St. Cloud, MN – Thirty-two years ago in April of 1989 it was announced that St. Cloud State University would be admitted as the newest member of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. It was a different time, things did not move quite so quickly and it required a lot of political maneuvering to get it done. I remember the day it was announced and it seemed like an incredible accomplishment.
On Saturday, appropriately at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center, St. Cloud State University will help usher in a new era of college hockey for the University of St. Thomas. St. Thomas too had to do a lot of maneuvering before it was announced in July of 2020 that they would make the jump from Division III directly to Division I. This was the first school in the modern history of the NCAA to do so. The move came after MIAC presidents voted to change a bi-law capping undergraduate enrollments for participating schools in athletics, effectively eliminating St. Thomas from the league.
Subsequently, on July 29, 2020, it was announced the University of St. Thomas would be admitted as the newest and eighth member of the newly formed Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA).
#2/3 SCSU Huskies (0-0-0) vs UST Tommies (0-0-0)
TV: Fox 9+ (Sat)
Live Stream: NCHC.tv (Sat) Flohockey.tv (Sun)
Radio: KNSI 1450 AM / KZPZ 98.9-2 FM (St. Cloud) KVSC 88.1 FM (St. Cloud)
Where: Herb Brooks National Hockey Center (Sat) Xcel Energy Center (Sun)
When: Sat/Sun, October 2/3, 2021
Last Time Out
These are the season-opening games for both teams.
Scouting the University of St. Thomas Tommies
St. Thomas fast-tracked their move to Division I hockey with the hiring of long-time Miami University coach Rico Blasi in April. Blasi spent 20 years at Miami and was the youngest coach in Division I hockey at 27 when he was hired. Blasi was highly successful in the “old” CCHA, the league with the same namesake that was abandoned after the 2012-13 season. Blasi compiled a 311-196-53 record in the CCHA which included nine NCAA appearances and three regular-season championships.
Miami joined the newly formed National Collegiate Hockey Conference in 2013-14 and despite winning the NCHC Frozen Faceoff (vs SCSU) in 2014-15 and making one additional NCAA tourney appearance the team struggled with only one winning season from 2013 to 2019. With an NCHC record of 87-115-23, Blasi was relieved of his head coaching position after the 2018-19 season.
Now at age 49, Blasi’s first order of duty was to assemble a team that could be competitive in the 2021-22 season. This included players from the 2020-21 team from a tryout camp in April, utilizing the transfer portal and traditional recruiting methods.
The end result was a 27 man roster with 11 players from the 2020-21 squad and 16 newcomers. This Tommies team will be one of the oldest in average age in NCAA Division I hockey at 22 years and 7 months. For comparison, the oldest team in the country this season is American International at 23 years.The youngest player on the Tommies roster is 20-year-old Cameron Recchi.
This is perhaps the strongest position on the team as a result of the transfer of 24-year-old North Dakota goaltender Peter Thome. Thome had a fairly successful four years at UND primarily as a backup but did appear in 42 games logging a career 19-14-5 record, 2.24 GAA, and .903 SV%. Thome should be relied on heavily as one of the most experienced Division I veterans on the team.
Thome will be backed up by another 24-year-old Minnesota State transfer Jacob Berger who spent two seasons in Mankato appearing in seven games with a 2.00 GAA and .933 SV%. St. Thomas returnee Henry Baribeau has two seasons with the Tommies and the 6’3″ 190 goaltender played in 16 games posting a 2.35 GAA and .923 SV%.
The team will most likely rely on a group of Division I transfers including graduate student, Christiano Versich (Colorado College / 106-13-32-45), Sam Renlund (CC / 26-1-4-5), and Matthew Jennings (OSU / 40-2-1-3).
St. Thomas Division III returnees Andrew Kangas (25-4-10-14), Grant Loven (9-4-6-10), Luke Manning (9-1-3-4), Joey Sofo (3-2-1-3), and Justin Kelley (35-11-8-19), should see regular ice time with Aaron Swanson (7-1-2-3) and Lucas McGregor (1-0-0-0) also vying for ice time.
A group of first-year recruits should impact the team. Kyler Grundy is a 6’1″ 190 forward who spent three years in the USHL for the Green Bay Gamblers and played in 147 games with 21 goals and 45 assists for 66 points. Blaine Warnert was originally an Omaha recruit and is an imposing 6’5″ 190 and posted 15-10-25 in 49 games for Minot of the NAHL. Austrian Paul Schmid has extensive international experience and 20 points in 43 games for Amarillo of the NAHL. Another promising first-year player is 6’2″ 210, Tim Piechowski who had 36 goals and 49 assists for 85 points in 145 games for Bismarck of the NAHL. Finally, Cameron Recchi is the son of former NHL great Mark Recchi who played 22 years in the NHL. Recchi posted 5-7-12 in 20 games for Salmon Arm of the BCHL.
The defense appears to have a fair amount of depth with a number of Division I transfers. Familiar names include Trevor Zins and John Schuldt. Zins was with the SCSU Huskies for two seasons but simply got caught up in a numbers game in St. Cloud. Zins had great success at the junior level with 46 points in 58 games for Trail of the BCHL. I expect Zins will be one of the top defenders this season. Schudt is the brother of former Husky Jimmy Schuldt and he transferred from Omaha where the 6’4″ 216 pound 24 year old played in 58 games.
Nolan Sawchuck was a high school teammate of former Husky Jack Ahcan and is a transfer from UMass-Lowell. Sawchuck appeared in 61 games for the RiverHawks including 15 games last season. Ethan Gauer is a transfer from Bemidji State but had limited ice time in his only season playing in four games.
St Thomas returnees include Kimball Johnson (8-2-2-4), and Vincent Weiss (8-0-4-4).
First-year players that could impact are junior hockey recruits Michael Farradino (NAHL) and Trevor Ledonne, a 6’1″ 192-pound defenseman who logged 10 goals and 27 assists in the BCHL.
St. Cloud State University Notes
The 2020-21 national runner-up Huskies have the luxury of minimal departures from last season. They did see the departure of blue-collar players Will Hammer and Jared Cockrell (both of whom would have been 26 this season) who were part of a highly successful checking line and provided respite for the top three lines. Otherwise, the entire team is back sans defenseman, Tyler Anderson who logged 15 games and is pursuing medical school at the University of Manitoba. Team additions outweigh the departures and that’s what gives a great deal of optimism for the 2021-22 season.
Goaltending continues to be a strength with veterans David Hrenak, Jaxon Castor, and Joey Lamoreaux all returning. Hrenak returns for his fifth season and his career includes 115 games, 2.44 GAA, .908 SV%, and 11 shutouts. Backups Castor and Lamoreaux could be starters on many other teams but only saw action in seven games last season.
At forward, the team returns a whole lot of experience with six seniors and five juniors. They return the top eight goal scorers and point producers including the aforementioned linemates Miettinen, Krannila, and Okabe who produced a combined 28 goals and 69 points. Also returning is senior Nolan Walker who had a breakout year on offense with 10 goals and 14 assists for 24 points. Easton Brodzinski finished the season as the team’s top goal-scorer with 13 goals but sustained a fractured femur in the Boston College semi-final and although currently skating his return to competition is unknown.
Fifth-year senior forward Kevin Fitzgerald decided to return and he’s a key component of the offense and special teams.
Seniors Micah Miller and Minnesota Wild draft choice Sam Hentges and juniors Chase Brand and Kyler Kupka are others that will be key contributors and are expected to bury the puck more this season. Joe Molenaar, Thomas Rocco, Jack Johnston, and newcomers Mason Salquist, Robert Morris transfer Aiden Spellacy and Ryan Rosborough will be vying for ice time as well.
The defense is deep and talented and led by senior captain Spencer Meier and NCHC preseason all-league team pick and senior Nick Perbix. Perbix had a breakout season in 2020-21 posting 7 goals and 16 assists and was plus-eight. Seamus Donohue, a fifth-year senior, was a Michigan Tech transfer, meshed well with Perbix, and logged a ton of minutes. Luke Jaycox, Brendan Bushy, Ondrej Trejbil, and Brady Ziemer are all experienced veterans that bolster the strength of a defensive unit that finished the season +41 last year. Newcomers include two-year USHL veteran Josh Luedtke and Minnesota Wild draft choice Jack Peart. Both are puck movers and will change the dynamics and personality of this defense.
The Huskies are heavy favorites in a series that jump-starts a new era of hockey for the University of St. Thomas. Every conceivable category of game situation should favor the Huskies including special teams.
The Huskies are speedy and explosive and have four lines of depth. The defensive unit is deeper and more talented than last season. If the Tommies get in penalty trouble, the Huskies will certainly take advantage.
The Tommies may be able to defend but the lineup is not littered with players who have put up a lot of offense. So, the question is who will step up and supply offense? Big-body players like Piechowski, Warnert, and Grundy could be likely candidates as are transfers Renlund and Versich.
I’ll be interested to see former Husky Trevor Zins on the ice. I suspect after practicing with the Huskies for two years he’ll be quite effective defensively. Naturally, he knows the tendencies of the SCSU forwards.
The Tommies “ace” may be goaltender Peter Thome who is no stranger to NCHC opponents or the SCSU Huskies. If Thome can put forth a yeoman’s effort, and keep the game close his team could have a chance. At least for game one, the Tommies may want to place their most experienced Division I transfers on the ice as I expect there will be some nerves for this historic first contest. They also have the option of putting some size in their lineup to try and slow down the free-wheeling Huskies.
The Tommies are an older team and in ways reminds me of exhibition games with Canadian Collegiate teams that are typically loaded with over-age players similar to the Tommies who have an average age near 23 years old.
Game two at the Xcel Energy Center should be an interesting experience for both the fans and the teams. The Tommies generally have an outstanding following and it’ll be interesting to see how many show up for this game.