” There is a great story that will be told about our senior class. They leave a great legacy for us. They’re not just hockey players. Everyone of them is on the All-Academic team, everyone of them were darn near 100 points. Ethan ends with 99 today. Jimmy Murray was knocking on the door with another one tonight. But that story has to be told. Back in our city it’ll be told to our fans. Four straight regions, three championships, there will be some banners hanging for those seniors. There is a whole lot of pride in that locker room. You can’t talk about it now because it’s a devastated locker room” – Bob Motzko March 27, 2016
A season so full of promise, success and accolades ended quickly in the first round of the 2016 NCAA tournament. A hungry and determined Ferris State squad took an early lead, watched the Huskies rally in the third period and then capitalized on an overtime miscue to defeat the tourneys #2 seeded Huskies 5-4. In the course of the 2015-16 season, this team tied a school record for wins with 31 and in the process won the Alaska Gold Pan, the North Star College Cup and the NCHC Frozen Faceoff Tournament. Individual awards are almost too numerous to recall but included a Hobey Baker Finalist, MIke Richter Goaltender Finalist, NCHC Player of the Year, Goaltender of the Year, Defenseman of the Year and First Team All-American. Career 100 point scorers punctuated the lineup and seniors contributed over 250 points during the season.
For the fans, players and coaching staff this one will hurt for a while. It’s not often you see such a well-rounded team that was strong offensively, defensively, on special teams and at the goaltender position. This was a senior-laden team that seemed to be a lock for the Frozen Four. But it was not to be. That’s the nature of college hockey. There’s always next year.
And now it’s the task of the SCSU coaching staff to put the 2015-16 season behind them and rebuild for the 2016-17 season. Here’s a look at the team along with coaches comments as they prepare for the new season:
This is THE big team question mark entering the 2016-17 season. With the signature on an entry-level contract by junior Charlie Lindgren following the 2015-16 season, the goaltending for this season went from a position of strength to that of an unknown quantity. It’s true that sophomores David Zednik and UMass-Lowell transfer Jeff Smith and Freshman Zach Driscoll have yet to pay a single collegiate minute for the SCSU Huskies. However, before we paint too bleak a picture, we need to keep in mind Smith IS an experienced goaltender who played in eight games for the UMass-Lowell River Hawks recording a 3.02 GAA and .885 SV%. This was after a stellar 2013-14 campaign with Powell River of the BCHL compiling a 19-9-1 record and a 2.24 GAA and .923 SV%. His stock with the NHL Central Scouting Services took off and he was ranked as the 19th top North American goaltender in their final ranking in 2014. In 2015-16 he put together a solid season logging a .927 SV% and 2.48 GAA with a 25-12-0 record for the BCHL team. Driscoll’s outstanding play at Penticton of the BCHL saw him lead the league in GAA at 1.90 and SV% at .933 and he won 21 of his 26 starts in goal. He was rewarded by being named BCHL Goaltender of the Year. Zednik has an impressive resume including capturing three consecutive Class A MSHSL State Championships for St. Thomas Academy and the Frank Brimsek Award as the state’s top senior goaltender. He finished his high school career with a 60-10-3 record and a 1.48 GAA and .930 SV %. Zednik was a member of Wichita of the NAHL for two seasons playing in 25 games in 2014-15 and compiling a .894 SV% and 2.87 GAA. There is no anointed #1 goalie for the Huskies as we start the 2016-17 season. Most likely Smith and Driscoll will share goaltender duties to start the year until or if one plays himself into the starting position.
Coach Motzko Comment: ” I have no idea how our goaltending will be.”
Lost to graduation are four senior forwards (Benik, Morley, Murray and Kossila) who combined for 178 points in 2015-16. Add to that the loss of junior to be Patrick Russell who signed with Edmonton of the NHL and the number of points lost grows to 219. That’s a lot of ground to make up with the responsibility falling primarily on junior forwards Judd Peterson and Blake Winiecki who combined for 28 goals and 19 assists last season and a strong group of sophomores including Mikey Eyssimont, Robby Jackson, Jacob Benson, and Patrick Newell who combined for 35 goals and 49 assists. Senior Ryan Papa had an injury-riddled 2015-16 but is a proven scorer and it is hoped fellow seniors Ben Storm and Daniel Tedesco step forward offensively as well. And, even though the brothers Poehling have outstanding chemistry with a history of strong offensive production, it may not surface until the second half of the season as typically is the case with first-year players. The same goes for Jake Wahlin, another first-year forward.
The coaching staff is again trying to determine their lineup down the middle at center. For the time being, it looks to be Judd Peterson, Blake Winiecki and Ryan Poehling with additional consideration to moving Mikey Eyssimont or Patrick Newell to center.
Coach Motzko Comments: “We do match up well with teams around the league with our returning scorers. We do have offense returning but it’s young. I do think we can score some goals. At this point I have no idea how our lines will play out and we’ll be juggling our lines (to start the season). Some nights we may put a defenseman at forward or play seven defensemen. The Poehlings were a big line in high school and I’d be a fool not to try to play them together. Jake Wahlin has been very impressive after eight practices. Ryan Papa looks good – he’s a good hockey player and is working hard.””
The heart and soul of the 2015-16 defense was lost with the graduation of Hobey Baker finalist, All-American and NCHC Player of the Year, Ethan Prow. However, this is one position where the Huskies can probably withstand the loss of their best overall team player and keep on ticking. Outstanding depth at defense and the addition of a NHL first-round draft choice and the USHL’s Defenseman of the Year could make them an even more potent unit in 2016-17. The defense including junior, Nathan Widman (+21) and sophomores Jimmy Schuldt (+34), Will Borgen (+18) and Jon Lizotte (+10) were outstanding in 2015-16. Senior, Niklas Nevalainen was a key defensive and offensive component to this unit with 23 points in 38 games and a +18 ranking. The unit allowed 2.13 GPG and were ranked 10th nationally in team defense. First-year defenseman, Jimmy Schuldt and Will Borgen were both named to the NCHC All-Rookie Team. Add to this unit first round Detroit Red Wings draft choice Dennis Cholowski and USHL Defenseman of the Year Jack Ahcan and you have perhaps the deepest defensive unit in all of college hockey. Rounding out the unit is Clark Kuster with his 100 MPH slap shot and former Finnish World Junior player Mika Ilvonen and it’s an embarrassment of riches at the position.
Coach Motzko Comments: ” We have a strong nucleus of young defensemen in Borgen, Schuldt and Lizotte. Widman is a beast and one of our strongest athletes. Nevaleinen had his best season last year and is very popular with his teammates. There might be nights where we’ll play seven defensemen. We have great chemistry and culture to build on.”
Captain Jimmy Schuldt Comment: “Nine defensemen is a good problem to have.”
We’ll get a look at the rebuilt Huskies as they take on the University of Regina in an exhibition game on Sunday, October 2nd at 7:07 PM CT at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center. It’ll be a work in progress. That’s the nature of college hockey. There’s always the new year. Enjoy the season.