SCSU Hockey: Final Thoughts From Pittsburgh

(Photo Prout)

Pittsburgh, PA – First, a standing “O’ to the city of Pittsburgh. The Steel City  is an amazing sports town and it certainly lived up to it’s #2 ranking on the CenterIceView Road trip list. Sure, there was a disruption in plans as the venue for the opening game was changed from the PPG Paints Arena to the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex due to a conflict with the Penguins schedule. Would the coaching staff and players have preferred PPG Arena? Of course. Let’s face it, it’s a practice facility for the Penguins and it felt like the Huskies were skating in a scrimmage. Would I have preferred to walk one block from my hotel to PPG Arena as opposed to driving 20 miles up the freeway to the Sports Complex. Again, a big yes. However, you make the best of the situation and roll with it. Beyond that, it was an outstanding road trip and something to look forward to when the Frozen Four takes place in Pittsburgh in 2021. My suggestion? Go!

You’d need a week to really do justice to what this city has to offer. Shopping in the “Strip District” is a cultural experience and there are endless quality restaurants for every conceivable palate. The famous Primanti’s Brothers restaurant was a must and lived up to the hype. Huge sandwiches in a variety of styles were delicious. Breakfast at Pamela’s Diner with their famous crepe-style pancakes is a can’t miss. But, a word of advice – get there early, say 7:30 AM or you’ll be waiting in a line out to the street. An alternative is DeLuca’s that touts itself as having the best breakfast in Pittsburgh. But again, get there early. We stumbled onto a place called Bar Marco for dinner and here’s a place that will customize your drinks with any combination of ingredients you like. Just tell them what flavors you like and don’t like. They’ll take it from there.Their specialty is Italian food and it was delicious. Near PPG Paints Arena is a pizza joint called Pizza Milano. Forget about the atmosphere – it doesn’t matter, they make great pizzas. Probably one of the most unusual brew pubs anywhere is The Church Brew Works. Maybe it’s just me but seeing beer tanks on what was at one time a church altar seems a little sacrilegious. But, if you can get beyond that it’s unique and you’ll enjoy the food and brew. Oh, and by the way, stop by La Prima Espresso in the Strip District for a cup of java. You’ll feel like you were transformed to Italy. I’ve got to say thanks to Kirsten Croone who happily did all the driving over the weekend. She’s a real pro at maneuvering the big city and by the end of the weekend you would have thought she was a “Yinzer”.

Now, for the games. Yes, on the scoreboard the Huskies were blown out by Union 7-2. If you paid attention to my pre-weekend blog, I cautioned that Union would be a serious obstacle to the Huskies reaching the championship game of the Three Rivers Classic. I suggested forwards, Ryan Walker, Sebastian Vidmar and Ryan Supinski were driving the offense and that Brandon Estes was perhaps their best defenseman. I further suggested Cole Maier was a player to keep an eye on. Well, Walker, Vidmar, Supinski and Estes combined for all seven Union goals and Maier was the #1 star with a four-point game. I further cautioned either Union goaltender could steal a game and on this night it was Darian Hanson the 6’3″ goaltender from East Bethel, MN that turned aside 36 pf 38 shots – several of the spectacular variety and was a key to this win for the Dutchmen. Yet, obviously Union deserved the win despite being outperformed in every conceivable statistical category. SCSU coach Brett Larson commented ” People might think I’m nuts but we played well. We watched the game video and we loved our team. I was happy with our composure on the ice. David Hrenak did not have a horrible night. Union played hard and they are a good team”. SCSU was applying so much pressure during a stretch of the second period, Union had to call a timeout to regain their composure. It was a smart coaching move by Rick Bennett as the Dutchmen scored a minute later to take a three-goal lead. The Huskies outshot Union 18- 8 in the third period but were outscored 3-1. Go figure.

In the consolation game vs host Robert Morris on Saturday (at PPG Paints Arena), Larson said the staff had a different perspective. ” As a coaching staff we were disappointed in how we played. We were too loose out there” said Larson. “It took us until the third period to get things going.”  It was in fact a 2-2 game until Robby Jackson netted his first of two goals at 6:34 of the period. His second and 100th career point followed at 12:45 and it pretty much salted the game away for the Huskies. However, not a game the coaching staff was proud of.

Finally, 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.

Obviously the highlight on Saturday was Robby Jackson nailing down his 100th career point. However, it turns out, Jimmy Schuldt who also was two points from that milestone reached 100 points as well. The score sheet was revised on Friday vs Union to give Schuldt an assist and he also assisted on Kevin Fitzgerald’s second period goal on Saturday. so, technically he reached the 100 career point marker ahead of Robby Jackson (bragging rights).

The team now turns its attention to the #5 ranked UMD Bulldogs this weekend in Duluth. A weekend preview will follow later this week.

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