by Blake Theisen / Sports Director / @blake_theisen
Despite the pair of losses last weekend to Minnesota Duluth, the Huskies men’s hockey team is still a lock for the NCAA Tournament beginning on March 25th. The coaching staff and players might not admit that they know that, but they are looking forward to having an opportunity to be healthy.
The Huskies spent last weekends NCHC Quarterfinal without starting goaltender David Hrenak. Their captain, Spencer Meier, was missing on Friday too. Both dealing with non-COVID related illness. Meier, battled through that illness on Saturday night in his return to the lineup.
“The type of kid Spencer Meier is, he’s in there (the locker room) throwing up right now,” St. Cloud State head coach Brett Larson said following Saturday’s overtime loss. “He can’t stop, but he was not gonna not go out there and he did a great job tonight. I though his leadership was a big part of why we played as well as we did. Getting him back in there really settled our guys down a bit. He left everything he possibly had on the ice tonight for us and played well in a situation that most people couldn’t have gone out there.
“He’s (Hrenak) got a really high fever. He can hardly get out of bed right now. Fortunate it’s not COVID related. If he could have been in there, he would have.”
With Meier returning, it meant that the Huskies would have to scratch one of their defensemen. That decision ultimately came down to 5th-year Seamus Donohue. Donohue had missed the Saturday game in Duluth the weekend prior when the Huskies clinched home ice. He entered last weekends NCHC Quarterfinal listed as “day-to-day.”
“He’s (Donohue) banged up too, so that was the call,” Larson said of the decision. “Do we go with the sick kid or the hurt kid? We decided to go with our captain. That was kind of the deciding factor in it. Tough decision for sure, but our choices were kind of limited in that way.”
As is with most hockey players come this time of year, it’s a safe bet that Donohue isn’t the only Husky who could use some time off to heal. That’s why despite the disappointment of being swept by Duluth could actually be a bit of a blessing in disguise. Not only are the sick and banged up, but they are also tired. St. Cloud hasn’t had a weekend off in over two months.
“We we’re the only team to lose it’s bye, play on two Tuesday’s, and the grind of this league I think is the reason guys are getting sick now,” Larson said, admitting the schedule has been tough. “They’ve really done everything possible to battle through that. I’m hoping that as much as this hurts it gets us some rest and recovery.”
Unlike last year, this season there is not a weekend off between most conference tournaments and the NCAA Regionals. Last year, the NCAA purposefully left a week open as a COVID-19 precaution.
But like last year, the Huskies NCHC season ended in a loss. Last year St. Cloud was knocked off in the NCHC Championship game by North Dakota. They entered the NCAA Tournament with a sour taste in their mouths. They’ve even had that same sour taste this season. Now with time to sit and think about it, Larson hopes that taste can be a rallying point for his team.
“Looking back on the year, we had two weeks off before we played North Dakota at home on a Friday night after getting swept at Western Michigan,” Larson said. “I’m hoping for that same response, if you can remember that night against North Dakota. It’s two weeks to stew on it
“We can have a healthy Husky squad in a big game going into a regional. We’d love to be playing in St. Paul next week, but this team has battled. Everything happens for a reason, so hopefully a healthy and rested Husky team is gonna be what we need going into the regional if we get that opportunity.”
The Huskies certainly look poised to get that opportunity. Now they just wait to find out where. The NCAA Selection Show will be broadcasted on ESPNU at 5:30 CT on Sunday.