St. Cloud State freshman Zach Okabe entered Saturday’s first semifinal of the Mariucci Classic against Minnesota State Mankato without a point in 13 games played.
He left with a memory he won’t forget.
Okabe, a third-line right winger, scored a hat trick and added a fourth goal for good measure as the Huskies stunned the No. 2-ranked Mavericks 7-2 at 3M Arena at Mariucci.
The four goals are a single-game record for the tournament and moved St. Cloud State into Sunday’s 7 p.m. championship against the Gophers, who beat Bemidji State 5-2 in the second semifinal.
“When that fourth one goes in, you don’t know how to react,’’ said Okabe, who also tied the NCHC single-game record for goals. “I was just so excited.’’
St. Cloud State (6-7-4) had been inconsistent during the first half of the season but put it all together against MSU Mankato (15-3-1). The Huskies carried play from the start and did so against a team that featured goalie Dryden McKay, the nation’s leader in goals-against average (1.09) and save percentage (.955) coming into this weekend.
“They played really hungry,’’ Mavericks coach Mike Hastings said of the Huskies. “… They played in groups of five, and didn’t matter what five were out there. They were real committed in what they were doing.’’
Okabe, an Okotoks, Alberta, native, started the onslaught by scoring at 5:22 of the first period, marking only the third time this season that the Mavericks hadn’t scored first. He boosted the lead to 2-0 at 16:08 of the first on a rush, firing the puck over McKay’s right shoulder.
Okabe completed his natural hat trick 1:38 into the second and scored his fourth goal at 7:17 to make it 5-1, prompting Hastings to pull McKay.
“He’s been playing really hard,’’ Huskies assistant coach Nick Oliver said of Okabe. “He’s been generating a lot of chances and making a lot of plays.’’