St. Cloud, MN – Having followed St. Cloud State University hockey since it’s inception at the Division I level and considering all the road games I’ve been to, I can confidently make the statement that I’ve been to more Husky hockey games than anyone on the planet. So, for me to depart during the heat of the last 10 conference games of the season it’s probably looked at by those that know me as a bit unusual. But, with an opportunity to float around on a cruise ship in the South China Sea on an extended vacation it wasn’t something to pass up. Naturally, extended vacations such as this have to be planned out way in advance but one still needs to be prepared for a few logistical issues and some disruptions in the itinerary.
With an itinerary stretching from Bangkok, Thailand to Hong Kong, and with planned stops in Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines, an early concern was whether there would be some disruption in Hong Kong due to the pro-democracy demonstrations that have been occurring since about June of 2019. That became a secondary issue on this trip since the outbreak of the 2019-nCov virus AKA Coronavirus was first reported in Wuhan, China in December of 2019. With disembarkation expected on February 15 in Hong Kong, that destination was already in doubt the moment we stepped aboard our ship. After stops in Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) we were formally advised Hong Kong was no longer a destination. Midway through our 1000 mile cruise to Manilla in the Philippines, our ship made an abrupt 180 degree turn and we were further advised docking there was also blocked. Re-entry to Saigon was also refused and the cruise line was left no choice but to return to Bangkok, discontinue the voyage and re-book flights home for the approximately 600 passengers.
For us, it meant re-routing through Dubai to New York City thereby purposely avoiding southeast Asian airports. Combining our initial flight from Minneapolis to Bangkok via Incheon (Korea) and departure from Bangkok through Dubai to New York City and ultimately Minneapolis we completed an around the world flight within a two-week span. What an interesting adventure.
Despite being 8300 miles from St. Cloud, MN and with a 13 hour time difference it was relatively easy to connect to the SCSU hockey broadcasts on my smart phone. Although the InTune application was not recognized and there was not enough bandwidth to connect to a video stream, logging in directly to the River 96.7 and play by play announcer Jim Erickson worked quite well with occasional interruptions for the stream to reload.
I tapped into the January 31 contest vs Colorado College while traveling by bus to the port in Bangkok. Twitter updates and exchanging a few texts with radio announcer Jim Erickson kept us updated. The next morning at 7:07 AM my wife and I started the day with a cup of coffee and enjoyed the 3-0 win in our stateroom while cruising the ocean in the Straight of Thailand. The following weekend, the Friday contest vs Miami was a leisurely 9:37 AM start and the weekend finale was a 8:07 AM start while cruising the South China Sea. We were joined for a “pre-game breakfast” and mimosa’s by former SCSU President Bruce Grube and his wife Kathryn who were also on the trip. Bruce was President at SCSU from 1995 to 1999 before taking over the Presidency at Georgia Southern University. While at SCSU, both Kathryn and Bruce became dedicated fans of Husky hockey and continue to follow the program closely and typically plan an annual trip from Texas to a home or away series each season.
Even with the disruptions in the trip itinerary, the cruise line was professional and transparent and extremely diligent in making sure their passengers were well taken care of. I’d do it all again in a minute.
Back to Hockey….
During my short hiatus, the unpredictable Huskies went undefeated in all four games (3-0-1). It’s never easy regardless who you play in the NCHC but they needed to do well against teams below them in the standings. This team struggles to score goals so it’s imperative for them to get strong goaltending (which they got) and then grind out wins (which they did).
It’s a steep climb for this team over the last six games of the conference season with perhaps the toughest schedule of any team in college hockey. If you’re a pessimist, they have 8 games left in their season. If you’re an optimist perhaps 15. If you’re into statistics, the current odds of them finishing in the top four of the NCHC for home ice in the league playoffs is about 7%. Most likely, odds are for them to finish in 5th or 6th with a 47% chance they’ll be on the road to Denver and a 41% chance it’ll be Western Michigan according to playoffstatus.com. Their current odds of making the NCAA tourney are about 5%. What does it all mean? This team is most likely too far in the hole to earn a top 14 Pairwise position and thus needs to earn their way into the NCAA tourney via the NCHC Frozen Faceoff. If anything, we’ll learn very quickly how this team can compete against the top teams in the conference over the next six games. It’s the start of a real grind for this team.
From an offensive standpoint, it’s encouraging to see Micah Miller starting to show the excitement he displayed as a prep player. He’s strong on his skates, has blazing speed and shoots well on the fly. It was simply a matter of time that this 24 goal scorer in the USHL began to show some offense. He has seven points in the last seven games. It’s good to see fellow sophomore, Nolan Walker get the monkey off his back with his first goal of the season vs Colorado College. He’s another that has been performing well – the puck simply wasn’t going in for him. Hopefully, that first goal will jump start his goal scoring. Finally, Sam Hentges completes an outstanding group of sophomore forwards. After starting the season with 6 goals in 8 games he’s had one goal in the last 14 games. He’s missed six games due to injury and it makes one wonder whether he’s 100%. The team will have to build around them next season.
Junior Easton Brodzinski is a scorer pure and simple. With 42 career goals including 17 power play goals they need to continue to find ways to isolate him to take advantage of his shooting ability.
David Hrenak finally has his save percentage over 90 percent and it appears he’s going to be the goaltender counted on down the stretch. In the last four games, he’s posted a 93% save percentage and honestly, the only way the Huskies survive the next six games if he can continue to post those numbers. In the January sweep of the Bulldogs, he stopped 59 of 60 shots for a ridiculous .983 save percentage. He stopped 48 of 53 shots (90.5%) in two close games vs North Dakota in Grand Forks in November.
Finally, it was great to see Jack Ahcan post his 100th career point vs Colorado College last weekend. What a warrior and leader this 5’8″ 185 pound defenseman has been for the Huskies as he competed in his 139th game last weekend. He’ll go down as one of the most durable and productive defenseman ever for St. Cloud State.
Next up we’ll take a look at the upcoming series with North Dakota.