Friday: MSU 4 SCSU 1 | Saturday: MSU 6 SCSU 4
Here’s just a sampling of the texts I received this past weekend during the Mankato series:
“Light a fire under the defensive zone?”
“Why are they giving up so many goals? Bad goaltending, bad defense or both?”
“What the Hell happened tonight?”
Getting swept by the Mavericks this past weekend wasn’t very palatable for many of the Husky fans I talked to following Saturday nights game. After a 31 win season in 2015-16, the SCSU fans are conditioned to see wins and at the least a split on the road. However, we need to sit back and reflect on the changes this team has gone through since last season. In addition to losing their top six scorers, the Huskies also lost a certain All-American in goal in Charlie Lindgren who signed with the Montreal Canadiens. An early pro signing by 20 goal scorer Patrick Russell was another huge hit to the offense. Those factors could make for a bumpy road to start the season for the Huskies.
So what happened this past weekend? Coach Motzko explained in his post game interview “We gave up ten goals in five periods and it’s inexcusable. Yes, we didn’t get solid goaltending and yes, we made a tremendous amount of mistakes”. He further commented “They blindsided us. We didn’t expect this to happen. We came in here thinking we’d pick up right where we left off last season”.
No question, with a deep and talented defensive corps returning it was a surprise to see the Mavericks lay ten goals on the Huskies – four on Friday and six on Saturday. Shots on goals favored MSU slightly – 57 to 51 for the weekend series so that wasn’t an issue. Special teams play was not an issue either with a total of seven power play opportunities between the two squads the entire weekend (SCSU 0/4; MSU 1/3).What was an issue was allowing the MSU forwards to repeatedly get behind the Huskies defense to victimize first-year goaltenders Jeff Smith and Zach Driscoll. A combination of poor defensive zone coverage and missed assignments by the forwards left the first-year goaltenders to fend for themselves with the result being a combined .824 SV% for the weekend. So yes, as expected, the inexperienced goaltending of the Huskies turned out to be shaky. However, the resulting 10 goals is not totally on their shoulders. That’s a simplistic explanation of the result. But, the goaltending has to be better. Also, with two regular season games under their belt vs league rival Michigan Tech, the Mavericks were certainly a step ahead of the Huskies on Friday night. Saturday, not so much.
But, I do disagree with coach as I did expect this to be a difficult series. The Huskies may have had a seven game winning streak vs the Mavericks coming into the series but were only 2-3-1 at the Verizon Center since the 2007-08 season. It’s been a difficult venue for the Huskies over the years. And, yes, the MSU Mavericks under Mike Hastings have had one of the best winning records in college hockey during his tenure as coach. With returning goaltending, quality forwards and a beefed up defense, I wasn’t surprised that they’d compete well vs the Huskies.
For this team to be successful, the Huskies need to rely on their upperclassmen to do the scoring (at least the first half of the season) and that’s what happened on Saturday night. Goals by Papa, Peterson, Winiecki and Tedesco kept them in this see-saw game and a late third period goal by Schuldt ( that was subsequently disallowed by a hand pass) could have changed Saturday’s result. The offense was certainly better on Saturday and I felt the upperclassmen did a good job leading. Juniors Judd Peterson and Blake Winiecki both showed the importance they’ll play on this years squad and how successful an experienced, physical forward can be in this league. Two aggressive drives to the net resulted in an assist and a goal for Peterson and Winiecki finished Saturday 1-1-2 after a successful game controlling the puck. And, Ryan Papa who was also 1-1-2 on Saturday proved he can be an effective offensive player after suffering through two years of injuries. The Papa, Winiecki and J Poehling line was +2 with five points on Saturday. It was also good to see senior Daniel Tedesco net a goal on Saturday after a solid night of play in the offensive zone with linemates Ben Storm and Jacob Benson. Mikey Eyssimont was competing against MSU’s top line and finished the weekend -3. He had great chemistry with power forward Patrick Russell last season and it’s obvious he misses him as a linemate right now.
The Jackson, Ryan Poehing and Newell line had a rough go of it on Saturday going -3 as a line. Playing in the NCHC after nine USHL games is a lot to throw at seventeen-year old Ryan Poehling but flashes of his skating, competitiveness and instincts were apparent all weekend. Mark my words, he’ll be one of the top first-year players in the league by years end. It was good to see Jack Poehling get his first assist and I’ve been extremely impressed with his play. He plays physical, has great hockey instincts and can shoot the puck. He’s going to have a successful career at SCSU. First-year defenseman, Dennis Cholowski struggled at times over the weekend with a -3 plus/minus. He was tentative at times and it’ll simply take some time to reach his comfort zone defensively. First-year defenseman, Jack Ahcan was inserted Saturday and as expected, had a successful first outing. It’s apparent, the USHL does a fine job preparing these players defensively. He’ll be everything the Huskies coaching staff expected out of him. Jake Wahlin may have been the biggest surprise. The first-year forward from White Bear Lake displayed speed and toughness and scored his first collegiate goal on Friday. There were no weekend jitters for this experienced USHL player.