St. Cloud, MN – Before we get too crazy about the 8-0 result on Saturday vs Regina keep in mind the Huskies have now outscored the Cougars 25-4 in three meetings. Sister school, Minnesota State University Mankato matched the Huskies result on Sunday also winning 8-0. Nevertheless, it was a good environment for the coaching staff to evaluate the first-year players, fiddle with line combinations and tinker with the special teams play.
Coach Motzko came away from the contest pleased commenting “we are real happy with our young players – they had an impact on the game. We saw guys take steps from a year ago. That’s what you want to see. There’s a lot of good things you can take out of it (the exhibition game).”
One of the glaring positives is the depth on defense and the luxury of having eight defenseman that can step in and play. There’s no argument that the top four of Schuldt, Borgen, Lizotte and Ahcan are cast in stone. For the 5-6 positions, there will certainly be competition with Clark Kuster, Mika Ilvonen, Tyler Anderson and Lucas Jaycox vying for playing time. For Kuster and Ilvonen, they atoned for themselves quite well after a red shirt year. Ilvonen’s play improved as the contest went on and Kuster appears to be a smart reliable defenseman. I felt Jaycox and Anderson fit nicely with Jaycox slightly more game ready for the step up to the NCHC. With both at 6’2″ and close to 200 pounds they have the physical tools to win some of the battles along the boards that the now departed Dennis Cholowski struggled with at times last season.
For his first game as a Husky, Blake Lizotte was outstanding. Sure, he scored three goals but more importantly you have to be impressed with his hockey instincts and his ability to think ahead of the game. He’s a different type of player than former Husky Ryan Lasch but he’ll be no less of an impact player for the Huskies. His second goal of the game torching the defenseman wide and then beating the goaltender with a wrist shot was a thing of beauty. Be prepared to see a lot of this out of Lizotte as the season progresses. If there was any question as to whether Easton Brodzinski is ready for the next level that was quickly dispelled on Saturday. Overshadowed by brother Jonny and Michael, Easton has those offensive instincts of his own that will be fun to watch over the next several years. With soft hands and that patented Brodzinski shot there are several dimensions to his game that make him a sure success at the collegiate level. First-year forward Kevin Fitzgerald was perhaps the biggest surprise in my mind. He has great wheels, a good motor and is much more polished beyond what you would expect out of a first-year NAHL player. He was placed on a line with Jake Wahlin and Jacob Benson and he’s benefitting from playing with players with a higher level of skill. As a late recruit, Fitzgerald was a steal for the Huskies.
It was great to see Judd Peterson back in form after his off-season hip surgery. With the best asset of his game being his skating and ability to use the larger dimension of the HBNHC to his advantage it should be a successful senor campaign for Peterson. As one of three seniors, his leadership will be essential to the Huskies success this season. Juniors Newell, Jackson and Benson (and Mikey Eyssimont who did not play) are going to be counted on heavily in 2017-18. All three put forth a solid effort on Saturday.
Finally, the goaltending has to be better than it was in 2016-17. The threesome of Smith, Hrenak and Zevnik pitched a shut out on Saturday against an offensively challenged Cougar squad. We’re going to need a few more weeks of competition against higher level teams to draw any reasonable conclusions. But, heck, a shutout in the first outing is a great start.
The Huskies will face a severe test this weekend in a single game vs Minnesota State Mankato on the road. The Mavericks also dismantled Regina 8-0 and are the favorite in the WCHA. They are a seasoned team with great depth, experienced goaltending and upper class leadership. As you may recall, the Mavericks laid 10 goals on the Huskies last October in their 4-1 and 6-4 sweep in Mankato. I’ll have a preview later in the week but here’s last years blogs regarding the series as a refresher and recent comments from Mankato coach Mike Hastings.