Article written by Blake Theisen
Omaha, Neb. – Things are starting to spiral out of control for St. Cloud State. Coming off Saturday night’s 5-1 defeat and weekend sweep at the hands of NCHC foe Nebraska Omaha (UNO), the Huskies men’s hockey team looks nothing like the team that was once ranked No. 1 in the nation. St. Cloud has now gone 1-5-2 in its last nine games and haven’t won on the road since the turn of the calendar.
“The message is we got to stick together,” said Husky Head Coach Brett Larson following Saturday’s loss. “The only way we’re going to get out of this is together. You know that when you go through tough times it’s going to take everybody.”
Everybody would be ideal for SCSU, but they should at least start with somebody. The Huskies haven’t received a goal from Easton Brodzinski or Nolan Walker in nearly a month, Kevin Fitzgerald has cooled down after his unbelievable start, and Veeti Miettinen has just one goal in his last nine games.
Saturday night’s loss was an encapsulation of everything that has gone wrong for the Huskies over their last nine game stretch. They started slow, surrendered the first goal, scored a goal to give themselves and fans hope, and then immediately gave away that momentum.
Omaha’s Taylor Ward opened the scoring after an awkward bounce out of the corner evaded St. Cloud’s Nick Perbix. He ripped a shot upstairs and short side on David Hrenak from just a few feet out.
Less than two minutes later, Kirby Proctor extended the Maverick lead to 2-0 on a well executed 3-on-2 rush chasing Hrenak from the game. He allowed two goals on four shots lasting just 7:06.
“I thought they (Omaha) did a nice job on the rush,” Larson said. “You know the first goal kind of a funny bounce, hits the ref goes by Perbix on their tape they roof it. There was a few bounces they got for sure.
“He (Hrenak) was good last night for sure, but he didn’t look sharp early, and we thought you know let’s make that change early, and I’m glad we did because Jackson (Castor) went in, and I thought he played really well.”
It was Castor who gave the Huskies a chance in Saturday’s game. Having not started a game since New Year’s, the Junior from Arizona stopped 22 of the first 23 shots he saw.
St. Cloud was able to get back in the game at the start of the 3rd period.
Down 2-0, Sam Hentges got the Huskies on the board just 90 seconds into the period. Husky d-man Ondrej Trejbal continued his impressive play of late with a nifty back door shot-pass that was redirected in by Hentges.
Though like the night prior, the Huskies gave the momentum right back to Omaha. Less than two minutes later, UNO’s Tyler Weiss hacked home a rebound to restore the two-goal lead for the Mavericks.
“A really troubling trend of either tying the game or getting right back in the game and giving up a goal shortly after,” said Larson of his teams continual lack to seize the momentum. “That’s something we’re gonna have to nip in the bud immediately, because you’re not gonna win too many hockey games playing that way.”
The Huskies failed to regain their composure the rest of the night. They allowed an empty net goal for the second straight night. Then for good measure, Omaha tacked on one more off another amazing zone entry and feed to Ty Mueller.
Also, just like Saturday night, the Huskies struggled on both sides of the puck in the neutral zone to contain Nebraska. The Mavericks came through the middle third with ease and with speed leading to two of their final five goals.
“I agree [they played really well through the neutral zone and with speed],” Larson said. “We were forced to chip a lot of pucks and then we were unable to get back on it and extend our offensive zone time.”
Moving ahead, Larson will need to find a way to get his team to “stick together” before this spiral ends their season.
It’s another quick turnaround for a tired Husky squad and an even more tired Brett Larson who just returned from Beijing.
The Huskies conclude their split home series with the University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs on Tuesday night at the Brooks Center. Duluth, like the Huskies, is coming off a weekend sweep. The Bulldogs got dropped at home Friday and Saturday by North Dakota.
“Well, it’s a playoff matchup right now,” Larson said of the upcoming matchup against his former team. “It’s two teams that are, now unfortunately UNO’s right in hunt too, but it’s us, them (UMD) and UNO fighting for that last home playoff spot, so it’s a six-point swing. We can you know get the win versus the loss, this is six-point swing basically, so it’s going to be a big playoff feeling.”
After this weekend, the Huskies now sit in 6th place in the NCHC standings with 22 points. Omaha managed to tie them with the sweep, and they also hold the tiebreaker. SCSU and UNO both sit five points back of Duluth for 4th place and the right to host in the NCHC quarterfinals.
Maybe that playoff feeling Larson was talking about is exactly what the Huskies need as they look to regain their form before the postseason. It was around this same time last year that SCSU really hit their stride before making a run to the NCAA National Championship game.