By: Andrew Erickson / email@example.com / Photo by: SCSU Athletics / @CarvellMedia
As the calendar turns over to October the Men’s Hockey team opens their first game week since a heart breaking upset last March.
As the clock hit zero in their loss to AIC the winds of change hit the Huskies as they lost a senior class who won two Penrose Cups, a North Star Cup, a Frozen Faceoff Championship, they also made the NCAA tournament three times, twice were as the No. 1 overall seed, and numerous individual accolades.
That is without even mentioning the early exits of Ryan Poehling and Blake Lizotte who were six and two in scoring last season.
The expectations were NCAA Championship or bust 365 days ago and now that we know it was bust, where do we go from here?
The loss of 50% of all scoring is a large hurdle to climb but the biggest challenge for this team is going to be getting a freshman class of 10 up to speed in the very difficult NCHC.
The defensive core is the spot that lost the least coming into this season. When you look at this squad that is led by team captain and senior Jack Ahcan it’s become apparent that they will fuel the fire under this team all season long.
The loss of two-time captain Jimmy Schuldt is going to hurt, most likely on the power play, but it shouldn’t show much with all the depth. The Huskies bring back six players who saw action on the backend last season and 5 of those saw 38 or more games.
The key to the early season is development but with the defense, in theory, not having to use any freshman, they should come out of the gate swinging and will look good early and often.
We will take a deep dive into all the pairings and then we will touch on what is left.
The first pairing should just be moving up from the second pairing last season as Ahcan once again teams up with sophomore Nick Perbix.
Ahcan had pro offers and decided to come back (i.e. Jimmy Schuldt) for his senior year chasing the gold at the end of the rainbow. Ahcan is undersized at 5’8 but he plays much bigger than he is and is a true leader for this locker room.
The goal of this year for Ahcan should be to show he is more then his height and be elite on the backend for moving the puck. He brings his tied for the team lead 28 assists back along with the highest returning player in +/- at +29. Last year was the first season at SCSU that Ahcan had a positive +/-, so the verdict is still out on that stat for him.
Ahcan comes into this season with 78 points in his NCAA career and that is exactly 40 behind the staggering 118 record Schuldt set last season. He is only 30 points behind Kelly Hultgren who is in second right now.
Perbix comes off a stellar freshman season which saw him come in and cement himself on the second pairing for the entirety of the season. Perbix is smart in all plays he makes, and he does very well on the back end controlling the offense. Perbix’s mind should push him this season as he looks to increase his offensive prowess in more than just his plus passing ability.
Perbix shouldn’t move down or away from Ahcan but he could stand to increase his aggressiveness on both ends of the ice. We should see a step up in his game in an overall sense as last season was a good indicator of his IQ from the point position. I expect 20+ assists this season and about the same number of goals for him.
The second pairing is where it gets tricky because there are three guys who split time on the third pairing last year and, in my mind, an incoming freshman who has the skill to fill a second pairing spot.
In my line chart I put down sophomores Spencer Meier and Brendan Bushy but this one could go any which way.
Meier was ranked around 175 in this past years NHL draft but went undrafted. The skill is there but will be see it eventually and I really hope it’s this season that he shows how good he can be.
Meier leans on his brain, much like Perbix, and is very even across the board in skill. What we saw last year was a tight player who was scared to make mistakes in a rotation with two other players.
I believe that he could break out this year after a summer of working on loosening his skating and gaining speed. His penalties were by far his highest of his career last season and that has to play into the lack of speed in a big rink the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center.
Bushy is an interesting case on his own because he is two-way defenseman that plays very hard and has a big shot that he isn’t afraid to use. That should work well in this pairing that has a years’ worth of time playing together.
Only coming up with 6 assists last season I wasn’t in love with Bushy but what I did see was his intensity on the bench and his drive to do everything at an elite level.
If Bushy is focused this year and taps into that big shot, he should stick higher up in the lineup, but I don’t quite know if we will see that and I could see either of the next three guys taking his spot.
The third pairing should have some comfort and the two I see filling these spots are junior Luke Jaycox and freshman Ondrej Trejbal.
Jaycox has played in both of the last two seasons and is a true defensive defenseman. He should go well next to an offensive threat. Jaycox has shown the willingness to jump up on the play with good skating ability but he his nose will always be for his own zone.
Last season we saw him struggle a bit with his IQ of what to do with the puck when things were moving at top NCHC speed but Jaycox always bring his lunch box to work, putting his head down and doing the dirty work. He could take a step toward being a shut down defenseman this year but only time will tell.
Next to him will be Trejbal. He spent the last two year in the NAHL with the Minnesota Wilderness and was their top defenseman. He scored a very nice 40 points in 55 games last season from the back end. He might rotate down but as an older player he is a good bet to see significate ice time in a talented Huskies defense.
Trejbal can make some dumb plays all around the ice in his pursuit of his offensive potential and we might see that over the next two years, but the thought is that he will work through that and improve his game on the back end.
This pairing will make fans hold their breathe a bit but I expect the good to outweigh the bad here as these two will be a ying and yang sort of group.
Seventh Defenseman and Extras
With the NCAA giving teams an extra player, the Huskies used that on the back end almost exclusively last season. The remaining left over are senior Clark Kuster, sophomore Tyler Anderson and freshman Trevor Zins.
Kuster has not really played in his career and he comes into year five at SCSU. He was unanimously voted as a captain for these huskies and will be a key locker room guy this season. He his is undersized and his skating ability is not to par with the other guys around the NCHC.
He will see the lineup in games but last year he was put on the fourth line for games where he never even saw the ice. I am completely clueless as to where he will be but Larson mentioned him in our primer, so he needs to be in the conversation
Anderson redshirted last year after a broken wrist pushed him out of the line up for all of last season. He was recovered around February of last year, but the rotation was set by then and he was on the outside looking in.
Anderson came out of the MJHL as an offensive player and in his last season of juniors he had 49 points in 53 games. However, the herb has not seen that ability at all so far as Anderson has only seen 11 games of action of far.
He would be the easy pick for the seventh spot with his experience, but I am not sure what to think about his game. I think the non-conference schedule will really be telling of where he is physically after last season injury.
Zins has a bright future as an offensive threat. He showed it at the high school level and then he flopped a bit in the USHL on the scoring side only putting up 9 points in 72 games. When he moved to the Trail Smoke Eaters in the BCHL he was able to turn it on with 46 points in 58 games in his second year there.
He moves quickly around the ice. He might not stick in his first season, but I expect his ability to skate to get him in the lineup and he should get his scoring touch sooner rather than later.
Zins is my favorite player on the back end from the incoming class and I really hope I am wrong here. He was my second line defenseman back in May and I think he could be there, but I’ve tempered my expectations a bit.