St. Cloud, MN – One week post the Huskies 5-0 loss to UMass in the NCAA Division I National Championship game I finally took the time to watch the replay of the ESPN broadcast. I always find my perspective changes when I let the dust settle a bit before allowing emotion to take precedence over a rational review of the outcome. Here’s my wrap-up of that game and some thoughts on the transfer portal and early thoughts about 2021-22, the team, and their non-conference schedule.
Mistakes Were Costly
The shutout of the Huskies was only the seventh time in the national championship game since 1948 and it was the largest margin of loss since Boston College defeated Wisconsin 5-0 in 2010. On the surface, it would appear it was a dominating effort by the Minutemen but it really wasn’t. Even Massachusetts coach Greg Carvel admitted as such immediately following the game saying ” The game was closer than the score. We were opportunistic.”
Opportunistic they were, capitalizing on key SCSU mistakes throughout the entire contest to take a two-goal lead after one period and a 4-0 lead after two periods in the eventual five-goal win. From a statistical standpoint, the game was very even. Final shots on goal favored the Huskies 25-22 and faceoffs were nearly dead even favoring UMass 27-26. Despite an advantage by SCSU in puck possession time in period one UMass had a 7-3 shot advantage. However, SCSU outshot the minutemen 22-15 over the final two periods.
The Huskies fell short in special teams play having no success in three opportunities with a combined 6 shots on goal. UMass was 1 for 2 on the man-advantage and added a short-handed goal, both in the second period and it was the second period that pretty much salted the game away for the Minutemen.
Mistakes were costly. The first goal by UMass was created off of an offensive zone turnover and an alert play by defenseman, Ty Farmer who transitioned the puck quickly and in combination with two SCSU players colliding at the blue line created a 2 on 0 on Hrenak that they converted. Another odd play gave UMass a two-goal advantage at the tail end of the first period. SCSU was unable to clear the puck twice along the wall on a possible offside by UMass that led to a wraparound goal with about a minute remaining in the period.
Mistakes again led to two goals in period two. An errant pass on a zone entry by the Huskies on the power play led to a short-handed highlight-reel goal by Philip Lagunov who dangled the puck past Nick Perbix and another on Hrenak for a three-goal lead. A penalty for too many men on the ice created the opportunity for the second goal of the period. Great puck movement by UMass had them scoring a minute into the power play on their first shot for an insurmountable 4-0 lead.
A late line change six minutes into the final period left UMass’s Bobby Trivigno all alone at the blue line with no defender within twenty feet of him. He beat Hrenak from the left dot for the fifth and final goal.
Facing the top goaltender in college hockey in terms of save percentage and goals against, it would have taken one of the most impressive comebacks in NCAA championship game history to rally for a win. The last time a team recovered from a 3-0 deficit to win a championship game was in 1991 by Northern Michigan University.
UMass goaltender, Filip Lindgren, a Minnesota Wild draft choice was in control and rarely tested through two periods despite the Huskies edging UMass 6-5 in scoring chances. The most memorable opportunity was when Veeti Miettinen rang a wrist shot off the crossbar in the first minute and a half of the contest just one of three shots on goal in period one. Opportunities were few and far between throughout the balance of the game.
Small in stature, sophomore forward Zach Okabe was the biggest man on the ice for SCSU in the game. He led all players in the game with eight shots on goal, one-third of the team total, and the majority of the scoring chances for the Huskies. A quick point-blank shot in the first period caught Lindgren by surprise and went off his chest and a three-shot flurry in the left crease late in period two under normal circumstances would have been a goal. Okabe played aggressive, physical, won battles, and seemed to be on a mission to get the Huskies back in the game. This may have been the defining game for Okabe as a Husky.
David Hrenak, who completed his 115th game as a Husky was solid down the stretch run winning six of his last eight games (five tournament games) with losses only to North Dakota and Massachusetts in championship games. Despite allowing 5 goals on 22 shots (.680 SV%) in the national championship game, the loss can’t be shouldered on Hrenak although two of the goals (Lagunov, Trivigno) were certainly stoppable.
On this night it was not to be for the Huskies. The game was much closer than the scoreboard. However, opportunity breeds success, and the Minutemen capitalized for a convincing 5-0 win and the end of an exciting run for St. Cloud State.
College Hockey Free-Agency (AKA Transfer Portal)
It’s that time of the year where the NHL makes their annual raid on college hockey. As of the time of this writing, 17 players with eligibility remaining have signed with NHL clubs. The teams most affected were Boston College who lost its entire first line and highly touted goaltender, North Dakota who lost their top goaltender, forward, and defenseman, and Wisconsin who lost their top two forwards including Hobey Baker winner Cole Caufield.
Add to that the additional year of eligibility granted to all players in this COVID year and the recent modifications to the transfer options by the NCAA and we’ll see effects of this for at least two years.
According to the NCAA “The Transfer Portal was created as a compliance tool to systematically manage the transfer process from start to finish, add more transparency to the process among schools and empower student-athletes to make known their desire to consider other programs.”
David Cobb of CBS Sports noted “Transfer freedom had to be allowed because the NCAA’s antiquated rules continue to be exposed to legal liability. There’s also the hypocrisy to consider. The NCAA says the student-athlete experience should mirror that of the normal student. There wasn’t anything normal about transfers in five sports (football, men’s and women’s basketball, baseball, hockey) being forced to sit out while athletes in 19 other sports did not.”
As a refresher, due to COVID, the NCAA has allowed a one-time modification to the eligibility for 2020-21 NCAA Division I winter athletes. They will be given an additional year of eligibility, meaning that they have six years to complete four years as opposed to the preexisting requirement to finish four years of eligibility in five years. In other words, all winter athletes will be given an additional year of eligibility.
Additionally, the NCAA Division I Council, the organization’s primary legislative body made up mostly of school athletic administrators has modified the transfer provision for NCAA Division I hockey. Under current transfer rules, athletes in five sports, including hockey, are ineligible in the first year they transfer unless they receive a waiver. The new rule would allow all athletes to move freely at least once, with stipulations. Athletes must submit a notification of transfer by certain dates to be eligible at their next location. Fall and winter sports athletes would have to notify their schools by May 1, with an exception extending the date to July 1 for an end-of-the-year head coaching change or the non-renewal of scholarships. However, for this year only, due to the late notice of this change, athletes will have until July 1 to notify their schools of their election to enter the transfer portal.
The effect thus far has been dramatic with over 200 players entering the transfer portal. The list I had an opportunity to peek at contained the following currently in the transfer portal:
- Senior Transfers: 70
- Junior Transfers: 39
- Sophomore Transfers: 48
- Freshman Transfers: 32
That’s roughly 10% of the rostered players in 2020-21 looking for greener pastures.
This list included 32 goaltenders that have entered their names in the portal. This list is far from complete as the updated transfer provision allows the door to be open until July 1 for a player to enter the portal.
The hardest hit thus far is Bowling Green with nine players indicating an intent to transfer and five already finding a new team. Their transfer list includes six of their top eight scorers. Denver is another squad with a large number of players in the portal with seven – mostly senior transfers. Others include Colorado College with three of their top six scorers, Miami with three seniors and a goaltender, Omaha with six, Minnesota with six, Boston University with four, RPI with five, and NCAA tournament team Lake superior State with four of their top six scorers in the portal.
Even national champion Massachusetts has seen two of their top performers in the championship game depart with Philip Lagunov moving on to Vermont and second-leading scorer Oliver Chau transferring to Quinnipiac.
North Dakota has been particularly hard hit between early signings, those in the transfer portal, and seniors deciding against their extra year of eligibility. For 2021-22 they’ll be minus Jordan Kawaguchi, Collin Adams, Shane Pinto, Matt Kiersted, Grant Mismash, Jacob Bernard-Docker, Harrison Blaisdell, Jackson Keane, Adam Scheel, Josh Rieger, and Peter Thome. However, they recovered their losses to an extent with transfers Connor Ford (BGSU), Chris Jandric (AK), Brady Ferner (RPI), and Zach Driscoll (BSU).
The University of Wisconsin was decimated as well losing Cole Caufield, Dylan Holloway, Shay Donovan, and Ty Emberson, and seniors Linus Weissbach and Ty Pelton-Byce forgoing another year of eligibility. They have added goaltender Jared Moe from rival Minnesota. They also added 123 career point scorer and senior Max Johnson of Bowling Green.
The Gophers could be minus eight players from their 2020-21 roster with leading scorer Sampo Ranta signing early and Scott Reedy turning down an additional year to sign a pro contract. Brandon McManus, who was sixth in points transferred to Omaha and four others look to transfer including Nathan Burke, who was originally an SCSU commit but then followed Bob Motzko to Minnesota. They hit the jackpot adding Colorado College captain Grant Cruikshank who has 30 goals over 90 games and has two years of eligibility remaining.
Division I newbie and CCHA member St. Thomas has been mining the portal with success capturing six transfers thus far with the most notable goaltender Peter Thome of North Dakota.
It’ll probably be late summer before the final fallout is known from this newfound free agency.
What’s Next for St. Cloud State
It was an unprecedented year for the Huskies who were not ranked in the top twenty of college hockey at the start of the season. Although not the winningest team in history, they were the most successful in terms of how far they reached in the NCAA tournament. They reached the Frozen Four in 2013 and were on the cusp of the Frozen Four losing in regional championship games in 2001, 2010, 2014, and 2015.
Like all teams in college hockey, the Huskies are dealing with the current free agency in college hockey and attempting to assemble their roster for the 2021-22 season. As of this writing, the Huskies have had no players enter the transfer portal although the NCAA has extended the period for players to provide their school a notice of intent to July 1. (4/20/2021 Note): Defenseman Trevor Zins has entered the transfer portal.
Regardless, it appears from early indications that the team will return a large majority of its nucleus of players from the 2020-21 season. Here’s what we know right now:
- Seniors most likely returning: Luke Jaycox (D), Seamus Donohue (D), Easton Brodzinski (F)
- Senior probably returning: Kevin Fitzgerald (F)
- Senior to be determined: David Hrenak (G)
- Seniors unlikely to return: Will Hammer (F), Jared Cockrell (F), Tyler Anderson (D)
Hrenak is a draft choice of the LA Kings. The question is whether they wish to ink the 5th round draft choice to a two-year entry-level deal. With Jonathan Quick and Cal Peterson embedded in the Kings roster, the question remains as to whether he could supplant either J F Berube or Troy Grosenick at the AHL level. If not, his other option could be playing in Europe.
Brodzinski sustained a fractured femur in the March 28th Northeast Regional championship game. He’ll have a year of rehabilitation ahead of him and it would serve him well to take advantage of SCSU’s training resources and take another season to prove he can return to the level he was at prior to the injury.
In a recent interview with a Maine radio station, Jared Cockrell suggested he may be playing in the East Coast Hockey League this spring. He already has an undergraduate degree and I wouldn’t blame him if he wasn’t interested in a sixth year of school.
Tyler Anderson is heading to medical school and Will Hammer is a business management major and apparently has an internship lined up and wishes to pursue his career. At age 25, he would start the season as one of the older players in college hockey.
All juniors are expected to return including drafted players Nick Perbix (Tampa Bay) and Sam Hentges (Minnesota Wild).
The Huskies have three players that have signed their National Letter of Intent and are expected to be part of the team in 2021-22. These include:
- Jack Peart (Defense); Grand Rapids, MN (Grand Rapids High School | Fargo Force | USHL)
- Josh Luedtke (Defense); Minnetonka, MN (Des Moines Buccaneers | USHL)
- Mason Salquist (Forward); Grand Forks, ND (Fargo Force| USHL)
All three are captains of their respective teams with Peart winning the Mr. Hockey Award in Minnesota for 2020-21. Luedtke was originally a commit to Denver before changing his commitment to SCSU. Salquist is an experienced junior hockey player with 114 games on his resume.
2021-22 SCSU Men’s Hockey Schedule
Although there has been no official release of the schedule for 2021-22 early indications are the Huskies will be staying close to home for their non-conference schedule. The schedule looks to include:
- Minnesota State University, Mankato (away)
- University of Minnesota (home and home)
- University of Wisconsin (home)
- University of St. Thomas (home and home)
- Bemidji State University (home and home)
The MSU series will be a rematch of the Frozen Four semifinal game. The Huskies will face former SCSU coaches Bob Motzko and Garrett Raboin and the Gophers for the first time since a 4-1 loss in the Mariucci Classic on December 30, 2019. The series with the University of Wisconsin will be the first meeting between the teams since the semifinals of the WCHA tournament at the Xcel Energy Center on March 23, 2013. It will be the Badger’s first visit to St. Cloud since a series on February 3-4, 2012 when the Huskies swept the Badgers 5-1, 2-1. The Huskies will host college hockey’s newest Division I team and CCHA member, St. Thomas University. Finally, the Huskies will renew their in-state rivalry with NCAA tournament participant Bemidji State University.
It is expected the NCHC will release its composite schedule for 2021-22 this week.