Article written by Blake Theisen
There may not be someone more humble than Kevin Fitzgerald. The Husky 5th-year senior earned his 100th career point on Saturday night during the Huskies’ 6-2 victory over Colorado College.
“I don’t know,” said Fitzgerald when asked if he ever took a moment to realize his individual accomplishment. “I mean honestly, coming here has been literally a dream come true. Every single day living it to be honest with you, so no I haven’t really thought about it.”
It’s no surprise that Fitzgerald didn’t have much to say. He’s always the first person to thank someone else when he scores or something good happens for him. Tonight, it was Nick Perbix that got the praise from Fitzgerald.
With the Huskies already ahead 1-0 thanks to a Veeti Miettinen powerplay goal, Perbix fed Fitzgerald right in front of the net. Fitzgerald, in what wasn’t the prettiest of his 100 points, took a shot that deflected off a skate and past Colorado goaltender Matt Vernon.
“We joked in the locker room that it took him seven years to get it,” SCSU Head Coach Brett Larson joked. “But maybe it was only five. It seems like he’s been here that long.
“A bunch of his buddies are in town right now, Nick and Jack Poehling, and John Lizotte. They’re in the locker room congratulating him right now which is so fun to see with those guys back. Fitzy’s just been a huge part of this program for five years. I don’t know if I could coach a better kid to be honest. He’s just one of the all-time best for sure on and off the ice.”
As if having some of his past linemates come to town to celebrate with him wasn’t convincing enough, Micah Miller also shed some light onto what type of person Fitzgerald truly is.
“You know as good as he is on the ice, he’s an even better person off the ice. A true friend,” said Miller. “When the team’s kind of down maybe a little bit, he always brings energy, he’s always ready to go, he’s always in a good mood. Just to have somebody on the team like that is just massive.”
It was an emotional night all around for the Huskies and Larson. Saturday night was senior night at the Brooks Center in what could be the Huskies final home game of the season. With the NCAA’s additional of a 5th year option for all players effected by the COVID-19 shortened season, the Huskies had in total 12 players who could have just played their final home game.
This year’s senior group of Miller, Nolan Walker, Sam Hentges, Aidan Spellacy, Spencer Meier, Brendan Bushy, and Perbix. were the freshman class that Larson inherited in his first year with the Huskies.
“A little bit emotional tonight,” admitted Larson as it looked like he was holding back a bit. “It’s just a great group of kids and we’ve been fortunate. Like I said a lot 4 years ago when I came in, I couldn’t have been luckier to inherit just an unbelievable group of people. We’ve been through it together. Through the ups and downs. Tough loss that first year, then to making the frozen four the last year and hopefully a good run here.”
It was abundantly clear based on Larson’s body language and speech how much this group means to him. On Saturday night, they came through for the bench boss again. Potentially, for the last time on home ice.
Along with Fitzgerald, Miller, Walker, and Hentges all scored goals for the Huskies. All were emblematic of those players careers. Miller’s was a hard working tip in from on top of the crease after helping force a turnover. Hentges’ goal came on the powerplay, where 13 of his 35 career goals have come. Walker’s, an opportunistic chance, burying the empty net goal to seal the Huskies win.
St. Cloud State carried a 4-0 lead into the 3rd period, but things did get dicey for a moment there. Colorado College scored twice just 26 seconds apart to make it a 4-2 game with 11:06 left to play. The goal from Hentges coupled with a good response from the Huskies defensively shut down any Tiger hopes for a comeback.
The Huskies must quickly turn their focus to next weekend. With 6 critical points earned over the Tigers, St. Cloud sits just a pair of points back of the Duluth Bulldogs for the 4-seed and home ice for the NCHC quarterfinals. Those two teams meet each other next weekend in Duluth for two games that will likely decide who hosts who in the quarterfinal.
The Bulldogs split their weekend series with Miami of Ohio. The split opens the door to a couple of ways the Huskies can clinch home ice next weekend.
Option 1, the Huskies sweep Duluth, surpass them in points, and host the opening round of the NCHC playoffs.
Or there’s option 2. The Huskies win one of the two games and force overtime in the other. This would put St. Cloud and Duluth in a tie with each other with 36 points. The Huskies would hold the tiebreaker in this scenario with a better regulation winning percentage than Duluth.
SCSU can still finish anywhere between 3rd and 6th in the NCHC, but 4th or 5th are the most likely result. Western Michigan and Nebraska Omaha are the other two teams in the discussion. Western Michigan needs just one win to secure a top 3 finish. Omaha on the other hand needs to sweep North Dakota in regulation next weekend and the Huskies to finish with 34 points or less.
Coming off 5 games in the past 8 days, the Huskies are a tired team. Or at least that’s what Brett Larson thinks.
“I was proud of the way the guys fought through it,” said Larson. “I thought mentally and physically that was as fatigued as I’ve seen this team. With the way the schedule went here, I’m really proud of him for get through this stretch.
“They’re gonna get some extra time off this week for sure. The best thing we can do is rest. I think we’re the only team in the league to lose our bye week and have to play two Tuesday games. This leagues hard enough with the schedule the way it is regularly.”
Kevin Fitzgerald on the other hand doesn’t want to wait so long, “I kinda wished we were playing again. I like having more games, it’s awesome.”
St. Cloud State travels to Amsoil Arena this weekend for a showdown with the Duluth Bulldogs. Puck drop for Friday night is set for 7:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. on Saturday.
Odds and Ends
- The Huskies sit at 9th in the Pairwise rankings following Saturday’s result. Minnesota Duluth fell to 11th following their 4-0 loss to Miami. So much in this area is still in flux though. College Hockey News’ Pairwise Matrix gives St. Cloud a 99.8% chance to make the NCAA tournament. Almost a sure fire lock.
- All of this years senior class does hold the option to come back for a 5th season of eligibility. Sam Hentges and Nick Perbix are the only two of that group that are NHL draft picks and will be left with decisions to make on that front. The remaining seniors are all open to be offered contracts as well at any point by professional teams.
- Husky 5th year senior Seamus Donohue played in his 180th consecutive game on Friday night. That is 4 games back of the all-time record held currently by Brandon Kruse. Kruse, still an active player, currently plays for Boston College. With Boston College unlikely to make the NCAA tournament, there is still an outside chance that Donohue can pass him by seasons end. Kruse does have a game in hand on Donohue as of this writing. So assuming Donohue sits 5 games back of Kruse, the Huskies would need make both the NCHC Championship and the NCAA Championship, while Boston College loses in the Hockey East quarterfinals. Outside chance, but as Lloyd Christmas once said – “So you’re telling me there’s a chance?”