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.