St. Cloud, MN – It’s been a work in progress. The early season has been full of frustration for sure. There’s been six overtime games including yielding a two-goal third period in Bemidji to settle for a 2-2 overtime tie on October 13. An unimaginable game in Marquette, MI with two consecutive third period major penalties culminating in the disintegration of a three-goal lead in less than eight minutes in a 3-3 overtime tie. Two one-goal losses (EN) on the road in Grand Forks to #2 ranked North Dakota including a Saturday overtime loss. Yet, the ever positive Brett Larson insists on improvement each week, injecting first-year players into the lineup at key moments and preaching patience. After all, with a few breaks here and there, his team which consists of ten first-year players and six of them logging regular ice time could just as well be 9-5-0 vs 4-6-4 overall.
Entering the weekend with a 0-4-0 conference record and visiting a road venue, Miami’s Goggin Ice Center, that has historically been a struggle for the Huskies, it was imperative a few things had to be cleaned up if they were to have success on the road. In my simplified viewpoint, there’s been some prominent issues but if cleaned up could turn the overabundance of close games to wins.
Entering the series with the RedHawks, the team’s scoring was dominated by two players – Sam Hentges and Easton Brodzinski who combined for 11 goals – a third of the scoring on the entire team. The team needed more balanced scoring by depth players and they accomplished that with seven different players scoring goals in the weekend sweep. Leveraging the play of offensive leaders Easton Brodzinski (0-1-1, 7 SOG), Sam Hentges (1-1-2, 3 SOG) and Jack Ahcan (0-3-3, 7 SOG +4) the Huskies also had strong play over the weekend by Kevin Fitzgerald (1-1-2, 6 SOG), Jami Krannila (1-0-1, 4 SOG) and the heroic goal on Friday with 25 seconds remaining by Luke Jaycox (1-0-1, 2 SOG). The Poehling brothers showed their usual energetic leadership with Jack (1-0-1, 3 SOG) and Nick (1-2-3, 9 SOG) with a dominant game on Saturday.
Better Defensive Play
The Huskies entered the series allowing 3.58 goals per game placing them 53rd out of 60 teams in team defense. Team Defense needed to improve. They allowed four goals over the weekend and they kept Miami’s two top scoring forwards, Karch Bachman and Gordie Green off the scoreboard. Easier said than done, but allowing two goals per game on average would place them in the top ten of the country. Mission accomplished last weekend. We’ll see if it carries over to this weekend vs Omaha.
Better Goaltender Play
The coaching staff has not wavered in their support of David Hrenak as the #1 goaltender despite entering the series with a 3.22 GAA and .881 SV%. He did in fact play two solid games on the road vs North Dakota and gave the team outstanding results this past weekend vs Miami. An abundance of key saves all weekend led to stopping 47 of 51 shots on goal for a .922 save percentage. This is the kind of play the coaching staff is counting on and is needed for the Huskies to continue the success of the weekend.
The team entered the weekend as the college hockey’s 14th most penalized team averaging 13.67 penalty minutes per game and a disturbing trend of taking major penalties. They turned that around against Miami being whistled only once on Saturday for two minutes and taking four penalties for eight minutes on Friday. The Huskies need to play five on five hockey and averaging five minutes per game was a key to their weekend.
Skewed somewhat by the Northern Michigan series, the SCSU penalty kill has had it’s issues ranked 57th in college hockey with a 69.77% success rate prior to the Miami series. Much like the team defense, the penalty kill was a strong contributor in the sweep, killing all five man-advantage opportunities for the RedHawks.
With a weekend sweep, the perspective can change quickly jumping from the cellar in the NCHC to a tie for sixth with Denver with six points and only one point behind Colorado College for 5th place. With third place Western Michigan (11 points) and fourth place Miami (8 points) idle until January and both having played two more league games than the Huskies a successful home weekend could catapult them as high as third place.
Following the weekend, the ever-positive Coach Larson told me “a good weekend (coming up) puts us right back in the mix”.
“It was great for our team to get this sweep as obviously we’ve been working to get better every weekend.” Said Nick Poehling. “This is a huge step in the right direction and hopefully we’ll return with a good weekend against Omaha.”