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.
This is the first of my season preview series.
The Huskies took their biggest hit up front this offseason and the bottom half of the line sheet will be extremely fresh Sunday against Alberta.
The top line has all signs pointing toward the devastating defensive trio of senior wingers Jack and Nick Poehling and centering them Kevin Fitzgerald.
This group was together for most a good chunk season and when they are on the ice, other teams just flat out don’t score. Paring that with Fitzgerald’s .611 faceoff percentage I see not reason why this group would be split.
In an interview Wednesday Head Coach Brett Larson did admit that this would be the top line this season.
“I want them to go out and make our opponents top lines spend all their time in the defensive zone,” Larson said.
The second line will rotate some this season, but the mainstay should be sophomore Sam Hentges. Hentges did have surgery after last season, which sidelined him until midsummer but in practices so far, he has looked up to speed.
The wingers I penciled in are junior Easton Brodzinski and sophomore Micah Miller. Brodzinski was delegated to the fourth line duties after an injury last season but worked his way back up the lineup over the season. Miller tore through the second half of the season after starting it as a healthy scratch and I expect that to be rewarded.
The third and fourth lines are where we are going to see lots of shuffling as freshman get caught up to speed with the rigors of the NCHC but for now I have sophomore Nolan Walker centering freshman Zach Okabe and Chase Brand.
Okabe spent the last two seasons with the Grand Prairie Storm of the AJHL where he averaged .97 points per game and just last season, he averaged a goal every two games.
Brand was a late commit this spring after decommitting from Miami when they fired their coach. Brand played for the Madison Capitols of the USHL last season and he made the most of it. He finished with 17 goals and 36 assists for 53 points in 62 games. In a coming out year for the forward I expect him to use that offensive prowess to earn him minutes this season.
The fourth line is the toughest spot to place players as I believe it will be whoever had the best week of practice player, at least until the conference schedule starts.
The guys left are senior Jake Whalin, junior Will Hammer and freshmen Kyler Kupka, Jami Krannila, Thomas Rocco and Henry Enebak.
The top three in this group I think are Whalin, Kupka and Krannila.
Whalin has spent the last three years in and out of the lineup, unable to claim a permanent spot. His biggest moment as a Huskies was as a freshman when he scored in OT to beat the Gophers at Mariucci. I do like this play when he is on the ice and I think that will get him on the third or fourth line to start the season.
Krannila is the first teenager on the roster and spent last season in the USHL with the Sioux Falls Stampede in his age 17 season. Prior to that he was a youth player in Finland. Krannila ended last season with a stat line of 17 goals and 28 assists for 45 points in 60 games.
Kupka spent last season in the AJHL with the Camrose Kodiaks. He has spent his entire career as a scorer while only dropping below a point per game pace in the AMHL in his midget season. Last season he had 71 points in 60 games.
Rocco is the second teenager on the roster, and he comes in after only one year of juniors and it was NAHL with the Aberdeen Wings. He had a good year coming out with 13 goals and 29 assists for 42 points. We will find out the 5’8 Rocco’s abilities further in the first few weeks because he will be very fresh after only one year in the NAHL.
Hammer walked on after being a captain at the St. Cloud Cathedral and then going to the NAHL for two seasons. When he was about to age out, he was going to just go to school but then coach Bob Motzko’s staff reached out and brought him on. He shouldn’t be in the lineup much this year unless the team needs a big body in a game.
Enebak played at Lakeville North with the Poehling brothers in high school. He spent the last two years in the NAHL with the Brooking Blizzard. He spent last season with the Carleton Place Canadians in the CCHL. His stats were not that great 8 goals and 16 assists for 24 points in 51 games.