SCSU Hockey: 2018-19 Season Begins With Trip To Alaska

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SCSU First-Year Forward Nolan Walker (Photo Prout)

St. Cloud, MN – If you’re crazy enough to head out by car, figure it’ll take you two days and ten hours to drive non-stop to Fairbanks, AK. Naturally, most sane people would book a flight which will get you there in about six hours with the luxury of earning back three hours with the time zone change. It’s a long, monotonous flight and it will be that way for most of the SCSU players and coaches. But, for sure there’s one player looking forward to the flight to Alaska. Nolan Walker is a home-grown Alaskan and it’s a special treat for him to play his first collegiate hockey game in Alaska. He told me ” It’s been a dream of mine to play Division I college hockey so putting on that jersey (last Sunday) was a dream come true. It will be special to play my first career college hockey games in Alaska in front of family and friends and I’ll have about 20 of them coming to the games.” When asked about his first time on the ice in a game situation for the Huskies he responded ” It was nice to get an exhibition game under my belt and get a feel for college hockey.  I felt a little nervous to start the game but as the game went on, it felt like any other game. We have a great group of guys and I can’t wait to see what we can do this year.” The talented youngster impressed last Sunday, got some power play time and finished with one assist in the contest vs Mount Royal University of Calgary, AB.  More on Nolan Walker 

#5 SCSU Huskies (0-0-0 | 0-0-0 NCHC) vs University of Alaska Nanooks (0-2-0 | 1-0-0 WCHA)

TV: None
Live Stats: Alaska Athletics
Live Stream: FloHockey ($)
Radio: 96.7 FM  | TuneIn Audio Stream
Where: Carlson Center – Fairbanks, Alaska
When: Friday, Oct 12– 10:07 PM CT | Saturday, Oct 13 – 10:07 PM CT


Last Time Out:  

The Huskies had a season opening exhibition game with Mount Royal University on Sunday, October 7 winning by a 6-2 score. SCSU outshot the Cougars 40-17 for the contest. Mount Royal’s Colin Cooper stopped 31 of 37 SCSU shots on goal while the Huskies trio of David Hrenak (3/3), Jeff Smith (9/10) and David Zevnik (3/4) turned aside 15 of 17 shots on goal. SCSU was 2/5 on the power play while the Cougars were 1/5. Faceoffs were 33/23 in favor of SCSU. Nick Poehling, Ryan Poehling and Blake Lizotte all added two points on the evening as they cruised to the 6-2 win. 

The Nanooks had an awfully disappointing weekend in Arizona in a non-conference series with the ASU Sun Devils. On Friday, they were outshot 34-23 and were blanked by the Sun Devils 3-0. There’s not much more to say as the Nanooks couldn’t generate any offense. On Saturday, it was the same result getting dominated and outshot by ASU 32-15 and outscored 5-0.It’s very early in the season so we’ll have to see if the Sun Devils were that good or the Nanooks have a lot of work ahead of them.  

Last Time They Met:

A year ago, on October 13/14, the Huskies played a very entertaining non-conference home weekend series with the Nanooks of the WCHA. The Huskies overcame a dismal start to Friday’s game falling behind 3-0 vs the visiting Alaska to score six consecutive goals and earn a 6-3 win at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center. Junior captain and defenseman Jimmy Schuldt provided the offensive spark with two power play goals and sophomore forward Nick Poehling added two of his own in the impressive comeback for the Huskies. Jeff Smith stopped 22 of 25 shots on goal overcoming an early shaky start by the Huskies for his second win of the early season. The Huskies had a number of players with multiple points including Jimmy Schuldt (2-1-3), Robby Jackson ( 1-2-3), Jack Ahcan (0-2-2), Ryan Poehling (0-2-2), Judd Peterson (0-2-2) and Nick Poehling (2-0-2).

In the Saturday rematch, the lead changed four times before the Huskies nailed down a 5-4 overtime win on a Nick Poehling goal at 2:06 of the extra session. To top things off, the goal was assisted by twin brother Jack Poehling for a fitting end to this non-conference weekend.  And, younger brother Ryan, scored the game tying goal late in the third period to place them into the position to earn the OT game winner. First-year goaltender David Hrenak registered his first win as a Husky stopping 22 of 26 shots on goal. Mikey Eyssimont (0-2-2), Robby Jackson (1-1-2) and Jimmy Schuldt (1-1-2) all had multiple points in the game for SCSU.

SCSU is 8-3-0 vs the Nanooks all-time in the Division 1 era. The Huskies have won eight straight vs Alaska.  

Scouting the University of Alaska Nanooks: 

It’s a year of transition for the Nanooks with a completely new coaching staff following a 11-22-3 record in 2017-18 that included an 8th place finish in the WCHA. New coach Eric Largen is a former Nanooks player and Fairbanks native and has a lot of pride in resurrecting this program for the community. He’s brought in two new assistants in Karlis Zirnis, former head coach of Shreveport in the NAHL and Joe Howe, former assistant at Denver. However, it’s going to be quite a task with a lack of returning offense. some key losses at defense and uncertainty at goaltender.

Their top returner at defense is senior, Nikolas Koberstein and at forward is senior Ryker Leer (10-10-20 last season) and Kyle Marino who needs to improve on his 2-5-7 numbers from a year ago. With 13 upperclassmen on the squad, the hope is they will not only lead but that someone in the group of seven forwards will step forward and be a significant contributor to the offense. They appear to have some skilled newcomers with  Sam Ruffin, Caleb Hill and Colin Doyle all 40+ point scorers in junior hockey. At goaltende, they’ve brought in Gustavs Grigals who carried a .925 SV% in the NAHL. He’ll be battling last years #1 goaltender Anton Martinsson who was 10-17-3 and had a 3.10 GAA and .890 SV%. 

They’ll also have the inspirational return of senior Jack Weiss of Bloomington, MN who was diagnosed with cancer in November of 2017 and made his return to the ice to a standing ovation on September 22 in the squads Blue/Gold game. All of college hockey will be pulling for him to have a successful senior year. 

 Scouting the SCSU Huskies: 

The Brett Larson era begins as he coaches his first two regular season games behind the bench in Fairbanks. 

Experience, depth and strong goaltending should lead the Huskies to success in 2018-19. The Huskies were picked to finish 2nd in the tough NCHC conference in the preseason coaches poll. 

With a great deal of depth and experience at defense this will be a position of strength for the Huskies and one of the top units in college hockey. Led by All-American Senior and Captain, Jimmy Schuldt, a preseason NCHC All-Conference team pick and 2017-18 Hobey Baker Finalist, the Huskies will have three seasoned veterans and five others that will be battling for positions 4 through six.  Jon Lizotte may have been lost in the shadow of Schuldt but has carved out an exemplary career as a Husky.  A four- year player, he also has that rare combination of sneaky offensive ability and strong defensive play and compiled 17 points  while finishing +20 on the season. He has a blue-collar approach to the game that will be invaluable as an alternate captain and leader. Junior Jack Ahcan may have fallen victim to that “sophomore slump” after making quite as a splash as a rookie and being named to the NCHC All-Rookie team. Still, he was named to the Frozen Faceoff All-Tournament team last season and posted 22 points. The 5’8″ 180 pound Ahcan will be surrounded by seven teammates at defense measuring six feet or more and the coaching staff will give this talented defender free rein to carry the puck up ice and be more involved with the offense. Sophomores Luke Jaycox and Tyler Anderson combined to play in 50 games last season and gained valuable playing experience and will be expected to battle for regular playing time once again. Senior, Clark Kuster has had limited playing time as a Husky but has a cannon of a shot and will also be battling for playing time. Mika Ilvonen was a forward in Finland then converted to defense and will start the season at forward for the Huskies. A talented group of newcomers – Brendan Bushy, NHL draft choice Nick Perbix and local native Spencer Meier fill out one of the most talent laden defensive units in college hockey. As a result, there will be lots of competition for playing time and I suspect all will be shuffled into the lineup to start the season. This is a deep, deep unit.  

The Huskies are blessed with a lot of experience at forward and will have a group of seniors that have experienced loads of success during their time at SCSU. Robby JacksonPatrick Newell and Jacob Benson were all part of a heralded incoming class in 2015-16. They’ve experienced a Frozen Faceoff Championship, a Penrose Cup Championship and been a part of two NCAA tournament squads. Pre-season all-league NCHC pick Robby Jackson, a 21 year-old senior led the Huskies in scoring in 2017-18 with 15 goals and 27 assists for 42 points and has a deadly accurate wrist shot accounting for many of these tallies. Not just an offensive player, Jackson has a solid work ethic and his defensive game has blossomed as well. Jackson will join the 100 point club this season. Senior Patrick Newell is an experienced forward being counted on to be a leader this season. Skilled and tough along the boards for his size he’s finally filling out physically which will certainly help his game this season. Senior Jacob Benson was named alternate captain and had a disappointing year from an offensive standpoint with 17 points. He has a tendency to score big goals but needs to be more consistent in his farewell season.

Finishing 4th on the team scoring chart last season, Montreal Canadiens first-rounder Ryan Poehling ( 13-17-30) is primed for a break out season. He finished the year with 6 goals in his last nine games and even though he is only 19 years old the 6’2″ 200 pound forward is entering his third season of college hockey and is mature beyond his years as a collegiate player. The Poehling twins, Jack and Nick are a coaches dream with a work ethic through the roof. Expect to see these two chip in more offensively this season. Junior Jake Wahlin is another that scores big goals but much like Jacob Benson needs to have a more consistent offensive game.  The talent is there and as a Junior it’s hoped he’ll at least double his 11 points from last 

Sophomore Blake Lizotte made the NCHC All-Rookie team last season and is quickly becoming one of the most exciting forwards in college hockey. Another player with tons of talent and a motor that won’t quit he’ll be a scoring leader for the Huskies this season. Easton Brodzinski is another member of the  2017-18 NCHC All-Rookie team and it was well-deserved. A natural goal scorer with a wicked wrist shot he netted 14 goals his rookie season. He’s another primed for a huge offensive year. Sophomore Kevin Fitzgerald was a surprise as a rookie earning 38 games of playing time and added 5 goals and 14 assists. He has a combination of skill and grinder and makes every line he’s placed on more productive. St. Cloud native Will Hammer had limited playing time his rookie season but looks to increase his playing time this season.

First-year players Micah Miller, Minnesota Wild draft choice Sam Hentges and Nolan Walker will all be difficult to keep out of the lineup. Hentges has been particularly impressive in early practices and is rebounding nicely from a season of limited play due to injury last year in the USHL. All three are extremely talented and will be contributors as freshman

Perhaps the singularly most important position on the ice when it comes to season-long success, it’s mandatory to have two goaltenders you can rely on. In that respect, they do with senior Jeff Smith and sophomore David Hrenak, certainly one of the top one-two punches at goaltender in college hockey. David Hrenak, from Slovakia arrived at SCSU as a heralded freshman from the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL and ended the season as a member of the NCHC All-Rookie team and an All-NCHC Honorable Mention honoree.  He was also a member of Team Slovakia in the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championships. Validating his success, following the season, he was drafted in the fifth round by the LA Kings. Highly competitive on the ice but with a perpetual smile on his face off the ice, he took hold of the #1 position as the season wore on and finished with a 13-7-2 record, a 2.03 GAA and .922 SV% including three shutouts. With a tremendous upside, he’s an athletic and positionally sound goaltender with a good glove. Hrenak will once again be one of the top goaltenders in the NCHC. 

Jeff Smith, who entered the 2017-18 season lighter and in improved physical shape played in 19 games losing only twice all season and proving to be worthy of splitting time in goal with Hrenak. Smith finished with a 11-2-4 record, 2.57 GAA and .910 SV%. The 6’2″ 190 pound native of Maple Ridge, BC improved his agility and quickness and he’ll be ready to compete for playing time this season. 

Once again, David Zevnik, a 24 year-old senior from Lakeville, MN will be backing up Smith and Hrenak. 

Game Prospectus:

The Huskies left for Alaska on Wednesday and will get in a day of practice on Thursday before the weekend contests. On paper, the Huskies clearly have superior talent throughout their entire lineup  but it means nothing unless they can back it up on the ice. The Huskies found that out in March when they were bounced out of the NCAA tournament by the Air Force Falcons. History has shown odd results by teams that have traveled to Alaska for early season play.. The Nanooks were embarrassed  and shutout in both games by the Arizona State Sun Devils last weekend and should be ornery on their home ice for their regular season opening series. 

The Huskies will most likely do some roster juggling this weekend and I expect that there will be goaltender rotation in this series. With the long trip to Alaska and the time change I wouldn’t be surprised to see some sloppiness early on in Friday’s game. However, this Huskies team has worked hard in the off-season, is in tremendous shape and coach Larson will expect nothing less than a competitive effort both nights. 

Unfortunately, sophomore defenseman, Tyler Anderson sustained an upper body injury in the game on Sunday vs Mount Royal. He could be out of the lineup a number of weeks. 

Put the coffee on as it will be a 10:07 PM CT start each night. Enjoy the start of the 2018-19 college hockey season!

All the pertinent links for the series are HERE




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