St. Cloud, MN – Logic tells you line consistency is a key to consistent team play. That’s probably a simplification as lines can become stagnant and unproductive and a change can yield positive results. However, coaches have different philosophies on mixing up lines. Coach Motzko was notorious for changing up line combinations – sometimes weekly and it wasn’t unusual to see in excess of thirty different line combinations during the season. Current SCSU coach Brett Larson has been more reluctant to make wholesale and knee-trigger changes. His lineup has seen 14 different line combinations thus far this season. It would probably be less were it not for a few injuries and the absence of the teams two top centers – Ryan Poehling and Blake Lizotte.The two have been missing for different reasons. For Lizotte, he’s had an “upper body” injury and the coaching staff has been cautious in returning him to the lineup too early since he’s only missed an exhibition and two non-conference games. Poehling’s absence was due to his participation in the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championships that just concluded in British Columbia. All Poehling did was rack up the honors as the USA team won the Silver Medal. Individually, Poehling was named to the WJC All-Star Team, Best Forward, and Tournament MVP.
Let’s not diminish the fact that the Huskies have been missing their two top centermen (Poehling and Lizotte) for the last three games (including the exhibition against the USA U18). Both Poehling and Lizotte are outstanding players and missing these two “quarterbacks” at center places the lineup in turmoil. With significant offensive and defensive duties and the need for consistent strength down the middle of the ice it’s obvious it’s been damaging to the Huskies lineup. Whether it’s winning faceoffs, leading breakouts, generating offense, scoring and filling lanes to stunt cross-ice passes it’s not a position easily replaceable. Sam Hentges did a fine job at center vs Union winning 14 of 18 faceoffs but there’s much more to that position and a lot to ask of a first-year player. Let’s just say the MVP of the recent World Junior tournament (Ryan Poehling) and the Huskies best faceoff player, Lizotte (207/121 .631 FO %) out of the lineup makes a huge difference.
With the World Junior Tournament concluded Ryan Poehling will be back with the team and after a couple days off to rest will re-join the Huskies for a few practices this week. Coach Larson also speculated during his radio show last night that Lizotte could also be back in the lineup this weekend as the Huskies face top rival and defending National Champion UMD in Duluth. With the Huskies currently in control of their destiny they have a very tough second half of the season starting with the Bulldogs and finishing on March 9 with 16 conference games.
Having “quarterbacks” Poehling and Lizotte back in the lineup for the balance of the season are crucial to the Huskies continuing success. Their work ethic, leadership and skill at the center position is important to this team. Let’s hope it starts this weekend.