After a disappointing end to the 2016-17 season, the Huskies hope to bounce back this year after starting 3-0.
St. Cloud State didn’t end last season how they had hoped. With a finishing record of 16-19-1 (10-13-1 NCHC), the Huskies failed to appear in the NCAA tournament.
St. Cloud State entered this season ranked No. 9 in the nation, one of four NCHC teams in the top 10 (Denver, Minnesota-Duluth, North Dakota). The Huskies started off the season on a positive note, beating Mankato 4-0 before sweeping Alaska-Fairbanks at home this past weekend. The Huskies also played an exhibition game this fall, beating the University of Regina 8-0 back in September at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center.
St. Cloud State’s team consists of just three seniors this year, with over half the team being underclassmen. Huskies head coach Bob Motzko mentioned how his team is still young, but they are progressing.
“We were infants last year. We’re just teenagers… we have so many guys that are learning. It’s gonna take us a month to figure out how hard you gotta battle and play a little smarter. Those are things that will come in time,” said Motzko.
One of the seniors for St. Cloud State is Judd Peterson. Peterson, who has played 109 games in his three years for the Huskies, expressed how the lack of seniors shouldn’t be an issue.
“I like to think we are a mature team. We have a lot of guys who already have a year or two of college hockey under their belt and have all played in those close games,” said Peterson.
Peterson went on to say how the younger and more inexperienced players will have a big role on the team this season. Another senior, Blake Winiecki, mentioned how the experience of the junior class makes up for the lack of seniors on the team.
“We have a pretty large junior class that does a good job of being vocal and leading by example,” said Winiecki.
Winiecki went on to point out the Huskies’ struggles to play a complete game last year. He said, “In a lot of games last year we were right where we expected to be and we just didn’t quite have the third period or the full 60-minute game we wanted.” Winiecki, who finished second on the Huskies in scoring last season with 24 points, believes that the experiences from last year have been used as a lesson to learn from their mistakes and improve moving forward.
St. Cloud State’s Jimmy Schuldt got off to a great start this season, scoring four goals in three games as a defenseman. Schuldt leads the NCHC with three power play goals. The Huskies captain mentioned that he isn’t typically a goal scorer, and how his teammates deserve credit for his success.
“If I score it’s because it’s a good screen in front. It’s a good pass play by a forward or defenseman. All my goals are on one-timers that make it through,” said Schuldt.
All four of Schuldt’s goals this season have come off one-timers. After Saturday night’s 5-4 overtime victory, teammate Ryan Poehling mentioned how Schuldt has proven himself to be the guy his teammates look up to and emulate.
“He is our leader. He’s battled so hard each night, it kinda gives a mirror image to play,” said Poehling.
Motzko agreed with Poehling, adding how Schuldt has been able to step up his level of play at crucial moments in games. Schuldt went on to say how he’s just doing what he can to get pucks to the net, the rest has just fallen into place.
With 2.96 goals against average in 2016-17, the Huskies finished fourth in the NCHC. Junior goaltender Jeff Smith started 25 of the 36 games for the Huskies, splitting time with Zach Driscoll before taking over the starting role. Smith, who started just four of the first 15 games last season, mentioned how friendly competition pushed not only him, but his fellow goaltenders as well.
“When you have competition like that you gotta be better and you gotta be good… I think having healthy competition and having a good friendship with him helped us both become better,” said Smith.
Smith started the first two games of the season for the Huskies, recording a shutout against Mankato for the season-opener, before freshman David Hrenak got the nod last Saturday against Alaska-Fairbanks. Hrenak gave up four goals in his debut. Hrenak played for both the under-20 and the Under-18 Slovakian national teams and was playing for the Green Bay Gamblers (USHL) last season.
During the offseason, Driscoll decided to leave St. Cloud State to play junior hockey with the Omaha Lancers of the United States Hockey League this season. Driscoll, who started 11 games for the Huskies last season as a freshman, still has three years of NCAA eligibility remaining. He hopes to develop more this year and has not ruled out returning to St. Cloud State the following season.
The Huskies will face their first real test of the season this weekend, as they take on Boston College Friday and Saturday night at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center. The series will be the second of three consecutive home series for the Huskies.
Photo courtesy of St. Cloud State Athletics