hole of otherwise perfect Ohio State netminder Tommy Nappier. That was arguably the best chance Denver had all day and they capitalized on it.

Throughout the third period, Ohio State threw everything it had at Larsson, not much got through as he only had to make five saves. Denver’s only shot on net came with Nappier pulled for an extra attacker Colin Staub found the back of the net to provide the 2-0 margin of victory with 58 seconds left.

To prepare for tomorrow, Denver needs to improve in its faceoffs. Tonight the Pioneers played defense a lot as they won only 14 puck drops on the evening. The Buckeyes won the other 37. Liam Finlay noted that Denver’s wingers need to help out their centers to win a few more draws tomorrow. If the Pioneers can do that, they will not have to chase as much of the game, and Larsson will not need to make as many grade-a saves as he did today.

Similar Sides Setup Superb West Regional: Four Previews

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violent Turtle Photography)

Four teams take the ice tomorrow for the West Region in Scheels Arena in Fargo, ND in round one of the 2019 Division One NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament. We have so many storylines to look at, but one thing that stood out to me is the two first round matchups feature two teams playing each other with similar identities making for a study in execution over system selection determining who makes the Saturday night showdown in the Final to determine the regional champion. Read on for previews of all four teams and read all the way to the bottom of this article for some predictions sure to be at least somewhat wrong as this tournament is 15 best-of-one elimination games to determine a champion.


The Pioneers play an extremely fast brand of hockey and throughout multiple looks this season have been quite fun to watch. Filip Larsson in net is a superb freshman netminder. In addition, one thing that stood out to me from their press conference and Ohio State’s press conference is how similar the teams described themselves. The Pioneers have been at their best not based on winning the shots on net battle, as they spectacularly lost that matchup against UND in the NCHC first round, yet because of how they guard the danger zone around their net, they can mitigate a lot of those issues. Between the two teams, Denver and Ohio State, Denver maybe is a smidgen speedier , but the Buckeyes seem to play a tad more structured in their own end.

Ohio State 

Head Coach Steve Rohlik described his thoughts on Denver which I would guess are similar in nature if not verbiage to what Denver Head Coach David Carle thinks of the Buckeyes. “I’ve got a long list that I could tell you which concerns me.” The Buckeyes are the more experienced of the two teams playing in the first matchup. They also have not played since March 17, coming up on the wrong side of a 5-1 result against Penn State. Like Denver, this team plays fast and structred, like Denver they have a superb netminder in Sean Romeo. Unlike Denver they also have Sean Nappier, a freshman goalie in the running for the Mike Richter Award(best goalie in the country, he is in the Top 10). Point being, they have platooned these two this season leading them to a superb finish for the second straight season. Denver may have to adjust its style depending on which goalie they face. Nappier has played 1102:19 this year and Romeo has played 975:49. That is as close to a perfect platoon of goalies as you will find in college hockey.

Matchup Two 

Saint Cloud State 

The Huskies come into this one on top of the college hockey world for the second straight season. For the second big dance in a row, they play the 16th seed from Atlantic Hockey. For the second tourney in a row they are expected to win. Last year, thanks to great goaltending from Air Force and some breakdowns in their own end, they lost to a Falcons side that nearly made the Frozen Four.

What are some differences? Personnel wise on the player side, not much, nearly everyone returned a year older, and the few freshman flocking to St. Cloud like Tampa Bay Lightning prospect defenseman Nick Perbix have fit right in to their system and are already playing some key minutes. Behind the bench, Bob Motzko flew southwest to take the Gophers job with the University of Minnesota leaving the Huskies job open for former Minnesota Duluth Assistant Brett Larson to take over. He has not changed a lot of the systems the Huskies have played, but instead has focused more on small tweaks to improve the minor details, especially on the back end, to tighten up this side’s defense. The details have all played a role big or small in getting the Huskies back here. How they play against an American International side (AIC) will determine if they earn a spot in the finals against either a Denver team they have played many times, or a battle-tested Ohio State squad. This team has played well and been consistent, but one thing to look out for when watching this one is the start. St. Cloud State has had to come back against Colorado College twice to earn a tie and win in its superb second half. That is the team that they compared AIC to at the press conference today. Just something to keep in mind if you root for the Huskies.

American International College (AIC)

House money describes what this team comes in with. Head Coach Eric Lang has recruited a team from all around the world and all levels of hockey to play for AIC. He runs a group very happy to be in the tournament for the first time, but also confident that they can play with any team in the country. While they have not won a non-conference game against any team they have played, they have all been against tournament teams and all setup the Yellow Jackets to play tomorrow against the Huskies. Look for them to play a similar style to the Huskies and try and keep rebound opportunities against their Swedish netminder Zackarias Skog to a minimum. The Huskies have been at their best on clean slot shots, or rebounds from the heavy net-front they generate when they run the neutral zone. If the Yellow Jackets lead by players like Brennan Kapcheck and Blake Christensen can capitalize on the few chances they will get, the nightcap in Fargo can get a lot closer than the Huskies would like.

The puck drops on a fun regional tomorrow afternoon at 3:00 PM central with a young Denver team looking to vanquish an older clone of themselves in the Buckeyes of Ohio State. The finale starts at 6:30 PM central as, again, two teams that use similar systems as the Yellow Jackets of AIC faceoff against a team stocked with NHL-ready talent in the Huskies of St. Cloud State.

West Regional Prediction sure to be wrong: St. Cloud State will face Denver in the finale with the Huskies avenging their past defeats to howl on to Buffalo for the Frozen Four in a few weeks.

Who Joins SCSU in Buffalo? 

They will faceoff against the Huskies of Northeastern, lead by another superb goalie in Cayden Primeau who will defeat the Minnesota State Mavericks in the finale. On the other side of the bracket, Minnesota Duluth will defeat a fast Quinnipiac team to earn a slot in Buffalo and defend their championship. They will face a Massachusetts (Amherst) side lead by arguably one of the best defenders in at least the past 20 years to play college hockey in Cale Makar. To get to Buffalo, the Minutemen of Amherst will defeat Notre Dame in the finals. Check back around Frozen Four time for a prediction of who will win the whole thing.

5-4 OT Winner From Kawaguchi Saves Senior Night for UND: Now What?

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violent Turtle Photography)

Last night in front of a strong crowd braving the elements at Ralph Engelstad Arena we saw a microcosm of the University of North Dakota’s season in one game. When this team starts fast, they typically do well. Nick Jones, senior forward playing on senior night, took a cross-ice feed from Rhett Gardner and wired home the opening salvo of the night 37 seconds into the game. Later in the period, Omaha forward Tyler Weiss banged home a loose puck in the crease with the majority of skaters sharing time and space with Peter Thome to tie it up.

In the second, Jordan Kawaguchi made his first contribution to the box score taking a cross-checking penalty. Zach Jordan made UND pay for that mistake with a sensational release on a wrist shot to stake the Mavericks to their only lead of the evening. That lead would last 5:51 as Kawaguchi would return to the box score, this time to the good converting a power play marker on a Nick Jones feed.

The third is where everything happened.Cole Smith converted the only really “soft” goal of the evening against Omaha netminder Evan Weninger who played an otherwise stellar evening. He finished with 41 saves on 46 shots. After a Gavin Hain tally gave UND a two goal lead, the Mavericks rallied back to tie things up with tallies from Nate Knopke and Tristan Keck. The Keck marker came off a Kawaguchi turnover with an extra attacker.

Kawaguchi made up for it with a clean shot past Weninger 16 seconds into overtime. He is UND’s leading goal scorer after the regular season with only ten goals.

Now What

For Nebraska Omaha, if they can some how find a way to hold Duluth down a bit defensively than the expected result may be a little harder for the Bulldogs to achieve in the first round. The Mavericks showed this weekend that they do not need much time or space to have a chance with their quick transition game and Weninger’s ability in net.

As for UND, this weekend did result in two wins pushing the Fighting Hawks closer to the NCAA Tournament. That said, this team still has things to clean up. Every week this team seems to take some undisciplined penalties that skew their rhythm and force them to alter what Head Coach Brad Berry likes to do, getting everyone involved in the game. This team has also dealt with a lot of injuries over the course of the season and is closer to being healthy with the return of Grant Mismash on Friday in limited minutes, and the return of Nick Jones. The most consistent line for this team this year is the GMC line of Gavin Hain, Mark Senden, and Cole Smith. Brad Berry did not have the option to deploy this line to shutdown the game at the end of regulation because Cole Smith was given a ten minute misconduct for involvement in a fracas with UNO 13:30 into the third period.

Puck possession is this team’s strength, and even when healthy, as this weekend showed, they cannot take undisciplined penalties and need to find ways to stay ahead in games. Credit the seniors for playing well on senior night. Now UND has to take on a fast Denver team and take the series on the road to stay in the NCAA Tournament hunt.

Fighting Hawks Fight Past UNO 2-1: Recap and Now What?

(Photo Credit:Kelsey Lee-Violent Turtle Photography)

Coming into this one, the setup for the Fighting Hawks of North Dakota could not have been more simple. Win two games against the Mavericks of Nebraska Omaha this weekend and hope for some help from Miami (OH) against Western Michigan this weekend. One of those things happened as UND earned a 2-1 hard-fought victory over the Mavericks of Nebraska Omaha.

On Friday night, not only did Western Michigan ensure UND’s home ice streak for the first round of the playoffs would end.Now the Fighting Hawks will be on the road next week for the first round of the conference tournament for the first time since 2002. The Mavericks of Nebraska Omaha almost battled past UND and featured another stellar performance by netminder extraordinaire, Evan Weninger.  He made 38 saves on 40 shots faced on the night and could have taken home star honors for his play. As for scoring on the night, Gabe Bast started the scoring soiree with a sublime wrap around to pot one past Weninger 3:45 into the first.

Following the Bast salvo, things would remain quiet until Zach Jordan buried a five-on-three marker on a cross ice feed against Peter Thome. UND Head Coach Brad Berry noted that Thome would have liked to have made that play laterally, but he did not have much of a chance. Jordan hides a howitzer of his quite well and uses it to his advantage. All though he is not on the level, ask how many goalies are able to stop an Alex Ovechkin cannon from that spot, the answer of course is very few, even on their best day. Then finally in a third period that saw Rhett Gardner benched for taking two terrible penalties, Nick Jones came back to the lineup and tipped home a Colton Poolman shot on a draw Jones himself won. If centers could get two assists on their same play, the goal would read Jones from Poolman and Jones.

Now What

UND needs to play more disciplined. The Fighting Hawks were,arguably, one non call on Jacob Bernard-Docker as he did knee Tristan Keck with the puck having left the area, away from losing their best defender and having to play with five defenders. The Fighting Hawks need to get better at two things for their home finale. First, maintain better discipline and make UNO drive 200 feet to get a good chance on you. Their only goal came on a power play that occurred because of two fast penalties that did not need to be taken.

As for the Mavericks, protect Evan Weninger because he is a treasure to be better guarded than he has been this season. He made 38 saves but was under consistent duress all night and made plenty of grade-a stops to burnish his impressive career mix tape. Same two teams wrap up their regular season Saturday from the Ralph at 7:07 PM, how this one starts and how many penalties UND takes will determine who wins.