Article Written by Samantha Roering.  Photo by Samantha Roering. 

When you look at the final score of Saturday night’s game, it might be hard to understand what went right. Losing 5-2 to Alaska Fairbanks and dropping their overall record to 2-4 isn’t ideal, but if you look past the score, there are signs that the team is heading in the right direction.

“The only thing I didn’t like was the score. That was probably the best 5-on-5 hockey we played all year. I thought this team took a major step forward that way,” Coach Larson said of the team’s performance.

The start of the game was a close battle, with both teams getting opportunities on the power play and putting shots on goal. Ultimately, both goaltenders would be perfect through the first period.

The first goal came five minutes into the second period. It belonged to Veeti Miettinen, getting his second goal of the weekend to give the Huskies the lead. However, it slipped away from them as the period went on, with Harrison Israels scoring twice, once on 4-on-4 and then on a power play.

The Huskies would tie it back up in the third with a power-play goal by Kyler Kupka. Things then took a turn for the worse. Brady Risk quickly took back Alaska’s lead, and a trip to the penalty box for St. Cloud would give Alaska another goal on the power play. The nail in the coffin would come on an empty net goal, putting Alaska up 5-2.

St. Cloud’s goaltender, Dominic Basse, finished the night with 21 saves on 25 shots. He looked solid through the first two periods of play but struggled to keep control in the third. That marks his fourth loss of the season, though Basse can’t be the only one blamed.

“I thought he made a few big saves when we needed him to. Unfortunately, it was just that quick turn of events after we tied it up,” Coach Larson said.

One of the weaknesses in SCSU’s game ended up being special teams, though it had been solid for the Huskies to start the season. While the 5-on-5 play improved, the special teams faltered when needed most.

The power play went 1 for 8 Saturday night, with a percentage of 12.5%. That doesn’t mean they lacked the opportunities, as they put 16 shots on goal through 12 minutes of the extra man advantage.

The penalty kill started the game solid but fell apart as the game progressed, killing 3 of 5 penalties. The goals given up shorthanded came in big moments, with the first giving the Nanooks the lead in the second and the other adding insurance.

Their 4-on-4 play struggled, with Alaska’s first goal of the game scoring in that fashion. The Huskies will look to improve on this during their bye week before beginning conference play.

“I think the bye week does come in a good time. We can work on some things that you don’t get a lot of work on, and one of those things for me would be the 4-on-4 play,” Coach Larson explained.

The Huskies must sharpen up before they play other NCHC teams in November. Coming back from the bye week, they host Miami, then travel to Western Michigan and come back home to face Minnesota Duluth.

These will be crucial games for the Huskies, especially if they hope to return to the NCHC Frozen Faceoff in March. These conference-rival games could be just what the Huskies are looking for to get the momentum back in their favor.

The Huskies have the worst record of any NCHC team and have given up the most goals. Though it hasn’t been a great start, Coach Larson argues that the statistics don’t tell the whole story.

“Our record isn’t what we want it to be, but I also don’t think it signifies how we played. We’ve only lost two games in regulation in this stretch,” he said.

Perhaps he makes a point, that you’ve got to look at the bigger picture when evaluating this team. For example, despite losing 5-2 to Alaska Fairbanks, they outshot and had a higher faceoff win percentage over them. They’ve got the elements needed to win games. They’ve just got to piece it together.

More importantly, the team is making progress. With such a young team, mistakes and growing pains are inevitable. The important part is that they learn and adapt as the season progresses. Even as little time as a week has brought out noticeable improvements from the team.

“All in all, if I look at our team this Saturday night versus last Saturday night, it’s a completely different team. I feel completely different about our group. It’s not even close. We feel like we’re making steps forward,” Coach Larson said.

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