UND Hockey Season Ends Against St. Cloud State

Maeve Hushman, Sports Reporter

The roller coaster season has finally come to a complete stop. The University of North Dakota’s Men’s Hockey team had a unique season, full of  disappointing losses and triumphant victories. In the second half, UND found their game, they learned to play defensively and most importantly learned to play as a team. They mounted an impressive six game unbeaten streak and upset Omaha in the first round of NCHC playoffs to make the Frozen Faceoff. However, that late season push was not enough for a long-term Cinderella run, the University of North Dakota lost 3-2 in overtime to St. Cloud State in the NCHC semi-finals.   

Playoff hockey is a completely different beast. The desperation and urgency are palpable. Offense dries up, penalties are few and far between, and every single scoring chance becomes high stakes, especially in single elimination games like those played in the Frozen Faceoff.   

The first period started out well. Ethan Frisch opened  scoring for UND on the power play. However, St. Cloud would answer back with Veeti Mettienten scoring on the powerplay making it a tie 1-1 game going into the second. Even though the Huskies outshot UND 7-5 in that first period, UND looked like a team hungry to continue their season and poised to dominate.   

Dominate is exactly what UND did in the second period. Judd Caulfield restored UND’s lead with a scrappy rebound goal exemplifying what it takes to score during playoff hockey. The team was fast, they maintained possession, and they kept positive momentum. There were flurries of scoring chances and penalty kills that appeared more like power plays. It was a tremendous effort and a statement from this UND team that they were there to win. UND outshot St. Cloud 11-3 in that period and demonstrated that they could win this game.   

Nevertheless, things began to teeter in the third. The Head Coach, Brett Larson, of St. Cloud said that in the first 40 minutes, “We honestly felt like North Dakota was playing really well and we were playing just okay. We thought we had more in the tank. We hadn’t played our A-game yet, we were probably a B-game and you’re not going to win very many games against a team like North Dakota when they’re playing their A-game and you’re playing your B-game.”  

In the third period, St. Cloud started to play their A-game. Jami Krannila, who would be named Most Outstanding Player of the Tournament, scored, tying the game at 2 early in the third. Both teams scrambled to score eagerly to prevent the game from going into overtime. Yet, no more goals would follow in the third. The score was 2-2 heading into the playoff overtime.   

“We got a couple of grade A chances in the last 30 seconds, which I think gave us momentum going into overtime,” Coach Larson said. “You feel like, okay finally we got them on their heels a little bit and I think it was that push in the second half of the third that gave us confidence going to overtime,”    

Very early into overtime fifth year senior Gavin Hain took a hooking penalty putting UND on the penalty kill at a time where a single goal meant the end of their season. They were able to hold-off the Huskies from scoring on the man advantage. This calm did not last long. Even though UND managed to put some golden chances on the net, it was a savvy play by Miettenen, a pass to Krannila and a rush play that led to Zach Okabe potting the overtime winner for St. Cloud. While the goal was examined for off-side review, it was determined by the referees that the goal was onside and counted, putting the final nail in the coffin for UND’s season.   

Krannila and Okabe broke down the game winning goal post game, Krannila answered first, “Veeti [Meittenen] made a great play, disrupt the play, got it to me. I kind of had a one on two and I saw Okie [Okabe] coming and I’ve never seen him skate that fast, so I just tossed the puck towards him and luckily it got through and he made a great move and scored.”   

“It started with Veeti [Meittenen] there,” said Okabe. “He made a good defensive play got it over to Jami [Krannila] and I saw an opening in the middle there and I knew Jami had space when he was taking the line so I just decided to drive the net and see if I could make something happen and luckily I did.”   

Just like that, with a single goal from the stick of Okabe, the University of North Dakota’s up and down season with their strong finish came to an end.  

When asked about how St. Cloud was able to keep pace with the desperation and strength UND was showing, Okabe had this to say, “They came out hard and they’re playing desperate there, but I think we did a good job responding to their pushes and stuff. The game was back and forth like responses for both teams and I think just staying with. I think the boys were calm on the bench and what I really liked was in between every period, every intermission it was like positive, and all the boys were just really fired up and I knew we could get this done.”   

The University of North Dakota Men’s Hockey team is due for a drastic change come next season, especially on the backend. Tyler Kleven and Ethan Frisch both made the decision to go pro, Kleven signed with the Ottawa Senators. Frisch signed with the San Jose Barracuda, the AHL Affiliate of the San Jose Sharks. Chris Jandric, Ty Farmer, and Ryan Sidorski have all exhausted their eligibility. Sidorski and Jandric signed with AHL teams and Farmer with an ECHL team. Sophomore defensemen Brent Johnson and Luke Bast, both of whom struggled to get regular playing time this season, entered the transfer portal. That left only a single returning defenseman, junior Cooper Moore. He decided to also enter the transfer portal.   

There will also be considerable turnover in net. Drew DeRidder, who became UND’s go to starter toward the end of the season, entered this year as a fifth-year senior, meaning he also has exhausted his eligibility. Jacob Hellsten, the sophomore goaltender from Sweden who showed moments of potential this season, chose to go the route of many of his fellow sophomores and entered the transfer portal. That leaves UND with a single goaltender, Redshirt first year and Grand Forks native, Kaleb Johnson, who only started once this season.  

The back end of this team will be nearly unrecognizable come next year and will likely be filled in by new recruits and players from the transfer portal. However, the forward group will remain similar. Both Hain and Mark Senden will be leaving, with Senden going pro, signing a professional tryout with the Charlotte Checkers, the Florida Panthers AHL affiliate. Judd Caulfield, another senior, opted to take his Covid eligible 5th year. Forward Matteo Constantini, another sophomore, also entered the transfer portal after struggling to find his place in the lineup this season.   

As this team goes through an overhaul, it might be a good sign. There will be fresh blood and a chance to move on from what was not an ideal season. As UND brings in a new crop of transfers and freshmen onto the team, there will be a fresh start and a new season for them to prove what they can do.   


Maeve Hushman is a Dakota Student Sports Reporter. She can be reached at [email protected]