History proves SCSU men’s hockey season far from over

The men’s hockey team looks to build traction and find a way into the NCAA tournament in March. Photo courtesy of Bill Prout (@North Dakota, Nov. 22-23).

After the St. Cloud State men’s hockey team put a holiday drubbing on the second-best team in the country in the Mariucci Classic, and skated to an unfortunate result in the first matchup against former St. Cloud State bench boss Bob Motzko the next night, it’s time to take a look at the current men’s hockey team after 18 games, and compare them to past seasons.

From the fall semester of 2017 to the spring semester of 2019, St. Cloud State men’s hockey holds a record of 55-15-9. Since 2015, the Huskies are 102-43-11, and they are 144-73-17 in the NCHC-era (2013-2019).

2018-2019: Lost 1st Round, NCAA West Regional vs AIC, 2-1

Record Percentage of games for loss Total team points Freshman points Freshman percentage of total points Games played
30-6-3 15 429 90 21 39

 

In the 2018-19 season, six freshmen currently still on the team dominated the spotlight: Minnesota draft pick Sam Hentges, centerman Nolan Walker, Tampa Bay Lightning draft pick Nick Perbix, Sartell native Spencer Meier, Micah Miller (who had a strong finish to the season), and the always-vocal Brendan Bushy on the back end. The six combined for 90 points in the 2018-19 campaign, good for just under 21 percent of the total points on the season.

The statistic that will most likely never be replicated is an absurd 30-6-3 total record (the Huskies won 77 percent of their games, tied eight percent of the time, and lost only 15 percent of their contests over the course of 39 games). The team was 18-2-3 when they scored the first goal, but even more impressive was their 12-4 record when allowing the first marker of the game; this team was built to find a way to win hockey games.

When leading or tied after two periods, the 2018-19 Huskies went 26-3-2. When trailing after the middle period, they only lost three of the seven contests with that particular stat line.

Lastly, the Huskies sat just under 24 percent on the powerplay and outscored their opponents by a margin of 72 goals during the season (156-84), including a plus-57 goal differential over the final two periods of play. St. Cloud State averaged exactly four goals per game and only gave up 2.18 goals on average.

However, everyone knows how the story ends: arguably one of the most dominant college hockey teams in history only mustered a single goal in a 2-1 upset by American International College (AIC), who only earned the final seed of the NCAA tournament as an auto bid from the Atlantic Hockey conference.

The Yellow Jackets were tied for 31st in the Pairwise out of the 60 Division-I college hockey teams in 2018-19, a 23-17-1 record that saw AIC drop almost 41 percent of its contests.

Pairwise explained

For the most basic understanding of the Pairwise for fans, it is the system used to rank the 60 Division-I college hockey teams, and it does so by comparing them to each other based on their records against common opponents. Three factors go into the rankings: Ratings Win Percentage (RPI), records against common opponents, and head-to-head matchups.

If a team wins the majority of these factors in relation to another college hockey team, they earn a point in the Pairwise. The maximum number of points a team can earn is 59 (as a team cannot be compared against itself; think number one St. Cloud State in 2017-18 and 2018-19).

For example, as of Jan. 1, 2020, the Huskies had 22 points in the Pairwise, meaning that St. Cloud State wins 22 out of the 59 comparisons against other college hockey teams. If two teams tie in all factors, RPI is the general tiebreaker.

Generally, the top 12 or 13 teams in the country earn at-large bids into the NCAA tournament; the remaining 3-4 seeds come from weaker conferences sending the winner of their respective conference tournament to the NCAA tournament (the winner of every conference tournament earns an auto bid).

If the team who wins their respective conference tournament is in the top 12 or 13, nothing changes in the Pairwise (as they are already ranked). However, if a team ranked lower than 16th in the Pairwise wins their tournament, they earn a seed into the big dance (think AIC and Air Force). Theoretically, if the winner of all six conference tournaments are not in the top 16, spots 11-16 would be replaced by these auto bids.

Confused yet? Me too, so let’s move on.

2017-18: Lost 1st Round, NCAA West Regional vs Air Force, 4-1

Record Percentage of games for loss Total team points Freshman points Freshman percentage of total points Games played
25-9-6 23 398 73 18 40

 In 2017-18, a dominant 4-1 win by the Air Force Falcons sealed the fate of a Huskies team on the rise. With an all-time tournament record of 3-7, the Falcons were once again the auto bid of Atlantic Hockey, sitting at 27th in the Pairwise with a 23-15-5 record (losing 35 percent of their contests in 2017-18).

The Falcons matched up against the Huskies in the thirteenth and final season that Bob Motzko was at the helm of the St. Cloud State bench. The cardinal and black finished with a 25-9-6 record (approximately 23 percent of games the Huskies played that season were losses). The Huskies saw Robby Jackson, Los Angeles Kings draft pick Mikey Eyssimont, and captain Jimmy Schuldt (currently a Las Vegas Golden Knight) lead the way.

The skaters of the freshman corps in 2017-18 included current Los Angeles Kings forward Blake Lizotte, Easton Brodzinski, Kevin Fitzgerald, Luke Jaycox and Tyler Anderson. The freshmen crew rounded out the season with a combined 73 points in 40 games, good for just over 18 percent of the Huskies total points.

Los Angeles Kings draft pick and current goaltender David Hrenak entered his first season as a Husky with a .919 save percentage in 25 games played, sporting a 14-7-2 record and a 2.11 goals-against average.

2015-16: Lost 1st Round, NCAA West Regional vs Ferris State, 5-4 (OT)

Record Percentage of games for loss Total team points Freshman points Freshman percentage of total points Games played
31-9-1 20 489 134 27 41

Two years before (2015-16), a heartbreaking 5-4 OT loss at the NCAA West Regional in St. Paul against Ferris State saw a 31-9-1 season dissipate as well (exactly 20 percent of the games the Huskies played this year accounted for losses, the second most-winning season in Huskies history, tied with the 2000-01 team led by longtime head coach Craig Dahl, whose team met a similar fate in the same West Regional in a 4-3 loss to Michigan).

Eight freshmen were included in that last large “freshmen turnover class” of 2015-16; the Huskies combined for 134 points, with over 27 percent of total team points in the campaign.

2000-01: Lost 1st Round, NCAA West Regional vs Michigan, 4-3

Record Percentage of games for loss Total team points Freshman points Freshman percentage of total points Games played
31-9-1 20 437 36 9 41

 In 2000-01, the freshmen were led by future NHL players Matt Hendricks and Jeff Finger. The Huskies of the new millennium also boasted eight freshmen combining for 36 points at just under nine percent. However, only three freshmen in that season were forwards.

Lastly, the St. Cloud State Huskies have made the NCAA tournament 14 times (5-15 record), with their only Frozen Four appearance coming in 2012-13, losing to Quinnipiac University 4-1 in the semifinals that season.

2012-13: Lost 1st Round, NCAA Frozen Four (3) vs Quinnipiac, 4-1

Record Percentage of games for loss Total team points Freshman points Freshman percentage of total points Games played
25-16-1 38 390 130 33 42

It was the last year in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association for St. Cloud State, and it was Bob Motzko’s eighth season behind the bench. In the most successful and longest season of Huskies hockey history in the Division I era, St. Cloud State went 25-16-1, losing 38 percent of their games that year.

Six skating freshmen combined for 130 points in 42 games, good for 33 percent of the team’s points. That year, two freshman netminders backed up sophomore Ryan Faragher in net over parts of six contests.

But what made the 2012-13 team so special? The statistics of the most successful season in team history don’t scream high-flying, high octane offense. Out of all of the teams listed so far, this team, even with the most games at 42, sat with 390 combined points.

To put that in perspective, the 2018-19 Huskies saw 429 points with 39 games; 2017-18 saw 398 points with 40 games, 2015-16 saw an absurd 489 points in 41 games, and 2000-01 saw 437 points in 41 games. The Huskies of 2012-13 were a team filled with scoring by committee.

Sure, eventual Hobey Baker winner Drew LeBlanc had 50 points and future NHL player Nic Dowd finished with 39 points, but the next five leading scorers (with 28-33 points) contained two freshmen, a sophomore, a junior and a senior.

What does it all mean?

At this point, you, dear reader, are probably saying to yourself, “okay, I get it Noah…you like hockey numbers, but what’s your point?”

The 2012-13 team was 15-7-0 at home and 8-7-1 on the road and 2-2-0 at neutral sites. St. Cloud State was number 13 in the Pairwise that year. In 2017-18 and 2018-19, during losses to Air Force and AIC, St. Cloud State was undoubtedly number one in the Pairwise.

Since 2002-2003, only four number one seeds have won it all: Denver in 2016, Boston College in 2012, Boston University in 2009 and Wisconsin in 2006. Are the teams in the top five or six in the pairwise favorites every year? Absolutely. But what about national champions Yale (number 15) in 2012-13 or Minnesota-Duluth (number 12) in 2017-18. What does all of this information tell us?

It says that all you have to do as a team in college hockey is make it to the big dance, and anything can happen. Want proof? Ask auto bids AIC and Air Force, or St. Cloud State in 2012-13.

That year, the Huskies, with eight new freshmen in their lineup, were 12-10-0 on Jan. 6, with a fair amount of losses to non-conference teams, including a sweep by New Hampshire and Northern Michigan, as well as a split to Alaska-Anchorage and RIT. Conference splits to Nebraska-Omaha, Denver and North Dakota also helped round out the loss column for the Huskies, who were 9-5-0 in conference play and 3-5-0 in non-conference action at that point.

Living in the now

Record Percentage of games for loss Total team points Freshman points Freshman percentage of total points Games played
6-8-4 44 147 27 19 18

What about our current Huskies? Led by head coach Brett Larson in his second season, as of Jan. 1, 2020, they sit 6-8-4 overall and 3-5-0 in NCHC play, including two conference overtime losses to North Dakota and Nebraska Omaha.

In the NCHC, St. Cloud State is currently fifth out of eight teams with nine points; the third through eighth seeds are currently separated by only five points (7-12). In non-conference play, a 3-3-4 record is highlighted by two ties in Bemidji, a split with Northeastern, a loss and tie against Princeton, and a tie and win against Northern Michigan. The holiday rout of conference foe Minnesota State University-Mankato and a loss to former WCHA foe Minnesota round our non-conference play.

There are 10 freshmen that fill out the roster of the 2019-20 Huskies. Six of the eight incoming freshmen skaters have seen ice time in NCAA play for the Huskies, for a combined 27 points, good for just under 19 percent of the total team points through 18 games.

For the two freshman goaltenders, Jaxon Castor and Joey Lamoreaux, both have seen time along with the junior netminder Hrenak. Castor has a .896 save percentage and a 2.41 goals-against average but has looked strong against high-quality opponents, while Lamoreaux has a 1.98 goals-against average, good for a .933 save percentage in a one-game cup of coffee against Colorado College.

Team Record Percentage of games for loss Total team points Freshman points Freshman percentage of total points Games played
2019-20* 6-8-4 44 147 27 19 18
2018-19 30-6-3 15 429 90 21 39
2017-18 25-9-6 23 398 73 18 40
2015-16 31-9-1 20 489 134 27 41
2012-13 25-16-1 38 390 130 33 42
2000-01 31-9-1 20 437 36 9 41

The road to March

St. Cloud State sits at 39th in the pairwise as of Jan. 1, but with a strong run in the second half of the season, which features nothing but NCHC opponents the rest of the way, who knows what could happen if this team gets on a roll as they move into March hockey?

After all, history says that all a college hockey team has to do is make it to the big dance and anything could happen. Generally speaking, the mark to hit in order to safely qualify for an at-large NCAA tournament slot is 20 wins.

This year, both Motzko’s Golden Gophers and Larson’s Huskies will most likely have to win their respective BIG 10 and NCHC tournaments for an NCAA berth. With 16 games remaining as of Jan. 1, and only six wins on the season, 20 wins is a tall order. However, every St. Cloud State fan knows that performance in March is where a team’s best hockey matters.

This year’s road to the NCAA tournament is an uphill climb, but one that has the potential to see the cardinal and black play spoiler as a dark horse in the NCHC and beyond.

Without the pressure of a being a number one seed, the introduction of 10 freshmen, and a second-year coach ready to lead the charge, one never knows where a little bit of puck luck will take the 2019-20 Huskies as they look to find traction in the new decade and the second half of the men’s hockey season.

Make no mistake about it: as this new freshman group continues to find its footing and learn how to play consistent Husky hockey, this team of young players has the potential to do damage now, and in the future.

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Noah Grant

Noah is a graduate student writing for the newspaper at St. Cloud State University. He currently covers the men's and women's hockey teams for the newspaper. Noah also does color analyst work for both teams on the radio at KVSC studios. Check out his St. Cloud State hockey-based podcast at https://huskieswarminghousepodcast.com

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