High Expectations for 2018-19 SCSU Rookie Class

Brett Larson Photo Courtesy St. Cloud State

St. Cloud, MN – Despite having two collegiate National Championship rings, consider head coach Brett Larson a member of the 2018-19 SCSU “Rookie” class.

Larson began his coaching career in 2008-09 as an assistant with the UMD Bulldogs. After three seasons, he assumed the head coaching position for the Sioux City Musketeers of the United States Hockey League. He then moved on to Ohio State University as Associate head coach for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons helping to recruit some of the players on the 2017-18 Frozen Four Buckeye team. He returned to UMD and most recently was a member of the Bulldog staff for two seasons. Larson was a member of the coaching staff for both the 2011 and 2018 National Championship Bulldog squads. Additionally, Larson served as the head coach for gold medal-winning Team USA at the 2012 World Junior A Challenge.  He captained the Bulldogs during his senior year in 1994-95 when he attained Western Collegiate Hockey Association All-Academic Team recognition for a third straight time and also landed the team’s Community Service Award. He was selected in the 11th round by the Detroit Red Wings in the 1990 National Hockey League draft.

Hired in April, Larson became the third coach in SCSU Division I history and immediately began the task of transitioning the team to a new coaching staff. First on his list was to retain long-time assistant Mike Gibbons to provide consistency and experience and most of all an existing relationship with the returning team members. Next, was to hire former SCSU player and captain Nick Oliver as the other assistant coach. At the time, Larson commented “We couldn’t be more excited to add Nick Oliver to our staff. Nick is one of the most respected captains to ever play at SCSU. He’s a person of strong character and work ethic, his passion and enthusiasm for this program will be obvious to the current team and future recruits.” Third, TJ Jindra was hired as the Interim Coordinator of Hockey and Video Operations. “We’re excited about adding T.J. Jindra to our staff,” Larson said.  “T.J. was a highly respected captain at Notre Dame, a very good recruiter and coach at Alaska Anchorage. He’s very well respected for his leadership, work ethic, and knowledge of the game. His skillset and attention to detail make him a great fit to run our video system as well as coordinate day-to-day hockey operations here at St. Cloud State.”

Finally, from a team standpoint, it was important to do his best to retain two-year captain and top-ten Hobey Baker candidate Jimmy Schuldt for his senior season. On that end, Schuldt announced on April 30th that he would be returning for his final season. Never one to draw a lot of attention to himself Schuldt stated simply “Junior year in the books. Excited for one more…”. Larson, who considered Schuldt his top recruit heading into the 2018-19 season told the St. Cloud Times “From a selfish side, I was really, really hoping he’d be back. There’s not a lot of holes in his game. He’s a power-play guy, kills penalties, can go against another team’s top line, has good size and skating ability … He’s good on the offensive and defensive side of the puck. He’s truly a complete player.”

With the team organizational structure in place, Larson could concentrate on the committed incoming recruits and making sure all were signed to a National Letter of Intent for the 2018-19 season. With minimal departures from the 2017-18 NCHC Penrose Cup Champions, he inherited an outstanding crop of first-year players.

Much like the highly successful rookie class of 2015-16, this group of recruits should build a foundation for the next four seasons. Having lost only one defenseman from the 2017-18 squad (Will Borgen), the Huskies have injected tremendous depth with the addition of three outstanding defenders – Nick Perbix, Spencer Meier, and Brendan Bushy. With all of these players standing 6’2″ or taller, they’ve transitioned the SCSU defense to a physically imposing unit but also one with excellent offensive capabilities. At forward, the Huskies lost team captains Judd Peterson and Blake Winiecki, who combined for 20 goals in 2017-18, and Mikey Eyssimont who was second in team scoring and added 17 goals last season. But, they’ve reloaded with some high-level offensive talent in 2018 Minnesota Wild draft choice Sam Hentges and 20 plus goal scorers in Micah Miller and Nolan Walker, two of the top offensive players in the USHL in 2017-18.

Here’s a rundown of the SCSU rookie class (alphabetically) for 2018-19:

Brendan Bushy – 6’2″ 214 (Thief River Falls, MN) Defense

The bloodlines are strong with Bushy’s father Jon skating in 87 games for the MSU Mavericks from 1997 – 2001 and brother Evan, a Junior at Thief River Falls High School recently committing to the Huskies as well.

The two-year veteran of the United States Hockey League skated in 114 games for the Dubuque Fighting Saints, was an alternate captain and compiled 6 goals and 26 assists for 32 points and 50 PIM. Previous to that he was a three-year member of the Thief River Falls High School team leading them to the MN State High School Tournament in 2016 where he was named to the All-Tournament team after scoring 2 goals and adding 3 assists for 5 points in 5 games. In 113 high school contests, Bushy had 12 goals and 48 assists for 60 points and 56 PIM. He also skated for Team USA in the 2017 World Junior A Challenge along with current teammates Sam Hentges, Nolan Walker, and Nick Perbix.

After committing to the Huskies in 2016, head coach Jason Lammers said ” he earned the opportunity at St. Cloud because of his attitude, work ethic and commitment to his craft.” He further told the St. Cloud Times “He can get pucks into the forwards’ hands and I think he adds a real good element for St. Cloud. He’s got a real good shot and he’ll be a power-play guy when he gets up to speed. I think he’s growing and learning and still learning the pace at this level. He’s only going to get harder and harder to play against. He’s competitive and has the internal drive to be a great player. He’s a big body, moves very well, and has a really good brain. He knows the plays he wants to make and has situational awareness. He’s intense, focused, and determined,” Lammers said. “He does really well in school, so you know the work ethic is there. He’s somebody you want to be around. Even if he’s not perfect, you know he’s going to give his best effort.”

US Hockey Report described Bushy as  “physically imposing, moves well for his size and is efficient on the breakout. Known more for his sturdy play in the defensive zone and his toughness along the boards, Bushy is able to use his strength to overpower attackers and swallow up their scoring chances.”

Despite the depth on the SCSU blueline, expect to see Bushy earn some ice time this season due to his two-year USHL experience and strong work ethic. Bushy is an outstanding student and plans to be a business major at SCSU.

CenterIceView Comments: All-around solid player. Will eventually work his way into a regular role and be a fixture in the lineup. His forte will be solid defensive play and using his physical size to his advantage in boxing out opponents.

Sam Hentges – 6’0″ 170 (Fridley, MN) Forward

The bar was set pretty high when your father puts up 83 points in a single season at the collegiate level and is named a College Division All-American. Mark Hentges, the father of SCSU first-year player, Sam Hentges did just that in the early ’80s at the University of St. Thomas and was subsequently signed by the Montreal Canadiens organization and played in the American Hockey League for the Nova Scotia Voyageurs putting up 88 points in two seasons. Sam received some early coaching from his father and he too blossomed into a scoring machine at Totino Grace High School putting up almost a point and a half a game with 46 goals and 57 assists for 103 points in 72 games at the varsity level.

Drafted by the Des Moines Buccaneers in the 2017 USHL Draft, Hentges made his junior hockey debut on October 6, 2017, and scored his first USHL goal on that same day. He had a quick start offensively scoring 12 points in his first 16 games and then participated in the World Junior A Challenge for Team USA in December picking up 3 points in 5 games. Current first-year players Nick Perbix, Nolan Walker and Brendan Bushy were teammates on that squad.

Returning to USHL league play, Hentges was traded to the Tri-City Storm in January scoring 4 goals in his first 7 games and then being shelved the balance of the season with a shoulder injury subsequently requiring surgery. Despite the injury issues, Hentges was still selected in the seventh round of the 2018  NHL Entry Draft by the Minnesota Wild. The Wild obviously saw the potential in the speedy Hentges suggesting his future in the NHL would depend on his development at the collegiate level and getting bigger and stronger. Mark Loahr, former coach of the Totino Grace Eagles previously told the St. Cloud Times ” (Hentges) has great hockey sense, great hands, great vision and does all the little things above most players at that level. The other thing he’s got is a lot of desire. He wants to be a better player and wants to improve.”

On selecting St. Cloud Hentges told Neutral Zone in an interview ” I visited St. Cloud and a few other schools and I just fell in love with St. Cloud and decided they have such a great coaching staff and a great campus. I wanted to go there.”

CenterIceView Comments: Missing 29 games last season really put him under the radar. The key will be how quickly he rebounds from his shoulder surgery and lack of ice time last season. As a result, I expect a slow start for Hentges. However, skilled goal scorers have that innate ability to put the puck in the net. It’ll be no different for Hentges. Once acclimated to this next level of play he’ll get his share of goals. Also, don’t underestimate his ability as a playmaker. He’ll be better in the second half of the season. He’ll be a solid collegiate player and needs to work on his game and physical strength to attain that next level as an NHL draft choice.

Spencer Meier – 6’4″ 190 (Sartell, MN) Defense

St. Cloud area product, Spencer Meier was a late addition to the 2018-19 Huskies as it was initially anticipated he would spend another season with the Fargo Force of the United States Hockey League. However, his progress on the ice during the 2017-18 season accelerated his ascent to the next level of hockey at St. Cloud State. Although recruited by the prior coaching staff it was current coach Brett Larson and staff that closed the deal to get him to sign a National Letter of Intent for the 2018-19 season. It also didn’t hurt that former SCSU forward Johnny Swanson became a mentor and training coach during the summer months or that Meier grew up watching the Huskies at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center.

The right-shooting Meier had been a fixture in the Sartell High School varsity lineup for 4 years compiling 37 goals and 113 assists for 150 points in 136 career games. The rangy defenseman scored a number of these goals with his quick wrist shot from the point. Former coach Ryan Hacker described to the St. Cloud Times ” He puts more work than anybody else I’ve ever had here. He’s not just shooting pucks off the ice. He’s working on stuff that’s not fun to do. He wants to be good and is willing to do what it takes.”

As a result, Meier’s play had accelerated to the point where he began to receive substantial notice from both Junior hockey and collegiate teams which led to his one season with the Fargo Force. With a reputation for hard work and a desire to succeed, Meier went from a player attempting to crack the lineup to a fixture on the Force roster missing only one game all season. Coach Cary Eades told the Fargo Forum  “Once we saw his work ethic and professionalism day in and day out, how he adjusted to the speed of the game, defending it, and how he could handle the puck, it was a no-brainer. He earned his spot and hasn’t been out of our lineup.”

Individually, the 6′ 4″ 190 pound Meier had a solid season both on the offensive and defensive end of the rink completing the season tied for the USHL lead in power-play assists with 22 and 7th among USHL defenseman in plus/minus at +18. He was also tied for 7th among defensemen with 34 points in 59 games and helped lead the Force to the USHL Clark Cup title. Fargo Force coach Cary Eades told the St. Cloud Times in May  “He can shoot the puck, has good vision, great hockey sense, and is very coachable. He’s a very well-rounded defenseman. He’s not just a guy who plays offense. He can defend.”

Even though Meier was not selected in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, he’ll have the luxury of working on his skating stride and polishing up his game on the larger ice surface at St. Cloud. It’ll be tough to keep Meier out of the lineup and as he grows with the higher level of competition, he will have a lot of second looks from NHL scouts. Much like in Fargo, once he cracks the lineup it’ll be difficult to keep him off the ice during game day.

CenterIceView Comments: Huge upside potential for a player who only spent one season in the USHL. This hard-working player will continue to improve his game year after year. Most likely will be drafted in 2019 as he’ll still be eligible. He reminds me of former Husky Kevin Gravel. With his ability to score from the point he’ll eventually work himself into a position on the power play. Another player who will see noticeable improvement by year’s end.

Micah Miller – 5’9″ 200 (Grand Rapids, MN) Forward

Miller exploded onto the prep hockey scene dazzling fans and scouts alike with his explosive speed and quick release during the 2016 Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament.  Miller was certainly one of the most talked-about and exciting players in the tourney and led his Grand Rapids High School team to a third-place finish scoring 2 goals, 1 assist, and placing 13 shots on goal in three games. His efforts earned him being named to the all-tournament team.

After a stint with the Sioux City Musketeers of the USHL to end the season, Miller returned to captain his Grand Rapids High School squad for the 2016-17 season leading them to the Class A Championship and again being named to the all-tournament team. For the tourney, he had 1 goal and 4 assists for 5 points. He led his Thunderhawks squad in scoring with 21 goals and 35 assists for 56 points in 25 games. Always seeming to rise to the occasion of big games, Miller had 11 points in 6 sectional playoff games and 9 points in 6 state tournament contests. His exemplary senior season led him to be named a finalist for the Minnesota Mr. Hockey Award. For his high school career, Miller put up 44 goals and 62 assists for 106 points in 77 games.

Miller was drafted #54 by the Sioux City Musketeers in the 2016 Phase 1 USHL draft and joined them for a full season of play in 2017-18. Miller picked up where he left off in high school scoring 24 goals and adding 12 assists for 36 points in 60 games. Miller finished tied for 10th in league goal-scoring and third in points and second in goal scoring for the Musketeers. Miller was ranked #161 in the NHL Central Scouting final ranking for the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.

Former NHL player and Grand Rapids High School coach Trent Klatt previously told the St. Cloud Times ” I would never say anything negative about Micah because he’s a class act in every way, shape or form. He’s a consummate teammate, leader, and captain. You (guys) in St. Cloud are going to have a quality individual when he gets there…he is a very good hockey player, a quality person, loyal as the day is long and people will enjoy watching him.” Regarding his play, Klatt said ” He’s not going to shy away from anything. He may get knocked down but he’s going to get knocked down trying. His center of gravity is so low he can win any number of battles and confrontations. He’s got tremendously strong legs and is a phenomenal skater. Micah Miller has an NHL shot. He’s got a quick release and the thing with him is he can do it in stride.”

Draftsite.com described Miller as “A super hard worker who makes up for his lack of height with heart. Although he is fireplug-like with thickness to go with the explosive bursts he displays he throws his weight like he was a much bigger man.”

CenterIceView Comments: Miller’s mother Melissa is an SCSU alum. Miller joins the Huskies with the skills to have a highly successful collegiate career. At 5’9″ and 200 pounds, the solidly built Miller should have no trouble holding his own in the highly competitive NCHC. A proven scorer in the defensive-oriented USHL, it should bode well for Miller to be a scorer as well for the Huskies. The offensive depth of the Huskies should allow Miller to be matched with the lower lines of their opponents which should allow Miller to take advantage of his breakaway speed and quick wrist shot. Miller will have a tremendous collegiate career with the Huskies and should see ample playing time this season.

Nick Perbix – 6’4″ 200 (Elk River, Mn) Forward

First-year Husky Nick Perbix is another player following the footsteps of his father Jay who was also a collegiate defenseman at Gustavus (MN) from 1988 to 1990. A fan of the SCSU Huskies since youth, Perbix told the St. Cloud Times in 2016 ” I’ve always had an interest in St. Cloud, and when they made me an offer it was a no-brainer. I’ve watched them since I was very young with how close we live to the rink. I enjoy it every time I go to a game there.” Now, the 6′ 4″ 200-pound defenseman, a draft choice of the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2017 will be inspiring a new generation of youngsters as he hits the ice for SCSU in 2018-19.

A four-year player for Elk River High School, Perbix was an alternate captain his junior year and captain for his senior season in 2016-17. The four-time letter winner had his most productive season offensively in his senior year netting 10 goals and adding 30 assists for 40 points. This earned him a place on the All-Metro First team and also being named as a Mr. Hockey finalist in 2017.

Drafted by the Sioux Falls Stampede in 2016, Perbix opted to play his senior year at Elk River High School prior to joining the Omaha Lancers who drafted him in 2017.  Perbix had a solid 2017-18 with the Lancers with 4 goals and 27 assists for 31 points in 60 games positioning him 14th in overall scoring by a defenseman. This earned him a position on the 2017-18 All-USHL Third Team.

Perbix was drafted in the sixth round by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.  NHL scouting site dobberprospects.com wrote ” Perbix tends to make good decisions on the ice and is able to anticipate the play well. He carries the puck well and knows when to head-man the puck versus when to carry it on its own. The defender’s hockey sense is far and away his most valuable asset.” Perhaps his best attributes are his size, strength, and hockey IQ with his skating one of the areas to work on to reach the next level of success in hockey.

Perbix joined current year players Nolan Walker, Brendan Bushy, and Sam Hentges on the Team USA squad that won silver in the 2017 World Junior A Challenge in Nova Scotia. He’s also skated previously with another first-year Husky Micah Miller so there is a lot of familiarity with each other in this group of rookies.

In describing his game, Perbix stated ” My strength is seeing the ice and moving the puck. I’m very calm with the puck and I usually don’t panic very much. I like having the puck on my stick and controlling the pace.” Academically, Perbix is an outstanding student who carried a 3.66 GPA in high school and was an honors student.

CenterIceView Comments: This highly touted recruit and NHL draft choice will be given a long leash to develop his game at St. Cloud State. With a prototype NHL frame, Perbix could be another Husky eventually getting a shot at the NHL. For the time being, Perbix will have the luxury of being mentored by a strong group of returning defensemen including Jimmy Schuldt and Jon Lizotte. Perbix will be one of the top young defensemen in the NCHC this season and could ultimately see himself in consideration for the NCHC All-Rookie team.

Nolan Walker – 5’10” 175 (Anchorage, AK) Forward

St. Cloud State University first-year forward Nolan Walker has covered a lot of ground in his young hockey career.  The 19-year-old Anchorage, Alaska native has taken his skill set to Culver, Indiana for three seasons prior to landing in Sioux Falls, South Dakota for the 2017-18 season. That prepped him for his next move to St. Cloud, MN to continue his hockey career with Brett Larson’s Huskies of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference. One of the top offensive threats in the USHL this past season, Walker is described by some as the top offensive player in the league when it comes to his overall skill level.

Walker burned up the Alaska All-Stars AA and AAA programs prior to enrolling at the prestigious Culver Military Academy where he played three years of prep hockey graduating in 2017. In his three seasons, Walker put up 65 goals and 89 assists for 154 points in 116 games. Drafted by the Sioux Falls Stampede as the 57th pick in the fourth round of the 2016 USHL Phase II draft, Walker again proved his offensive skills in a highly defensive league scoring 21 goals and adding 29 assists for 50 points in 55 games to lead his squad in 2017-18. The 50 points also placed him 19th in regular-season scoring in the league. Walker was also chosen alongside future SCSU teammates, Sam Hentges, Nick Perbix, and Brendan Bushy to compete for Team USA in the World Junior A Challenge that took place in Turo, Nova Scotia December 10-16, 2017.

The 5′ 10″ 170 right-handed shooting Walker originally committed to his hometown UAA Seawolves of the WCHA in 2015 but told the St. Cloud Times in a 2016 interview “as time went on I decided I wanted to have a different experience, meet different people and explore different options.”  That led to a commitment to the Huskies who had shown interest prior to his verbal to the Seawolves.

A dynamic forward with excellent speed Walker’s game probably resembles that of former Husky Mikey Eyssimont although he’s probably more generous with the puck. He told the Times ” I love to make plays and make players around me better, but I do score some goals. Playmaking is my great ability and I’m told I have good hockey sense.” His former coach at Culver Steve Palmer told the Times “He has tremendous vision and play-making ability. What he’s able to do better than most is be very deceptive with his body. He understands how to get someone leaning one way and go the other way using his edges. His head is always up, looking for plays and he’s doing it all at full speed.” Walker played for current SCSU assistant Nick Oliver in Sioux Falls last season. As a result, Oliver is fully aware of the capabilities this young player brings to the table.

Neutral Zone, a prominent amateur scouting and ranking service described Walker as follows: ” The speedy forward has the ability to make things happen when he touches the puck.  He can really move and put pressure on opposing defenders.  He played fast and pushed the pace.  A quick stick and release along with the ability to create his own shot made him dangerous at all times.”

CenterIceView Comments:  Much like Blake Lizotte and Easton Brodzinski last season, Walker should be one of the top first-year forwards in the NCHC in 2018-19. Although his goal scoring is well-known, he’s equally dangerous as a playmaker, and until he physically gets bigger and stronger that could be the most dangerous part of his game early on in his career with the Huskies. His outright speed is dangerous and it’ll be that much more effective on the large ice surface of the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center. By the end of the season, Walker should have serious consideration for the NCHC All-Rookie team. An exciting player, Walker should quickly become a fan favorite of the Husky faithful.

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