PITTSBURGH – St. Cloud State has a long list of accomplishments this postseason. Victories over Boston University and Boston College by a combined 10-3 total. A trip to the NCAA Frozen Four for the second time in school history. And a thrilling, 5-4 comeback victory over Minnesota State Mankato that put the Huskies in Saturday night’s national championship game, a first in program history.
For coach Brett Larson, Friday wasn’t a time to reflect on that success. He and his team had a hockey game for which to prepare.
“I don’t know if it’s just me, but you don’t think about the big-picture stuff,” Larson said in previewing Saturday’s NCAA final against Massachusetts, a game that was in progress when this edition of the Star Tribune went to press. “In all honesty, I’m just thinking about how to break the puck out tomorrow.”
Larson and the Huskies (20-10) have navigated a season filled with challenges brought on by COVID-19. The NCHC started its season in the Omaha Pod, with all eight teams gathering in December. A 4-1 start, including a victory over North Dakota, provided a hint of what might be coming for St. Cloud State, and the Huskies left Omaha with a 5-3 mark. They began January with three wins in four meetings against Minnesota Duluth, establishing themselves as a NCHC title contender.
A one-day-at-a-time approach has served the Huskies well.
“We’ve worked a lot this year, and maybe it’s just a good life lesson with COVID about really appreciating the day that you’re in and being thankful for the day that you have because you don’t know with a test the next day what could happen to your team.” Larson said. “… We’ve really tried to have a narrow focus on the day in and the day out.”
Wait finds a homeWhen Massachusetts forward Garrett Wait scored to beat Minnesota Duluth 3-2 in Thursday’s second semifinal, he had some interested onlookers back in Minneapolis.
“I watched my old roommate Garrett Wait score the overtime winner,” said Gophers goalie Jack LaFontaine, who was named the Mike Richter Award winner on Friday. “That was so funny because I was watching with [defenseman] Jackson LaCombe, and we were talking about it, ‘Uh, I’ve got a funny feeling Waiter’s gonna score.’ I was so happy for him.”
Wait, a junior from Edina, played 40 games for the Gophers, collecting four goals and nine assists before entering the transfer portal following the 2019-20 season. He landed at UMass after being contacted by Minutemen assistant coach Jared DeMichiel and consulting with forward Bobby Trivigno, a former teammate with Waterloo of the USHL.
“I didn’t really know anything about the school or anything,” Wait said. “… I kind of took a leap of faith on what they were saying. I really enjoyed what they were saying about being a family here and the culture.”
Wait has fit in nicely with UMass, scoring nine goals and assisting on eight in 28 games. He is the right winger on a line with left winger Trivigno, an East All-America first-team selection, and center Josh Lopina.
Wait had 24 goals in 2017-18 with Waterloo, and that intrigued UMass coach Greg Carvel.
“I was excited for that, and he has the ability to score,” Carvel said. “I think it was a third of the way into the year or maybe a little more that I realized that I want to see if he had some chemistry with Trivigno, and they have.”
On Thursday’s winning goal 14 minutes, 30 seconds into overtime, Wait parked himself at the left post as Trivigno circled around the net, then sent the puck across the crease. “I decided to stop on the back post and put my stick on the ice,” Wait said. “And lucky enough it found my stick. Trigs made a great play.”
Future sitesNext year’s Frozen Four will be held April 7 and 9 in Boston. Sites after that will be Tampa, Fla., in 2023, St. Paul in 2024, St. Louis in 2025 and Las Vegas in 2026. Next year’s regional tournaments will be in Albany, N.Y., Worcester, Mass., Allentown, Pa., and Loveland, Colo.