NCHC preview: St. Cloud State
March was an exhausting month for the St. Cloud State hockey program.
The Huskies won the NCHC regular season title and earned the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Within a week and a half of the bracket layout, SCSU had been bounced by four seed Air Force and lost head coach Bob Motzko to in-state foe Minnesota.
Despite the turnover behind the bench, the Huskies return nine of their top 10 scorers from 2017-18, with their lone loss from that corps being early pro signee Mikey Eyssimont.
NCAA titles: 0.
COACH: Brett Larson (first season).
2017-18 RECORDS: 25-9-6 (16-4-4 NCHC).
POSTSEASON: Lost to Air Force, 4-1 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
RINK (capacity): Herb Brooks National Hockey Center (5,159).
MIAMI VS. ST. CLOUD STATE LAST SEASON: 1-4.
ALL-TIME SERIES: Miami leads, 17-16-2.
SCHEDULE VS. MIAMI: Nov. 30-Dec. 1 – at Miami; Feb. 1-2 – at St. Cloud State.
TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: F Robby Jackson, F Ryan Poehling, F Blake Lizotte, F Easton Brodzinki, D Jimmy Schuldt, D Jack Ahcan, G David Hrenak.
KEY NEW FACES: F Sam Huntges, D Nick Perbix, D Spencer Meier, D Brendan Bushy.
KEY LOSSES: F Mikey Eyssimont, F Judd Peterson, D Will Borgen.
NOTES: Larson has been an assistant at St. Cloud State for six of the past 10 seasons, and his only high-level head coaching experience was two years at Sioux City of the USHL.
But where the Huskies lack in head coaching experience they account for on the ice, as they return all but three players from that top-seeded 2017-18 squad.
Robby Jackson is back after leading the team in points with 42, and the two-way forward also netted three shorthanded goals.
Montréal draftee Ryan Poehling also returns up front following a 30-point campaign.
Three other returning St. Cloud State forwards eclipsed 20 points – Blake Lizotte posted eight goals and 19 assists for 27, Patrick Newell also finished with 27 points, including 21 assists and Easton Brodzinski scored 14 goals en route to a 24-point season.
The Huskies hope newcomer Sam Huntges can help the forward corps as well, as the Minneapolis native was selected by his hometown Wild in June.
Talk about an experienced D-corps: Four returning blueliners played in at least 36 games for SCSU last season.
Team captains Jimmy Schuldt and Jon Lizotte are both seniors and dressed for all 40 contests in 2017-18.
Schuldt led the team in assists with 28 and scored 10 times for 38 points, the second-best total on the team. He led the Huskies with eight power play goals.
Lizotte’s five goals, 12 assists, 17 points and plus-20 rating were all career highs.
Undersized junior Jack Ahcan also skated in all 40 contests last season and rolled up 22 points, including 19 helpers.
Mike Ilvonen also returns for his fifth year as a graduate student.
St. Cloud State also added three freshman on the back end, all massive, in-state products. Tampa Bay draftee Nick Perbix and Spencer Meier are both 6-feet-4 and Brendan Bushy weighs 225 pounds
Both pieces of the Huskies’ goaltending tandem from last season also return.
Sophomore David Hrenak was selected by Los Angeles this summer after posting a 2.11 goals-against average, a .919 save percentage and three shutouts in 25 games for SCSU.
Senior Jeff Smith went 11-2-4 in 19 games and has played over 2,500 career minutes.
SCSU’s 3.60 goals per game last season was fourth in Division I. The Huskies were second in the NCHC and 10th in college hockey in drawing penalties, going to the power play 174 times, and they scored 39 times on the man advantage.
St. Cloud State’s also tied for second in college hockey with seven shorthanded goals.
Since 2006, this program has been stuck in a holding pattern. The Huskies have qualifying for the NCAAs eight of the past 12 years including four of the last five but despite all their regular season success have only advanced to the Frozen Four once and was bounced in the regional semifinal that year.
The next step for St. Cloud State is an extended NCAA Tournament run, as this program has never been to a championship game.
This season’s team has the weapons to make that happen but enters 2018-19 with a rookie head coach.