Brand, Huskies not surprised with season
Park Rapids graduate knew the St. Cloud State University men's hockey team had the talent to reach the NCAA Division I National Championship game.
Not many people expected the St. Cloud State University men’s hockey team to reach the Frozen Four this season.
Chase Brand and his SCSU teammates weren’t among them.
The Huskies entered the season unranked in the national polls, but ended up in the No. 2 spot following a 5-0 loss to the University of Massachusetts in the NCAA Division I Men’s Hockey Championship game at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on April 10. It was the first title for UMass and the first trip to the national title game for the Huskies.
While the Huskies didn’t receive much respect before the season started, Brand knew SCSU had the talent to be among the top NCAA Division I teams by the end of the season.
“Not being ranked to start the season definitely gave us a chip on our shoulders,” said Brand. “Every player and coach believed in our group, and we felt like we were one of the best teams in the country since Day 1.”
SCSU received an at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament with a runner-up finish at the National Collegiate Hockey Conference Frozen Faceoff. The Huskies defeated Colorado College 2-1 on March 12 and Minnesota Duluth 3-2 on March 15 before falling to North Dakota 5-3 in the title game on March 16. Brand scored a shorthanded goal in the second period that proved to be the game-winner in the victory over Duluth. North Dakota was rated No. 1 while Duluth was rated No. 9 in the national polls.
At the NCAA Regionals at Albany, New York, SCSU defeated No. 10 Boston University 6-2 on March 27 and No. 3 Boston College 4-1 on March 28 to advance to the Frozen Four.
SCSU advanced to the championship game with a 6-4 win over No. 5 Minnesota State Mankato in the semifinals on April 8. Massachusetts, which was ranked No. 6 in the nation, capped off a 20-5-4 season by defeating Duluth 3-2 in overtime in the semifinals and shutting out the Huskies in the title game. SCSU entered its first national championship game in school history rated No. 7 in the nation while finishing with a 20-11 record. The shutout was only the second for SCSU this season.
“It was obviously very tough losing in the National Championship game, but looking back after a few days it really sunk in how special it was. Seeing the support from the school, the alumni and the city of St. Cloud was unbelievable to see,” said Brand. “It’s pretty cool to be the first team in school history to reach the National Championship game considering all the great teams St. Cloud State has had in the past.”
Brand appeared in 26 games for the Huskies this season, tallying four goals and four assists on 18 shots while posting a +8 rating on the ice. Brand also had 10 blocks.
Brand had an assist in a 4-3 loss to North Dakota on Dec. 16, scored a goal in a 4-3 win over Duluth on Jan. 8, scored a goal in an 8-2 win over Miami (Ohio) on Feb. 23, and had assists in a 5-1 win over Western Michigan on Feb. 5, a 4-2 win over Miami on Feb. 13, and a 4-0 victory over Colorado College on Feb. 20. The sophomore forward capped off the regular season by scoring a goal in a 4-3 overtime win over Duluth on March 6.
“My role on the team this season was more of a two-way role,” said Brand, who had five goals and seven assists in 31 games as a freshman. “I was counted on to provide offense, but I was also relied upon defensively. My growth in my defensive game this year is something I am very proud of.”
The season began with the NCHC teams playing in a pod at Omaha, Nebraska, from Dec. 1-20. The Huskies went 6-3 in nine games in the pod before games returned to normal on Jan. 2.
North Dakota claimed the NCHC title with an 18-5-1 record and 54 points while the Huskies finished at 15-9 for 45 points during the regular season. Rounding out the conference standings were Duluth (13-9-2, 43 points), Omaha (14-9-1, 40 points), Western Michigan (10-11-3, 33 points), Denver (9-12-1, 31 points), Colorado College (4-16-2, 18 points) and Miami Ohio (5-17-2, 18 points).
“Playing in the pod was a very unique experience, from living in a hotel for a month to getting tested (for COVID) every day. But I enjoyed it a lot,” said Brand. “We also had a lot of success as a team in the pod, which gave us a lot of confidence. I think the main thing that made us so good aside from having skilled players was our cohesiveness. The culture at St. Cloud is all about family and I think that played a huge part in our success.”
In addition to playing in his first Frozen Four, Brand (a finance major) was named the recipient of the NCAA Elite 90 award for the 2021 NCAA Division I Men's Hockey Championship. The Elite 90, an award founded by the NCAA, recognizes the true essence of the student-athlete by honoring the individual who has reached the pinnacle of competition at the national championship level in his or her sport, while also achieving the highest academic standard among his or her peers. The Elite 90 is presented to the student-athlete with the highest cumulative grade-point average participating at the finals site for each of the NCAA's championships. In order to be eligible for the award, student-athletes must be either a sophomore, junior and senior who has participated in their sport for at least two seasons with the institution. Additionally, Brand was named to the NCHC's All-Academic Team thanks to his 3.96 grade point average (GPA).
Playing for the national title is going to be a tough act for Brand and the Huskies to follow. However, the 2017 Park Rapids Area High School graduate is not counting out another trip to the Frozen Four and another spot in the championship game.
“I think the sky is the limit for this group next year. Almost everyone on our team is coming back, so we should have essentially the same team,” said Brand. “Now that we have had the taste of playing in the National Championship and losing, it’s on everyone’s minds to work that much harder to come out on the right side of it next year.”