Leader of ‘Save Seawolf Hockey’ optimistic with UAA deadline looming

Leader of ‘Save Seawolf Hockey’ optimistic with UAA deadline looming

Save Seawolf Hockey still needs your help to reach its goal of $3 million to rescue the University of Alaska Anchorage hockey program before its August 30 deadline. To donate or pledge money to the cause, visit saveseawolfhockey.com or text “UAAHOCKEY” to 41444.

It’s been a year since the University of Alaska Anchorage announced that it would cut its men’s hockey program, along with women’s gymnastics and men’s and women’s downhill skiing, to save itself approximately $2.5 million per year amid massive state funding cuts. Now, a grassroots “Save Seawolf Hockey” campaign is on the verge of rescuing the hockey program from what once appeared to be certain extinction.

The chairperson of Save Seawolf Hockey, Kathie Bethard, is a mother of three former NCAA Division I athletes, including a Colorado College hockey player, a UAA hockey player, and a University of Texas soccer player. She’s had a long career as a computer programmer and technology trainer, a work life that really has had nothing to do with college hockey.

Save Seawolf Hockey has been leading the fight to preserve UAA hockey. Image/Save Seawolf Hockey

Instead, she developed a love for the sport when her oldest son first started playing minor hockey in Anchorage at age four. That led to her joining the UAA booster club for the program’s first-ever season, some 42 years ago, and she’s been involved with the club—including serving as the president of its board for six years—in various capacities ever since.

But that involvement with UAA really isn’t what made her the right person to lead this campaign to save her beloved Seawolves. Instead, it was her willingness to simply stand up and do something when it looked like the program would be lost.

“I guess because I said, ‘We can’t let this happen,’” Bethard explains. “People were willing to rally around that cry, jump on board, form a committee, start a grassroots campaign.”

One year ago, UAA announced plans to cut the hockey program

When then-chancellor of UAA Cathy Sandeen announced the school’s plan to eliminate hockey, gymnastics, and skiing in August, 2020, it caught Bethard and the rest of the hockey boosters completely by surprise. In fact, the team itself was only given a two-hour notice before the announcement to gather the players together and let them know what was happening. It was a devastating blow for everyone involved.

“I was just astounded that they could do that with no warning to the public and especially the boosters who have supported this team for 42 years,” recalls Bethard.

She was simply unwilling to accept that fate for the Seawolves and the countless members of the Anchorage community who had supported them over the last four decades, so Save Seawolf Hockey was born.

It started with a write-in email campaign that brought an overwhelming response to the school’s board of regents. That operation eventually led to an agreement by the university that if any of the three sports being axed could raise two years’ worth of operating expenses, then that individual program could be reinstated for the 2022-23 season. For hockey, the annual operating budget is $1.5 million, so a goal of $3 million was set.

While most would see raising $3 million as an impossible task, Bethard and her comrades recognized that now there was a legitimate path to saving the program. “We took that and ran with that. $3 million is a lot of money to raise, but we were really optimistic at first because we had clear plans as to what we were going to do.” 

The pandemic put a wrench in fundraising plans

Making things even more daunting for Save Seawolf Hockey was the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Though fans couldn’t attend, the organization still planned to utilize TV broadcasts to facilitate “split the pot” raffles and silent auctions during games as relatively surefire ways to raise funds.

Former UAA captain Derek Donald takes a slapshot. UAA has a long history in the WCHA. Photo/University of Alaska Anchorage

They also figured there would be heightened public interest in the Seawolves during the season. Whether the team survived the budget cuts or not, 2020-21 would be the program’s last run in the storied WCHA. The conference had voted to disband so that seven of its member teams could leave to re-form the old CCHA, cutting out UAA, Alaska Fairbanks, and Alabama Huntsville and leaving those three without a conference.

The increased public interest and fundraising opportunities quickly evaporated when Sandeen announced in November that all winter sports would be canceled, citing, “The health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches, and athletics staff.”

If Save Seawolf Hockey was going to be successful in its goal of raising $3 million, it was going to need some serious help and some serious creativity.

Enter the Seattle Kraken

Bethard and her committee did get creative. They held their raffles and auctions virtually and hosted a youth tournament, “The Seapup Cup,” in conjunction with an outdoor alumni game between UAA and in-state rival UAF. That’s when the Seattle Kraken got involved, a real turning point in the process.

Kraken fans likely saw some of the marketing that the team did back then on behalf of UAA, trying to get people to donate money and leading the way financially with significant donations from the team’s ownership group. But the support didn’t stop with just donations and a few announcements.

Says Bethard, “They’ve been very very generous, and not only generous with their money but generous with their time. They meet with us on a regular basis to help us kind of plan our strategy, how we’re going to do things.” 

Even now, public service announcements are playing on ROOT Sports in Alaska thanks to Kraken CEO Tod Leiweke and his connections to the network that will eventually air Seattle’s games throughout the northwest.

“It’s pretty amazing, actually, the help they’ve given us… It’s their guidance and just clear vision and I guess their positiveness that we’re going to get there, and we are going to get there. We know that.”

Closing in on their goal

Save Seawolf Hockey was originally given a deadline of Feb. 15 to reach its $3 million fundraising goal. That date has long since passed, but when it came and went, the school’s board of regents recognized the real progress that had been made—the group at that time had raised $1.8 million—and unanimously approved a motion to extend the deadline to Aug. 30.

So here we are, just 11 days away from that extended deadline. Where does Save Seawolf Hockey sit? “We’re at $2.65 [million] as of [Tuesday] and we’re gaining momentum every day.” 

Staying the course

There have certainly been some high points in this process, like when Leiweke entered the equation and pledged his support, when UAA president Pat Pitney and the board of regents agreed to extend the fundraising deadline, and when Sean Parnell—who happened to already be a contributor to the cause—was selected as the school’s new chancellor.

But there also have been lows. The team’s last season in the WCHA getting canceled and head coach Matt Curley resigning after seven months as a figurehead for the movement were certainly tough moments to stomach.

Bethard’s hope never waned, though, and her group never lost sight of its goal. “I hate losing so I guess it just increased our determination to show the world we could save this program.”

In it for the long haul

Reaching this goal of covering two years of operating expenses is lofty, but what happens if they reach the goal? What’s to stop the university from cutting its hockey program again after those two seasons are done?

Save Seawolf Hockey has thought of this as well and currently has a memorandum of understanding signed by the school’s athletic department. That MOU indicates that if the boosters reach this goal and continue to help in fundraising efforts for a percentage of the expenses long-term, the school will back the program moving forward.

The UAA Seawolves prepare for a game. Photo/University of Alaska Anchorage

They also now have an important voice supporting them.

“The new chancellor that we have is absolutely awesome. He’s behind the memorandum of understanding one hundred percent,” Bethard says of Parnell. “He’s stepping up to the plate. He’s actually helping us in some of our fundraising calls, he’s meeting with us on a regular basis. It gives me just a tremendous amount of pride, I think, the fact that we’ve won over not only the athletic department but also the university as a whole.” 

Bethard is also hopeful that the Seawolves can find a new conference to play in after they were effectively shunned from the WCHA.

“My big dream and what I’d really love to see is a true Western Collegiate Hockey Association that’s west coast. How many pro teams do we have? California, Washington, Nevada…” She believes there’s a market for it in those places. “Collegiate hockey has its own draw… [They play] because they love it, you know, and they’re out there leaving their heart on the ice every night.” 

It’s funny how sometimes all a movement needs to get its footing is somebody to step up and lead. It doesn’t necessarily matter that person’s background, it just takes passion, commitment, a cause that people believe in, and unbendable perseverance to reach the end goal.

Darren Brown is the Chief Content Officer at Sound Of Hockey and the host, producer, and editor of the Sound Of Hockey Podcast. He is an inconsistent beer league goalie who believes that five players have to make a mistake before the puck gets to him. Follow him on Twitter @DarrenFunBrown or email darren@soundofhockey.com.

Jasper Weatherby, a standout hockey player and purposeful stand-up guy from Oregon

Jasper Weatherby, a standout hockey player and purposeful stand-up guy from Oregon

Jasper Weatherby is an anomaly. The University of North Dakota senior was the only Oregon-born player in NCAA Division I hockey (by comparison, Mississippi and Hawaii also have one apiece) last season, according to College Hockey News. He’s also just one of seven players from Oregon who have been drafted by an NHL team, according to Elite Prospects.

On their own, those distinctions set Weatherby apart from most everyone else. He also boldly uses his platform as a high-performance athlete to draw attention to social justice issues in a manner that’s unusual for most hockey players.

Taken in the fourth round of the 2018 draft by the San Jose Sharks, Weatherby has decided to play out his upcoming senior season at UND instead of turning pro. His decision was made more difficult by the fact the Sharks are a team dear to his heart and nearest geographically to his hometown of Ashland.

“I’d drive down there six hours, my stepdad had season tickets since they were (an expansion) franchise, and I’d go to games. I think that it was an unbelievable opportunity, and at the same time I think that another year in college is only going to benefit me and maybe leaves me entering, hopefully, an NHL roster that much more prepared,” Weatherby, 23, said during a phone interview last month from his father’s home in Bend, Ore.

Completing his college eligibility and not signing with the Sharks could allow him to become a free agent next year, but he said that didn’t really influence his decision because of his attraction to the team and respect for general manager Doug Wilson and others in the organization.

“It was obviously a really tough decision,” Weatherby, a marketing major, said. “I really respect everything San Jose does from their GM to their player development coaches and even some of the younger prospects on the team. They’re great guys, but at the same time I was kind of thinking about my development and trying to get that degree. Just trying to build on my on-ice things that I can do well and trying to improve so when I do hopefully make that jump, I’m the best prepared I can be.”

As one of the top college hockey programs in the country, North Dakota is accustomed to having some of its best players turn pro before completing their NCAA eligibility. Fighting Hawks head coach Brad Berry is excited to have Weatherby back, especially after losing eight seniors and seeing junior defenseman Jacob Bernard-Docker and sophomore forward Shane Pinto leave early to sign with the NHL’s Ottawa Senators.

“To have a player like Jasper come back four years, that says a lot about him,” Berry said by phone last month. “You know, I’m sure there’s probably opportunities for him to sign a pro contract with San Jose, but just talking with him and how mature he is (it’s great for UND) knowing that he wants to continue to round his game out and get better.”

After improving his production each year at North Dakota, including 14 goals and 24 points in 29 games last season, Weatherby is poised to continue his progression in 2021-22. In addition to training and watching his nutrition this offseason, he said he’s making sure to be mentally prepared so he shows up refreshed and feeling good for the start of the hockey season.

“He’s a big-bodied centerman, extremely smart, competitive, can make plays and also finish plays scoring goals,” Berry said of the 6-3 and 212-pound Weatherby. “So you know when you get players in college, when you recruit new players it’s sometimes tough finding big-bodied centermen that have all those attributes that I just described to you, and we’re very blessed and fortunate to have him in our group here for another year.”

Chasing a college hockey dream across a continent

Weatherby’s cross-continent hockey journey began in Ashland, which is better known for Shakespeare than slapshots. Weatherby was born in Portland, grew up in Ashland, and played his minor hockey 13 miles away at The Rrrink in Medford

“In high school I kind of knew I was serious about the game, (so) I was going to have to leave the Rogue Valley in Oregon. There just wasn’t quite enough there to fulfill the dreams of trying to play college hockey and then hopefully pro hockey,” Weatherby said.

At 13 he enrolled in the Canadian International Hockey Academy outside of Ottawa where he played Bantam AAA in 2012-13 and Minor Midget AAA the next season. Weatherby had been in a spring league in Vancouver, B.C., in eighth grade, but immersing himself in the Canadian prep school hockey environment took things to another level. 

“They’re unbelievable. I wouldn’t be here without them,” Weatherby said of the academy instructors at the boarding school in Rockland, Ontario. “It was an eye opening experience for sure.”

Weatherby had seven points in 29 games in his first season, and 18 points in 32 games in 2013-14 at CIH. The big jump in the quality of skills from Medford – “Oh my gosh these kids can really play,” he recalled about his introduction – greatly helped his hockey development.

While many classmates at CIH were eyeing the Ontario Hockey League route, Weatherby was focusing on playing college hockey instead of major junior. He moved to Nebraska where he finished high school and played two years for the Omaha AAA Lancers program in the North American Prospects Hockey League where he scored 23 points in 25 games for the 18U team in 2015-16.

After Omaha, Weatherby returned to the Pacific Northwest in 2016-17 to join the Wenatchee Wild of the British Columbia Hockey League. He said he “didn’t play a ton” in the first season, scoring 12 goals and 32 points in 46 games, but he learned a lot from veteran players and head coach Bliss Littler and his coaching staff.

“I think you can’t really go to Wenatchee without being a good human being,” he said. “They would rather have somebody who’s a good human being and maybe not as good a hockey player. But they want that team environment and everyone’s growing and looking to go and play college.

A painful longest game

Nearly three months after North Dakota lost a five-overtime epic to Minnesota-Duluth in the longest game in NCAA tournament history, the wounds were starting to heal for Fighting Hawks forward Jasper Weatherby.

“I think that as time goes you will look back on that as more of a positive memory. It’s just such a unique game to be a part of,” he said. “It was a lot of fun, and you learn a lot about the guys in that locker room, and you definitely think about it. Just happy and excited to be part of something kind of special like that.”

After falling behind 2-0 in the third period, North Dakota scored twice in 47 seconds with the goalie pulled for an extra attacker to even it up at the end of regulation. The teams had played an NCAA record 142 minutes and 13 seconds when the Bulldogs scored to win the game.

“You just kind of go back into your locker room and just kind of almost collapse in there,” Weatherby said. “They were just bringing us in all the food from the concession stand, and everything, you know, protein bars and anything that could get us calories. 

“It’s pretty crazy. We have an intermission clock in the locker room that’s ticking down and (I’d) be like ‘all right, you know, two more minutes I gotta stand up here.’ I stand up and you’re just like kinda going into the zone and you’re like ‘all right, I’ve got a job to do.’”

That 3-2 loss March 27 in the Fargo Regional final cost the Fighting Hawks a spot in the NCAA Frozen Four and will provide Weatherby and his teammates with motivation to make it further next postseason.

“The big thing is you want to win those last four games of the season, if you were lucky enough to get in the tournament. So for us, my goal is always to win a national championship,” he said. 

Jasper Weatherby
Jasper Weatherby had 14 goals, 10 assists and was a plus-seven as a junior for the University of North Dakota last season. (North Dakota Athletics photos)

“So that was a great experience. My first year we ended up losing in the playoffs the second round. And then the second year I came back and a lot of the guys, better players, had moved on to college, and I just kind of got given some opportunities and tried to put the work in that summer. Luckily they gave me some opportunities.”

In his second year he seized those opportunities, leading the league in scoring (74 points) and tying for the lead in goals (37) en route to winning the Vern Dye Memorial Trophy as the league MVP. Weatherby then led the BCHL playoffs in goals (15), assists (23), and points (38) as the Wild won the Fred Page Cup as league champions.

Weatherby’s successful stint in Wenatchee almost never happened, however. He wasn’t someone who was a top recruit guaranteed to get a roster spot. Weatherby got there with some hard work and good fortune.

“Not a lot of people know this, but I didn’t make a lot of junior teams and I think I must have been cut from like eight junior teams throughout those two years in Omaha and even before Omaha,” Weatherby said. “So Wenatchee was kind of like my last chance to make a good junior team. And I came in, there was I think five guys, and there was one spot. You know, I just played well and got lucky, and they ended up giving me that last spot.”

Oregon was not one of Wenatchee’s territory states from which it could recruit, but fortunately Weatherby’s mother was living in Lummi Island at the time. She had been filing his taxes from Washington state, so he was considered a resident and could compete for the Wild’s one opening for a Washington local (which explains why hockeydb.com lists his birthplace incorrectly as Lummi Island).

“It’s kind of funny how sometimes the stars align in that way,” Weatherby said. “I look back, if I hadn’t been from Washington, I wouldn’t have ever been able to play for Wenatchee because they did not have an opening for another import slot.”

A leader on and off the ice

Weatherby was an assistant captain last season and has a chance to become captain this year. Although the players vote to decide who wears the C and the A’s, Berry said he expects Weatherby to be wearing a letter again this season.

“I think he’s one of those guys that he doesn’t say probably a whole lot, but when he does it resonates in the locker room,” Berry said. “But you know the good leaders are the ones that back it up on the ice, or in the weight room, or in the community. They always do things at the highest level and every day. We call those guys ‘everydayers.’ And he is an everydayer, and guys follow that. And your bar is only going to go as high as your leaders, and he’s been an outstanding leader for us, especially over this last season. We’re really looking for great things for him and his leadership this year.”

Weatherby’s leadership extends beyond the dressing room and the ice rink. He’s one of three National Collegiate Hockey Conference representatives on the College Hockey for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion task force, and he’s a member of the UND Student-Athlete Inclusion and Diversity group.

After George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on May 25, 2020, Weatherby and Bernard-Docker took part in a Black Lives Matter march in Grand Forks, N.D. Before the Fighting Hawks’ 2020-21 season opener, the two players knelt during the playing of the U.S. national anthem to protest racial injustice. 

Believed to be the first Division I hockey players to kneel during the anthem, Weatherby wasn’t afraid of anyone’s criticism or trolling on social media. He said he and Bernard-Docker, who is from Canada, expected the mixed responses they received.

“So we kind of talked that summer, and I said I was going to do it. And he took his time … and decided that this was something he wanted to do,” Weatherby said of his close friend and former roommate of three years. “So we came out with an article beforehand kind of explaining why we’re doing it

“The positive stuff for us really outweighed the negative stuff. We had minority people messaging us on campus saying, ‘Thank you for that; sometimes we feel that North Dakota isn’t the most welcoming place for people like ourselves.’ And for us that’s all we needed to hear. If we can make UND and North Dakota welcoming for one person who doesn’t feel like it’s welcoming then we’ve done our job, and we’ve done the best we can.”

Preceding that season opener was a team meeting where everyone had a chance to share their views while others respectfully listened. By the sounds of it, a good percentage of our society could take a lesson from how the Fighting Hawks players from various parts of Canada and the U.S. learned about each other’s perspectives.

“It was really powerful to hear people’s opinions of what they believe in. And at the end of the day that’s kind of what makes these two countries so great is that people can have different opinions and still fight for the same cause,” Weatherby said. “I wasn’t gonna tell anyone that not kneeling is a bad thing, and I wasn’t gonna, hopefully, wasn’t gonna hear from my teammates that kneeling was a bad thing either. So we came to a mutual respect, and it brought our team a lot closer, which was a great thing.”

Family history of standing up against injustice

Weatherby’s grandmother and step-grandfather’s activism for social justice issues had significant influence on Weatherby and his family. Ann Macrory took part in the Selma to Montgomery, Ala., civil rights march in 1965 and was a civil rights lawyer. Ralph Temple, who was Jewish, moved to the United States from London at 7 because of Nazi advances across Europe, and he went on to become a civil rights lawyer who worked at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the ACLU. (Read the Grand Forks Herald’s coverage to learn about many more examples of Weatherby’s family’s passion for social justice.)

Jasper Weatherby is on the College Hockey for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion task force and UND’s Student-Athlete Inclusion and Diversity group. (North Dakota Athletics photo)

To those who make knee-jerk complaints that socially conscious athletes should be quiet and “stick to sports,” that’s not how Weatherby was brought up. To his critics, his response is, “educate yourself.”

“I’m a human being first, I have beliefs and feelings, and I’m an athlete second,” Weatherby, whose adopted brother is Black, said. “I think that sometimes in this world we like to put athletes on a pedestal and say just because you can shoot a ball through a hoop … that’s the only thing you are. And that’s so not true. I think that when you look at athletes who are able to voice their opinions and really become the people that they want, they’re just going to flourish in life. So I challenge those people and I say that my sport does not define who I am. Being a human being defines who I am and making choices for myself.”

Berry suggests Weatherby also developed his maturity, empathy, and some worldliness from moving around North America, living in different places, and being around different people.

“He’s a very deep thinking person. He’s a guy that is very sensitive, and he has a lot of care for everybody, and a lot of care for his teammates, and a lot of care for the people around him,” Berry said. “You know, he always approaches his day with kind of a deep thought process and that’s great to see.”

Being unafraid of standing out and drawing attention to yourself is quite unusual for hockey players. The culture of the sport has historically forced individuals to conform to certain restrained behaviors as a group. Being outspoken or drawing attention to yourself would be breaking one of those old “codes” that discourage actions that some might consider as individualistic. 

Unfortunately it took awful events such as the killing of George Floyd, the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin, racism directed at former NHLer Akim Aliu, and other incidents to prompt more players to change old habits, but it’s a start.

“I think for a long time it has kind of been a sport that’s been so stoic maybe, and not in a bad way, but hockey players are tough and they’re good people. I think that sometimes that can be misled for staying in line and don’t step out of the boundaries, but I think what we’re realizing now is that it’s good to be unique,” Weatherby said.

Becoming the seventh Oregon-born player to skate in the NHL would be unusual. Courageously standing up against racial injustice, trying to make college hockey more inclusive, and working to improve diversity on UND’s campus are proof that Weatherby isn’t just an anomaly in hockey; he’s someone truly exceptional.

Jim Wilkie is a longtime Northwest journalist, former NHL editor and NHL Insider writer for ESPN.com, onetime GSHL All-Star, and SJHA hockey dad. Follow him on Twitter @jimwilkie.

Everything you need to know about the NCAA Men’s Frozen Four

Everything you need to know about the NCAA Men’s Frozen Four

The NCAA Men’s Frozen Four is upon us, with the semifinals getting underway this Thursday and the championship game scheduled for Saturday at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh. We at Sound Of Hockey recognize that college hockey isn’t always the easiest thing to follow living in the Pacific Northwest, so we thought it would be helpful to bring you up to speed on the participants remaining in this incredible tournament and what to look for in what will surely be a riveting couple of days.

First, a few housekeeping items. The first semifinal will be played at 2PM Pacific on Thursday and will feature the Minnesota State Mavericks and the St. Cloud State Huskies. The second semifinal is scheduled for that same evening at 6PM Pacific with the UMass Minutemen facing the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs. Those semifinal games will be aired on ESPN2. The winners will move on to the championship, scheduled for 4PM Pacific on Saturday. That one will be on ESPN.

Also, before digging into the individual teams themselves, we wanted to take a quick look at how the remaining squads are constructed based on age.

It’s interesting to note that none of the teams with the really elite young NHL prospects remain, as Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Boston College were all bounced in the regionals, while Michigan was forced to back out due to Covid protocols.

The above proves that experience at the college level can be even more important than having elite skill on your roster. The most exceptional players typically don’t last beyond their sophomore seasons, often opting to leave school early to accept pro contracts. So, while it can certainly benefit a school in the very short term to recruit elite talent, it doesn’t necessarily lead to postseason success.

Minnesota State Mavericks

Record: 22-4-1

Conference: WCHA

Coach: Mike Hastings

How they got here: The Mavericks overcame a two-goal deficit against Quinnipiac in the opening round, earning a 4-3 overtime victory. They followed that up with a convincing 4-0 win over Minnesota in the Loveland regional championship to earn their first Frozen Four berth in school history.

What to know: One trend you’ll notice amongst these four teams is that they all managed to fly under the national radar to varying degrees this season. Minnesota State probably deserved more attention, based on its exceptional record, but it was hampered a bit by playing in a relatively soft WCHA conference.

Plus, this is a team that entered the NCAA Tournament having never won even a regional game, let alone getting through to the Frozen Four.

The Mavericks have remarkable structure on defense and do a great job of managing the puck, as was evident when they pushed the favored Golden Gophers around for 60 minutes last week. On the rare occasion that things break down, Hobey Baker finalist Dryden McKay is there manning the goal crease at an elite level, stopping 93 percent of the shots he’s faced and allowing just 1.39 goals per game this season.  

The Mavericks are very much a score-by-committee type of team with no obvious superstars, instead getting the job done with good structure through all three zones and a stifling combination of defense and goaltending. They also have the best power play of the teams remaining, clicking at 25% on the season.

Junior forward Julian Napravnik leads Minnesota State in scoring with 10 goals and 17 assists in 26 games.

NHL Draftees:

PlayerNHL TeamClassPositionDraft Year / Round
Todd BurgessOttawa SenatorsSeniorF2016 – fourth round
Nathan SmithWinnipeg JetsSophomoreF2018 – third round

St. Cloud State Huskies

Record: 19-10-0

Conference: NCHC

Coach: Brett Larson

How they got here: The Huskies knocked off two good teams from Boston—first Boston University, then Boston College—en route to the Frozen Four. Taking down BC and their many elite NHL prospects was especially impressive. The Huskies trailed after one period but came out flying in the second, potting three goals in the frame against Spencer Knight. SCSU ultimately skated to a 4-1 victory and a win of the Albany regional.

This is SCSU’s second Frozen Four appearance in school history. The previous appearance was in 2013—also in Pittsburgh—and ended with a semifinal loss to Quinnipiac.

What to know: St. Cloud’s record may not look that impressive when compared to that of its semifinal opponent from Mankato, but the Huskies come out of a much tougher conference in the NCHC, where they finished the regular season in second place behind North Dakota. The Huskies also made a bid to win the conference tournament, beating Minnesota Duluth before falling to UND in the championship game.

The Huskies bring a similar approach to the game as the Mavericks, getting production in relatively small doses from across their lineup. They do have a speedy and skilled forward in Veeti Miettinen, who leads the team in both goals (10) and points (22). They also have a strong puck mover on the backend in Nick Perbix, who has contributed 18 points from the blue line.

SCSU lost one of its top forwards in Easton Brodzinski when he cut across the middle and took a big hit in the regional championship against BC. Brodzinski was carried off the ice, and it was later revealed that he had broken his leg. To St. Cloud’s credit, the team rallied impressively and completed a surprising win to advance to the Frozen Four.

NHL Draftees:

PlayerNHL TeamClassPositionDraft Year / Round
Sam HentgesMinnesota WildJuniorF2018 – seventh round
David HrenakLos Angeles KingsSeniorG2018 – fifth round
Veeti MiettinenToronto Maple LeafsFreshmanF2020 – sixth round
Nick PerbixTampa Bay LightningJuniorD2017 – sixth round

Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs

Record: 15-10-2

Conference: NCHC

Coach: Scott Sandelin

How they got here: When it was announced that Michigan had been forced out of the NCAA Tournament because of Covid, Minnesota Duluth was given a free pass to the second round, meaning it just had to win one game to advance to the Frozen Four. Easy, right?

The only problem was that one game would end up being against tournament favorite North Dakota.

The Bulldogs were up for a battle, but so too were the Fighting Hawks. Not only did a battle ensue, but it turned into a war of attrition that lasted the length of more than two games, going into five overtimes before the Bulldogs finally found the winner in the longest game in NCAA Tournament history.

What to know: Scott Sandelin is an absolute wizard. Since no tournament was held last year, the Bulldogs remain two-time defending champions, and this is their fourth consecutive Frozen Four appearance. UMD is the youngest team left, as this year was supposed to be a re-building year for this program.

One thing that was interesting about that UND/UMD marathon is that Zach Stejskal, a freshman netminder who had only started seven games all season, got the nod and played into the fifth overtime before having to leave with cramps. He was replaced by Ryan Fanti, the sophomore who had gotten the majority of starts during the season. After sitting on the bench for five hours, Fanti shut the door on North Dakota and got his team over the hump to victory. It will be interesting to see which direction Sandelin goes with his netminders.

UMD is led offensively by Nick Swaney and Jackson Cates, who each have 27 points on the season. Freshman defenseman Wyatt Kaiser played 59 minutes in the marathon game and was absolutely outstanding.

By the way, Scott Sandelin’s son, Ryan, is on Minnesota State, so if the Bulldogs and Mavericks both advance, we would have a father-son showdown in the NCAA Championship. That would be neat.

NHL Draftees:

PlayerNHL TeamClassPositionDraft Year / Round
Blake BiondiMontreal CanadiensFreshmanF2020 – fourth round
Matt CairnsEdmonton OilersSeniorD2016 – third round
Noah CatesPhiladelphia FlyersJuniorF2017 – fifth round
Wyatt KaiserChicago BlackhawksFreshmanD2020 – third round
Cole KoepkeTampa Bay LightningJuniorF2018 – sixth round
Luke LoheitOttawa SenatorsSophomoreF2018 – seventh round
Quinn OlsonBoston BruinsSophomoreF2019 – third round
Nick SwaneyMinnesota WildSeniorF2017 – seventh round

UMass Minutemen

Record: 18-5-4

Conference: Hockey East

Coach: Greg Carvel

How they got here: The Minutemen got hot at exactly the right time, going 9-0-3 in their last 12 games, including a Hockey East Tournament championship and two relatively easy wins over Lake Superior State and Bemidji State in the Bridgeport regionals.

My math tells me UMass has given up just one goal per game in that 12-game stretch and just one total goal in the last three games combined.

What to know: The primary individual responsible for such low goals against is netminder Filip Lindberg, a 22-year-old Finnish netminder who had been playing out of his mind. However, in late breaking news, Lindberg will have to sit out due to Covid protocols and contact tracing, at least for Thursday.

Lindberg will be replaced by Matt Murray (not that Matt Murray), who actually had more starts than Lindberg this season. The team’s third goalie, Henry Graham, is also among those sitting for Covid protocols, so best friend of the Sound Of Hockey Podcast, Chris Peters, reports that a student manager will be dressing as the third goalie.

In front of Murray, UMass has the best defensive pairing in the Frozen Four in Zac Jones and Matt Kessel, so that should help lighten the load a bit. Still, this is a huge loss for the Minutemen.

UMass may be morphing into a perennial powerhouse under Carvel. The fact that this team is back here for its second straight appearance is impressive in and of itself. But the Minutemen lost Cale Makar, John Leonard, and Mario Ferraro since being defeated by UMD in the 2019 NCAA Championship.

And yet, here they are, back in the Frozen Four.

This is a team that went 5-29-2 in 2016-2017. Yes, you read that right. UMass won FIVE GAMES in an entire season before Carvel arrived and quickly brought in elite talent to bring this program up to speed.

The question is, can they avenge their 2019 loss to UMD?

UMass is led offensively by Bobby Trivigno, who has the most points of any player left in the NCAA Tournament with 31. Kessel and Jones have combined for 45 points from the blue line. Carson Gicewicz leads the team with 17 goals, but will also have to sit due to contact tracing.

NHL Draftees:

PlayerNHL TeamClassPositionDraft Year / Round
Marc Del GaizoNashville PredatorsJuniorD2019 – fourth round
Zac JonesNew York RangersSophomoreD2019 – third round
Matt KesselSt. Louis BluesSophomoreD2020 – fifth round
Filip LindbergMinnesota WildJuniorG2019 – seventh round

Darren Brown is the Chief Content Officer at Sound Of Hockey and the host, producer, and editor of the Sound Of Hockey Podcast. He is an inconsistent beer league goalie who believes that five players have to make a mistake before the puck gets to him. Follow him on Twitter @DarrenFunBrown or email darren@soundofhockey.com.