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March 18, 2023

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Okabe and Friends Come Through Big-Time for St. Cloud State

by Joe Paisley/CHN Correspondent

Zach Okabe (14) celebrates his OT game winner. (photo: Russ Hons)

Zach Okabe (14) celebrates his OT game winner. (photo: Russ Hons)

ST. PAUL, Minn. — St. Cloud State coach Brett Larson had a few choice words for his top line — Veeti Miettinen, Jami Krannila and Zach Okabe — last Saturday.

They answered his challenge and all the North Dakota defenders could throw at them by accounting for all three SCSU goals in a 3-2 overtime win over UND in the Friday semifinals of the NCHC Frozen Faceoff at the Xcel Energy Center.

“We really challenged them big time before the Sunday game in Duluth,” Larson said of last weekend’s three-game quarterfinal series win. “We challenged them as people as teammates, everything. I thought they played well Sunday and really well tonight and they finally got rewarded for it. You could just feel it coming.”

Okabe scored the game-winner with 14:15 left in overtime off assists from his linemates to end the 18-15-6 Fighting Hawks’ season.

All three finished with a goal and assist Friday, breaking through after struggling to convert chances in an eventual Game 3 win over Minnesota Duluth in the NCHC quarterfinals series last weekend that ended another rival’s season.

“Our line takes a lot of pride in trying to produce offense for the team and contribute that way,” Okabe said. “When things weren’t going so well Lars (Larson) played a big factor in keeping us positive and keeping us in check and making sure we were working hard and staying with it.”

“We had a bunch of Grade As in that last game against Duluth and sometimes they just don’t go in,” he added. “We knew it would come if we kept working.”

The Huskies (23-12-3), the tourney’s fourth seed, will take on seventh-seeded Colorado College (13-21-3) in the championship game at 7:37 p.m. (CT). The Tigers must win to advance to the NCAA Tournament while the Huskies are already assured of an NCAA berth.

The Huskies have advanced to the NCHC title game all six times they qualified for St. Paul but have only one league championship to show for it. That was in 2016, with Bob Motzko as coach. St. Cloud State also won a WCHA postseason tournament under Craig Dahl in 2001.

“It is a five-year culmination,” Larson said, referring to his three fifth-year players Brendan Bushy, Spencer Meier…

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