It’s a never-ending process in Division One college hockey. Players graduating, signing pro contracts, transferring to other programs and defecting for various reasons. The collegiate coaching staff has to constantly be on the move evaluating players to fill gaps in their rosters three to four years down the road. Like a successful salesperson, they need to prospect, make a proposal to a prospective recruit and finally close the deal. Competition nationally for the elite player is intense and the coaching staffs that project properly and get entrenched early on these players ultimately will have the upper hand in closing the deal. The SCSU coaching staff has done their homework well and is bringing in a diverse group of quality players in it’s 2017-18 freshman class. This class is the result of three to four years of diligent recruiting and will supplement a roster ready to make some noise this season. With that said, let’s take a look at the 2017-18 group of first-year players:
Tyler Anderson – 6’2″ 200 (Winnipeg, Manitoba) Defense
You’d have to go back to the 2005-06 season to find a player on the SCSU roster from Winnipeg, Manitoba. That season, the Huskies roster included goaltender Tim Boron. Before that it was the 2000-01 season with a roster that included all-purpose player, Ritchie Larson and future NHLer Tyler Arnason. Larson was probably the last Husky to skate in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League playing for the Winnipeg South Blues in the late 90’s. So, it’s a rarity to have a MJHL player on the roster. After two seasons with the Pistons of the Canadian Junior “A” League, his on-ice performance improved enough to garner attention from the Huskies. The 6’2″ 200 pound Anderson blossomed into one of the top defenseman in the MJHL during the 2016-17 season with 12 goals and 34 assists for 46 points and 31 PIM in 53 regular season games. He also had an impact in the playoffs with 8 points in 12 games. His efforts during the season earned him two MJHL Defenseman of the Month honors and a spot on the 2016-17 MJHL All-Star Second Team. In a release by the Pistons Anderson stated ” For me, a huge part of choosing St. Cloud was because of the reputation of the program. It’s a great program that is competitive every year and it’s close to home so my family can come watch a lot of games.” Pistons General Manger Paul Dyck commented ” His game developed at a rapid rate this past season and he provided strong leadership in our (locker) room. Tyler has great character and although we will miss him we are extremely excited for him on his commitment to St. Cloud.”
A rangy 6’2″ and 200 pounds and a good skater, Anderson has proven the ability to add to the offense and is a good addition to the strong corps of defenseman on SCSU’s roster. In early practices, the SCSU coaching staff has been pleased with what they see and don’t be surprised to see Anderson rotated into the lineup early in the season.
Anderson plans to be a Bio-Med science major at St. Cloud State University.
Easton Brodzinski – 6’1″ 191 (Blaine, MN) Forward
The legacy of the Brodzinski family at SCSU continues with Easton Brodzinski joining the squad in 2017-18. He follows in the footsteps of his father Mike who was a prolific scorer for the Huskies from 1984 to 1987 compiling 146 points and brother Jonny, currently with the Los Angeles Kings who netted 64 goals and added 48 assists for 112 points in just three seasons from 2012 to 2015. Younger brother Bryce, currently a sophomore at Blaine (MN) High School and another goal-scoring machine has indicated his intentions to join the Huskies as well.
SCSU recruit Easton Brodzinski is a goal scorer. He’s proven it at every level he’s played at. At Blaine (MN) High School he amassed 52 goals and 34 assists for 86 points in 92 games. Moving on to the British Columbia Junior Hockey League powerhouse Penticton Vees, he piled up 36 goals and 40 assists for 76 points in 65 games playing alongside NHL first-round draft choices Tyson Jost (UND) and Dante Fabbro (BU). So, after being taken in the fourth round of the USHL’s Phase 2 Draft in 2016 by Fargo he was positioned to light it up for the Force correct? Not so fast. To the surprise of many, he chugged along for eight games without a single point and was subsequently traded by the Fargo Force to the Madison Capitals on October 25. The 6′ 1″ 191 pound right-handed forward had an immediate impact scoring twice in his first game and then netting two consecutive hat tricks and was named USHL forward of the Week on November 21st. He was subsequently traded to the Green Bay Gamblers for the playoff run. Brodzinski finished the season with 23 goals and 16 assists for 39 points in 53 games placing him 12th in league goal scoring.
Brodzinski’s game can probably be compared to that of former SCSU power forward Patrick Russell. Though slightly smaller than Russell, neither are going to dazzle you with their outright speed on the ice. However, that’s not his game. He’s going to use his size and surprisingly soft hands to control the puck. But, his biggest asset much like Russell is his big-time shot – particularly, a deadly accurate wrist shot with a quick release that many times is past the goaltender before he can react.
Brodzinski will receive ample opportunity to crack the regular lineup of the Huskies in 2017-18. His size and scoring ability will be counted on to provide an immediate impact. Don’t be surprised to see Brodzinski receive some opportunity on the power play as well this season.
Kevin Fitzgerald – 6’0″ 180 (Hinsdale, IL) Forward
The Huskies have bolstered their depth at forward with the addition of Veteran NAHL forward Kevin Fitzgerald. The 6′ 180 pound left-shooting forward from Hinsdale, IL most recently played for the Aberdeen Wings of the North American Junior Hockey League. The 21 year-old has played portions of three seasons in the league and a majority of the 2014-15 season with the Vermont Lumberjacks of the EHL. Fitzgerald was coached by former SCSU player Doc Delcastillo in Vermont. Fitzgerald led the Wings in scoring with 22 goals and 37 assists for 59 points in 60 games. Fitzgerald is a good skating forward who has improved his offense each year in the league and will provide added depth to the SCSU forward position. In early practices the coaching staff has been impressed with this recruit.
Coach Scott Langer said this of the gregarious Fitzgerald to the St. Cloud Times “He is an outgoing kid; a kid the other kids want to be around. He’s seldom in a bad mood. He’s got a personality that is contagious in the locker room. It’s been a great joy to coach Kevin. It takes some guys time to figure out what it takes to be a player of that caliber. He’s used his entire eligibility and it’s been worth the time for him and he’s turned into quite a hockey player.”
Langer also noted “Kevin has had to earn everything he has achieved in his hockey career. Kevin just doesn’t fall short when it comes to work ethic. As a coach it is a blessing to be able to come to the arena each day to coach a player with such high-end character. The Huskies are getting a first class young man.”
Fitzgerald is also an outstanding student. He recently told the St. Cloud Times ” It’s a great program (SCSU), always up in the national polls. Once I was on campus and saw how things are run in practices and the school, I fell in love with it.
William Hammer – 6’2″ 200 (St.Cloud, MN ) Forward
SCSU added a big body and seasoned junior hockey player in St. Cloud native Will Hammer.The St. Cloud Cathedral graduate put in three years and 169 games in the NAHL between the Aberdeen Wings and Minnesota Magicians prior to committing to the Huskies.
The 6’2″ 200 pound forward had four successful years of hockey for the St. Cloud Cathedral Crusaders playing in 100 high school games compiling an impressive 65 goals and 80 assists for 145 points. His contributions helped lead the Crusaders to the Class A Minnesota State High School hockey tournament in 2014 finishing in fourth place. Hammer was named captain of his Cathedral team his senior season and was named the St. Cloud Times All Area Player of the Year. However the offense did not come easily at the next level adding just 9 goals and 24 assists for 33 points in 109 games for the Aberdeen Wings. He found more maturity and production in his game after being traded to the Minnesota Magicians by Aberdeen for the 2016-17 season. With the Magicians, Hammer once again found his offensive game netting 18 goals and adding 23 assists for 41 points in 60 games while playing for former SCSU goaltender and head coach Scott Meyer.
Coach Scott Meyer told the St. Cloud Times “He was voted one of our captains within 2-3 weeks of being here, which says a lot about him as a player and as a person. I think he’s an underrated skater. He’s strong on the forecheck and he’s versatile. One of the reasons why we were from our (penalty kill) being really poor at the beginning of the year to being one of the tops in the league was because of Will. He’s constantly working. He’s got sneaky skill and he will do some of the dirty work in the corners and in the front of the net,” Meyer said. “He played with some high skill guys and kept up with them.”
Amateur scouting site Neutral Zone noted “Hammer is big, strong and played with a long stick and good hard shot. The 1996 is also a very smart player. He gets to excellent spots without the puck and can catch and shoot quickly. We liked him last year in Aberdeen and here as well. He is direct, experienced and understands how to make plays.”
The 20 year old should assume his role as a big, strong forward that can help the Huskies offense and should immediately see some ice time for the Huskies in 2017-18.
On playing in St. Cloud he commented “I’m more than happy to play in my hometown. I’ve been to a lot of Huskies games. This is a dream come true.”
David Hrenak 6’1″ 170 (Povazska, Bystrica, Slovakia) Goaltender
The Huskies solidified their goaltending position with the addition of Hrenak, an 19 year-old from Povazska, Bystrica, Solvakia. Hrenak was a teammate of fellow recruit, Easton Brodzinski with the Green Bay Gamblers of the United States Hockey League (USHL). In 33 games he was 15-14-1 with a 2.24 GAA and .923 SV% including four shutouts. The 6″2″ 181 goaltender was ranked the 24th North American goaltender in the NHL Central Scouting final rankings for the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. Neutral Zone, a leading source on NCAA prospect rankings has Hrenak ranked as a four star (out of 5) recruit.
Hrenak has extensive experience in the Slovakian amateur system skating for the Slovakian U18 and U17 teams in 2014-15 and the Slovakian U18 and U20 team for the IIHF World Junior Championships in 2015-16. He was a teammate of Adam Huska, current goaltender for the University of Connecticut who also played for Team Slovakia in the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championships.
“David has developed very quickly for us,” said Gamblers head coach Pat Mikesch. “The skill level of the USHL challenges goalies to be focused and consistent in some very tough environments. His athletic ability and work ethic will enable him to play at the highest levels of hockey in the future.”
Still maturing as a goaltender, Hrenak has solid footwork, a good glove-hand and doesn’t give up a lot of rebounds.In communicating with the player he concurred, suggesting his rebound control is one of the strongest elements of his game. When asked what steered his commitment to St. Cloud, he commented it was the quality of the coaching staff and the reputation St. Cloud has as one of the top college programs in the country. The last Slovakian to play for the Huskies was forward Peter Szabo who was with the team from 2001-2005.
Look for Hrenak to provide serious competition to Jeff Smith for playing time in 2017-18.
Lucas Jaycox 6’2″ 194 (Warroad, MN) Defense
The Huskies bolstered an already deep defensive corp with the addition of veteran USHLer Lucas Jaycox. The 6’2″ 194 pound left -shooting 20 year-old defenseman from Warroad, MN has played two plus years for the Lincoln Stars of the United States Hockey League. A defensive oriented blueliner, Jaycox has 3 goals and 18 assists for 21 points in 122 games including 107 PIM and +24. Previous to that, he was a three-year player for Warroad (MN) High School picking up 47 points in 96 games. Jaycox was originally a commit to Northern Michigan University of the WCHA. This late addition made sense with the departure of first-year defenseman, Dennis Cholowski who signed with the Detroit Red Wings.
Neutral Zone, an amateur hockey scouting service noted: “A big, hard to beat, stay at home defenseman out of Warroad HS (MN) in his second season in the USHL with Lincoln. He takes pride in his defensive zone play, brings a physical dimension, and does a nice job holding the offensive blue line. While his puck skills are limited, he makes short, crisp passes and doesn’t try to do too much.”
Known for his defensive play, the Huskies coaching staff has been impressed with his ability to move the puck typically a necessity for SCSU defensemen. Jaycox will have difficulty cracking the top four group of DE but should see some rotations into the 5-6 positions of depth at defense.
On choosing St. Cloud Jaycox commented ” St. Cloud State is a great hockey school with a lot of history. I am excited for the opportunity to play in my home state in front of friends and family.”
Blake Lizotte 5’7″ 160 (Chisago Lakes, MN) Forward
The Huskies snared one of the top offensive stars in the USHL with 2017-18 recruit Blake Lizotte. Neutral Zone, a leading source on NCAA player rankings listed Lizotte as the 4th top North American NCAA eligible prospect out of 600 that were born in 1997. Lizotte finished second in the USHL in scoring with 65 points (19G, 46A) and in 56 games. His 46 assists also ranked second in the league, and he was fifth among all players with an average of 1.16 points/game. Lizotte dished out multiple points in a game 12 times, including a season-high five assists in Fargo’s first game of the season, a 7-4 win in Omaha over the Lancers. He was named USHL Forward of the Week for that performance and also earned weekly honors on March 13 following five points (2G, 3A) in two games. The Lindstrom, MN native was named to the U.S. Junior Select Team for the World Junior A Challenge and helped Team USA to a gold medal in the tournament.
In 2014-15 he finished with 52 points, +27 and 10th in the NAHL in assists with 38 for Minot. Lizotte was selected as the fourth overall pick in phase 2 of the 2015 USHL Draft by the Fargo Force. Not missing a beat, Lizotte continued his strong offensive play in the highly defensive USHL racking up 46 points in 54 games in 2015-16 season.
Academically sound and not averse to hard work, Lizotte gains the respect of his coaches wherever he plays. Former NHLer, Marty Murray, who coached him in Minot told the St. Cloud Times in a 2015 interview “When you watch him, you notice his play-making ability and his hockey sense is off the charts. He does stuff you can’t teach. What separates him from a lot of players is his compete level is very strong and his heart on the ice is exceptional. He doesn’t back down. He has the ability to spin off people and is fun to watch. He’s always thinking the game and is one step ahead of it.” Current Fargo Force coach Cary Eades told USAHockey.com “He’s a hard worker and he’s very consistent and really reliable. He’s quietly a leader and inspiration in how hard he plays for his size. You can’t measure heart. St. Cloud has a good one down the road.”
Watching Lizotte play, he’s a good skater with a low center of gravity and as such you rarely see him upended. He has excellent stick skills, has a great motor and works hard and has an uncanny ability to snake through traffic. One of his greatest assets is his anticipation – always seeming to think ahead of the play. It’s one reason, despite his size that he is effective defensively as he seems to be ahead of his opponent on the forecheck or driving to the net.
Both current players and coaching staff have commented on the skill and polished play of Lizotte in early practices. Lizotte should gain regular playing time for the Huskies immediately in 2017-18 and should be an impact player.