Preview: Huskies Face Bemidji State in North Country Battle

Kevin Fitzgerald vs Bemidji State (Photo Prout)

St. Cloud, MN – The two-time regular season NCHC champion St. Cloud State University Huskies make the short trip to Bemidji to face the BSU Beavers in a non-conference matchup on Friday and Saturday. This begins a string of eight games of the non-conference variety before the Huskies start NCHC league action on November 15th vs Colorado College at home. The Beavers were pegged to finish third in their conference in the preseason coaches poll while the Huskies were voted by the media to finish fifth in their league. Both teams have yet to play a regular season contest in the 2019-20 season.

#7 St. Cloud State University Huskies (0-0-0 | 0-0-0 NCHC) vs #NR Bemidji State University Beavers (0-0-0 | 0-0-0 WCHA) 

TV: None Local
Live Stats: BSU Athletics
Live Stream:  (Both Games)
Live Audio Stream: TUNEIN RADIO
Radio: 96.7 FM (St. Cloud)
Tickets: BSU Athletics
Where: Sanford Center – Bemidji, MN
When: Friday 7:05 PM CT | Saturday 6:05 PM CT


Last Time Out

Considering the limited preseason practice time, the Huskies had a nice showing vs the Canada West champs University of Alberta in an exhibition on October 6. Particularly impressive was the special teams performance shutting down three Alberta man-advantage opportunities and having success on 4 of 9 power plays opportunities. The Huskies ultimately won 4-2 on the heels of two goals by Easton Brodzinski, another by captain Jack Ahcan and the capper by first-year forward Jami Krannila with an assist  by fellow rookie Zach Okabe. The Huskies were able to give their entire roster ice time with the exception of goaltender David Hrenak and senior assistant captain, Jack Poehling. Both were held out as a precautionary measure with minor injuries.

The Beavers were idle last week. Their last outing was a road loss to Lake Superior State squad in the WCHA quarterfinals last March to end their season.

Head to Head 

The two squads last met on November 16/17, 2018 in St. Cloud. The Huskies earned a hard-fought 2-0 win in the Friday contest and a lopsided 7-4 win in the rematch. The Huskies are 24-3-3 all-time vs Bemidji at the Division I level. They are 4-1-0 in the last five games and 8-1-1 in the last 10 games. The Huskies carry a 5-1-0 advantage at the Sanford Center.

Scouting the Bemidji State University Beavers:

While the majority of college hockey teams were in action last weekend the Beavers were idle. “I like our team in practice” coach Serratore told me. “But, we are sick and tired of practice and are ready to start the season.  Even though we like what we see in practice, you don’t know for sure what you have until you get in a real game. The four hour preseason practice rule (per week on skill-related workouts) puts us that much ahead of things.  We’re excited and we’re undefeated right now” he quipped.

The Beavers had a large first-year class in 2018-19, particularly at forward, bringing in five new faces so it was a learning year last season. “We probably had the youngest group of forwards in the country last year ” said Serratore. “Those forwards are now a step ahead of our first-year players to start this season so it may be tough for our first-year players to immediately impact the lineup.” With the exception of the loss of Jay Dickman who netted 6 goals last season, the forward position is basically intact but with more experience behind them. Their top six scorers return including senior Adam Brady (8-13-21), junior Charlie Combs (11-10-21), junior Aaron Miller (11-9-20), Sophomore Owen Sillinger (10-9-19), former SCSU commit junior Brendan Harris ( 4-14-18) and sophomore Nick Cardelli (9-6-15). The key is the balanced scoring in the returnees that will be supplemented by three first-year forwards.

There are questions, but on paper, Brad Belisle (33-35-86, Aberdeen/NAHL), Carter Jones (17-38-55 Trail/BCHL) and Sam Solensky (24-62-86 Johnstown/NAHL) appear to be some players that can add additional offense for the Beavers.


The Beavers took a substantial hit at defense with the graduation of last seasons leader in points Justin Baudry (9-21-30 +7) currently with Cincinnati of the ECHL and Dillon Eichstadt ( 3-11-14 +15) currently playing in Europe. Unfortunately, none of the regular returnees finished the season on the plus side of the plus/minus and none finished with more than single digits in points. However, coach Serratore and staff have done their best to bring in some quality reinforcements with good leadership skills.

Bemidji native Nick Leitner was a captain at Green Bay of the USHL last season. 6’3″ 192 pound Kyle Loof was an assistant captain at Cedar Rapids of the USHL. Will Zmolek adds size at 6’3″ 195 and is the son of former NHLer Doug Zmolek and also played for Cedar Rapids of the USHL. Swede, Elias Rosen skated in 51 games for the Tri-City Storm of the USHL last season. The roster numbers indicate several of these players will earn regular ice time this season. “The defense is young but is a good young group. But, we won’t know how good they are until they get in a real game.” said Serratore.

The Beavers have an experienced goaltender tandem in juniors Zach Driscoll, a former SCSU Husky and Henry “Hank” Johnson. Driscoll played the balance of the games for BSU during the second half of last season and compiled a 2.32 GAA and a .909 SV%. Johnson logged 14 games and posted better numbers with a 1.96 GAA and .916 SV %. Driscoll was drilled in the last meeting with the Huskies allowing 4 goals on 14 shots until he was pulled late in the second period. Johnson on the other hand, allowed just one goal on 20 shots. The tandem is backed up by freshman Michael Carr who was with Cornwall of the CCHL last season.

Scouting the SCSU Huskies:

A group of seniors will lead the Huskies into the 2019-20 season. All-American and All-NCHC player Jack Ahcan was named captain and brothers Jack and Nick Poehling and Clark Kuster, a fifth-year senior are assistant captains. The team has added ten new faces after the departure of seniors Jimmy Schuldt, Jon Lizotte, Patrick Newell, Robby Jackson, Jacob Benson and David Zevnik. They also saw the departure of two top-notch centers in Blake Lizotte and Ryan Poehling who signed NHL contracts.

Junior David Hrenak enters the season as the number one goaltender. Hrenak finished the 2018-19 season with a 23-5-2 record, a 2.18 GAA and .906 SV%. The LA Kings 5th round draft choice was a NCHC second team All-Star last season and the expectations are high for Hrenak who has played 54 career games for the Huskies. However, he’ll be pushed by two quality first-year players in 20 year-old USHL veteran Joseph Lamoureaux and another junior hockey veteran in 22 year-old Jaxon Castor. Both Lamoreaux and Castor rotated during the Alberta exhibition with Lamoreaux getting the “unofficial”  win stopping 14 of 16 shots while Castor stopped all three shots he faced.

Defense is perhaps the strongest position on the team. The Huskies return five starters from last season in Jack Ahcan, Nick Perbix, Luke Jaycox, Spencer Meier and Brendan Bushy. They add two other veterans in fifth-year senior, Clark Kuster and junior, Tyler Anderson, who missed the entire season due to injuries in 2018-19 and will likely claim a red-shirt year. Newcomers include 6’3″ 190 pound Ondrej Trejbal  from the Czech Republic and Trevor Zins, a puck-moving defenseman from nearby St. Michael, MN.

The position where uncertainly surfaces is at forward and that’s for obvious reasons. The team lost it’s top five scorers – Newell, Lizotte, Jackson, Poehling and Schuldt. This group contributed 213 points (77 goals and 136 assists) and dominated minutes on the power play. Two of these players left as underclassmen and three – Lizotte, Poehling and Schuldt could very well be in an NHL lineup this season. It’s not that they won’t have skill at this position it’s simply a matter of playing experience and the growth young players go through in their first year. They’ve recruited high-end skill in Zach Okabe, Jami Krannila and Kyler Kupka and future staples in the lineup in Chase Brand and Thomas Rocco. Henry Enebak, a Prior Lake, MN native who played with the Poehlings in Lakeville rounds out the lineup.

Game Prospectus:

This should be a competitive battle between two teams with a large contingent of first-year players. The Huskies benefited by having an exhibition with Alberta last weekend allowing the freshman to acclimate themselves to a real game situation. Not so for the Beavers.

“These early weekends, it’s about us. We are trying to figure us out.” said Serratore. “We know how good they are. They have the best player we’ll see this year in Jack Ahcan . He’s one heckuva player and was under the radar somewhat because of Jimmy Schuldt.” About his team he said “In the past we’ve been undersized and speedy. This year we have a good variety of sizes and are heavier on the puck.” Serratore was noncommittal about who will start in goal on Friday. He said as a staff they are still discussing the rotation.

Coach Larson was complimentary about the BSU Beavers. “They have an identity” he said. “There is no one harder to play against and it will be a great test for out team. Two of the hardest games we had all last season was against Bemidji. They will be hard-nosed games and good for the freshman and sophomores. We’ll have to be very good to get a win.”

The Huskies carry a lopsided winning record of 24-3-3 all-time against the Beavers in the Division I era. They’ve also been good at the Sanford Center with a 5-1-0 advantage. That of course means nothing with the large number of new faces on each team.

The Huskies will start Friday with a veteran lineup at defense and it’s expected both Jack Poehling and David Hrenak  who were shelved last Sunday for precautionary reasons will be available on Friday. As such, you’ll probably continue to see most of the returnees at forward occupying the first three lines. Rocco, Krannila, Okabe, Brand and Kupka all atoned for themselves quite well in the exhibition and I suspect by the end of the weekend all will get ice time. Nolan Walker was the most effective centerman on faceoffs vs Alberta winning 9 of 11 and I suspect he’s earned a spot at center. Freshman defenseman, Ondrej Trejbel will not be available this weekend.

Expect the Beavers to be physical and aggressive on the attack and in their gap play. I expect Driscoll to be in goal one of the games and he’ll be looking to redeem himself after his outing vs St. Cloud State last season. The Huskies have very good skill up front and they’ll test the very young Bemidji defense as will the Huskies power play, if given an opportunity as they were outstanding vs Alberta (44%). .

Pregame Luncheon 
For those heading to Bemidji for the Friday game let it be known there is a coaches luncheon at 11:30 AM at the Tavern on South Shore. Both coaches will be present for a preview of the weekend series and some good banter between the coaches.

All the links for this weekends games can be found HERE

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