Apr. 9—Nolan Walker sent these Huskies to Cloud Nine.
Walker's goal with 53.2 seconds to play sent St. Cloud State to its first hockey national championship game, lifting the Huskies to a 5-4 win against Minnesota State in the first of two Frozen Four semifinals Thursday evening at PPG Paints Arena.
"I'm speechless just from this game. It was such an incredible game," Walker said. "What a journey we've been on this year with covid. It's been hard. Hasn't been easy. We made a lot of sacrifices, every one of these guys."
Those sacrifices pay off with a trip to Saturday night's national title game for the Huskies (20-10-0), who play Massachusetts, a 3-2 overtime winner over two-time defending national champion Minnesota Duluth.
Making their second Frozen Four appearance — each happens to coincide with the only times Pittsburgh has hosted the event — St. Cloud State avenged a loss in the 2013 semifinals.
The winning goal was a pretty deflection by Walker, who was standing in the slot and was able to get his stick on a rising Seamus Donohue shot from the left point. The puck flew into the upper-right portion of the net past the glove hand of Minnesota State goalie Dryden McKay.
"I kind of found that soft spot up top, on the high tracks, as we call it," Walker said. "And Seamus, he made a great shot right on my stick. I was lucky enough that it went in."
Spencer Meier, Kyler Kupka, Will Hammer and Joe Molenaar also got goals past McKay, the lone finalist among Frozen Four participants for the Hobey Baker Award as college hockey's best player. McKay entered the game with a 1.40 goals-against average and .931 save percentage but allowed five goals on 22 shots.
"It felt like we had to play a little rope-a-dope," Huskies coach Brett Larson said. "I thought (Minnesota State) played really well.
"Fortunately, we were opportunistic. When we got a chance, we were able to bury it."
Walker, Meier, Kupka, Hammer each also had an assist for St. Cloud State, which beat Boston College and Boston University in the regionals to get to Pittsburgh.
Nathan Smith had two goals, and Dallas Gerads and Walker Duehr a goal and an assist each for Minnesota State (22-5-1), which held a lead for almost six minutes early in the third period before Molenaar tied it with 10 minutes, 14 seconds left in regulation.
"Not a great start, a good middle of the game and not a great ending," Minnesota State coach Mike Hastings said.
St. Cloud State blew a two-goal lead it held as the game approached its midway point. Down 3-1 more than seven minutes into the second period, the Mavericks scored the next three and took their first lead when DaGerads finished a pretty feed from a streaking Walker Duehr 4 minutes, 18 seconds into the third period.
But Molenaar batted in a juicy rebound into a vast expanse of open net at 10:14 of the third for his first career goal.
Molenaar, a freshman, was only in the lineup because senior leader Easton Brodzinski suffered a broken leg in the Huskies' previous game.
"When a guy like Easton goes down... for the whole team, it was tough," Molenaar said. "At first thinking he's such a big piece for our team, it's heartbreaking.
"But then once this week starts ... I was excited to be in the lineup, give it a chance."
Meier, a defenseman, opened the scoring with a power-play tally 3:18 in, and St. Cloud State led for all but 10 seconds of the next 31 minutes of game time.
The Mavericks didn't have a shot on goal over the first nine-plus minutes. A Smith power-play goal, though, briefly tied it until Kupka finished a feed from Walker moments later to re-establish a Huskies lead that was extended to 3-1 by a Hammer unassisted goal off a bad Minnesota State turnover in its own zone.
But Duehr and Smith scored 137 seconds apart late in the second, tying the game before the intermission.
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .