FARGO — A year ago, Grant Cruikshank was helping the Gophers men's hockey team reach its first NCAA Frozen Four in eight years. On Saturday night, Cruikshank will try to do his best to prevent the Gophers from returning to the national semifinals.
The fifth-year senior center and his St. Cloud State teammates face Minnesota in the Fargo Regional final, aiming to reach the program's second Frozen Four in the past three years. Cruikshank enters the game as the second-line center for the Huskies, and his 23 goals this season were tied for third in the nation through Thursday.
He doesn't expect any added nerves Saturday because this isn't Cruikshank's first rodeo when it comes to facing former teammates.
"It might be a little weird, but honestly, this year having played them earlier in the season, having played CC [Colorado College] five times, I feel like I'm pretty comfortable with it now,'' he said. "The first couple times I was playing my former schools, it was a little weird.''
"Former schools'' is correct. Cruikshank twice has used the transfer portal to change destinations. The Delafield, Wis., native played three seasons at Colorado College, collecting 30 goals and 15 assists. After a coaching change with the Tigers, he transferred to Minnesota, where he had seven goals and seven assists in 33 games in 2021-22. He then landed at St. Cloud State, where his game has blossomed.
Cruikshank quickly made an impact with the Huskies, amassing six goals and four assists in the season's first six games. He had a four-game goal-scoring streak in November, cooled off with a five-game pointless streak from late-January to mid-February, and now carries a four-game point streak into the regional final. He's had a goal and an assist in each of the Huskies' past two victories.
"It doesn't really matter who we play or what team's across from us,'' Cruikshank said. "We need to focus on ourselves. That's how we've been approaching every day and every game this year.''
Brodzinski family ties
The Brodzinski family of Blaine has deep ties to both teams in Saturday's regional final. Mike Brodzinski played one game for the Gophers in 1983-84 before becoming a captain for the Huskies. His sons Jonny and Easton played for the Huskies, while son Mike is a former Gopher and Bryce is a current Gopher who scored a third-period hat trick in Thursday's semifinal against Canisius.
Bryce nearly had a fourth goal, but his bar-down effort was overturned via video review. He wasn't upset about it, though.
"I was more mad at [Logan] Cooley for not scoring on the one I passed to him. I usually don't get a lot of assists,'' said Brodzinski, a shoot-first player who has 45 career goals and 36 assists. "When I passed him that one, he said, 'Sorry.' He gave me a goal back afterwards.''
Target on their backs
Aaron Huglen's second-period goal Thursday against Canisius tied the score 2-2 and put the Gophers on the path of ending the Golden Griffins' upset hopes in the eventual 9-2 Minnesota win. The scare got the Gophers' attention.
"There's a lot of hype being the No. 1 team,'' Huglen said. "You've got to be humble. They came out strong, and there's no bad team in this tournament.''