St. Cloud, MN – During NCHC Media Day SCSU coach Larson knew his early-season schedule was going to be challenging saying “That schedule sounded great when we first put it together. I was thinking about the fans but now we have to win some of those games. It’s good to have a challenge but it’s going to be fun”.
Sure, they were fresh off their most successful season ever reaching the championship game of the 2021 NCAA Frozen Four but even with a large returning core of key players, nothing is taken for granted. ” I think there’s going to be a hunger going through that experience and getting that taste and being that close,” said head coach Brett Larson. “But, you have to flip the switch and say it’s a new challenge and a new year and not everything is going to be the same. Now, we focus on a new challenge.”
“Our team is very hungry and we want to win’” said team captain Spencer Meier. “We went far and made a great run and are proud of it but we want to win. We want to win the NCHC, the Frozen Faceoff, and the ultimate goal is to win that national championship.”
So far so good as the Huskies have compiled a 6-2-0 record through the first month of the season with the Huskies ranked #1 in both of the major polls. “If you would have told me we’d be 6-1-1 (Pairwise) looking at our schedule we would have taken it any day. Our focus the first month of the year was to defend well and get good goaltending. We knew that was going to be the key early season because everyone gets better as the year goes on.”
With a 3-1-0 road record including wins over #3 Minnesota State Mankato and #7 University of Minnesota and a 1-0 loss to the Mavericks, they’ve met the challenge early in venues where it’s difficult to collect wins. The home record of 3-1-0 including the most recent sweep of Wisconsin and a hard-to-swallow overtime loss to the Gophers should have them in a good state of mind as they open league play on November 5/6 on the road vs Colorado College.
Hrenak’s Been Impressive
Perhaps the key to the Huskies’ success in the first month is the play of fifth-year senior David Hrenak. More so than anything he’s portraying the confidence of a goaltender that has 122 collegiate games under his belt including 71 wins and 12 shutouts. He entered the season with a 2.44 GAA and .908 SV% hardly considered dominant goaltenders numbers but he’s currently posting a 1.37 GAA (tied for 4th nationally) and a .943 SV% (tied for 7th nationally).
Hrenak is benefitting from a strong defensive unit in front of him that’s kept the opponent out of the scoring zone for the most part and has blocked 83 shots. He’s seen a lot of rubber making 148 saves (11th nationally) but it’s a matter of where the shots are coming from.
It’s also carried over to the play of Hrenak’s backups, with Jaxon Castor posting a 1.00 GAA and .969 SV% and Joey Lamoreaux a 2.52 GAA and .947 SV%.
The solid defensive play has the Huskies currently ranked 5th nationally allowing 1.38 goals per game is a small sample after eight games but is impressive considering their opponents thus far.
Not to get too technical, SCSU’s Corsi percentage (shot attempts vs opponent shot attempts) is at 50.9% (College Hockey News Stats) ranking them 25th nationally. But, I see it as a function of three things – the high level of the opponent they’ve been playing and where the shots are coming from. Minnesota, Wisconsin, Minnesota State, and even St. Thomas are teams that like to throw the puck on the net. It’s also important to take into consideration the Huskies have been in the lead in 18 of the 24 periods of play through eight games and you can expect a team to press less offensively because of that.
There’s a lot of critics to using plus/minus to evaluate defenseman including how often a defenseman is used in defensive zone faceoffs and crucial situations, short-handed situations, and with the goaltender pulled. Nevertheless, as a unit, the Huskies have a +17 plus/minus with Brendan Bushy leading the squad with a well-deserved +4. As expected, seniors Nick Perbix and Spencer Meier lead the team in blocked shots with 15 and 9 respectively.
On the Offense
Nationally, the numbers on offense are impressive until you drill them down a bit. Ranked 7th nationally with a 3.88 goals per game average, they drop to about 25th and 2.75 goals per game without the effect of the 12-2 blowout of St. Thomas on October 2nd. But, again, this is a function of the caliber of teams they’ve faced in the first month.
Still, coach Larson will not deny they need to generate more offense particularly from players like Veeti Miettinen and Sam Hentges, each with just one goal and Miettinen clearly leading the squad with 32 shots on goal. They’ve both had their share of “Grade A” opportunities and eventually, odds are the goals will start appearing.
Individually, the Huskies don’t show up nationally in points until Kevin Fitzgerald, Jami Krannila, and Seamus Donohue surface tied for 19th with 8 points. However, Donahue is tied for 3rd nationally in assists with 8. Jami Krannila and freshman Mason Salquist are tied for 5th in game-winning goals with two.
The offense is also an indication of balance on the squad and the coaching staff’s reliance on rolling four lines regularly. This is reflected with 21 of 22 players (with the exception of goaltenders) with ice time having at least a point and 15 players with at least one goal.
Nolan Walker leads the team with 3 even-strength goals and Kevin Fitzgerald and Easton Brodzinski in power-play goals with 3 which ranks them 5th nationally in that scoring statistic.
Considering Brodzinski was on the bubble as to the start of his 2021-22 season after his serious leg fracture last April, it’s an inspirational story to see him play in every game thus far and be one of the team’s scoring leaders. He’ll be essential to the team’s success this season.
Special Teams Have Been Special
The Huskies currently have the top-ranked power play in college hockey having success in 15 of 32 opportunities for a 46.88 success percentage. Even eliminating the seven power-play goals vs St. Thomas would still give them a success rate of 36.36% which would still place them in the top five nationally.
The penalty kill has been productive at close to 90% to place the unit 22nd nationally. Most impressive is since the game with Minnesota State Mankato on October 8th, the Huskies have killed 17 consecutive opponent man-advantages.
Also impressive are the Huskies’ three short-handed goals in this early season by Ondrej Trejbal, Micah Miller, and Jami Krannila.
The Huskies return to action on November 5/6 in Colorado Springs, CO to face the CC Tigers at the newly opened Robson Arena. They return home to face the Omaha Mavericks on November 12/13 and then hit the road again for what is expected to be a difficult series with a very tough Western Michigan squad at Lawson Arena.
December is a light month with just three games and one very important conference series at home against the University of North Dakota. They finish the calendar year with a short road trip to Bemidji to face the Beavers on New Year’s Eve.
The Huskies will have faced six of last seasons NCAA tournament participants in 11 of their first 17 games of the 2021-22 season.