What happened last weekend?
After an eight-day run which saw the Huskies win Winter Carnival and blow out their U.P. rivals, the Northern Michigan Wildcats at home, the Huskies struggled to two losses at Minnesota State, finishing the five-game run with a record of 2-3. Last weekend, the Huskies rested their weary muscles during their final bye week of the season.
On Friday night, the Western Collegiate Hockey Association-leading St. Cloud State Huskies jumped out to a 2-1 lead over Colorado College after one period on the road. That lead remained until the third period when the Tigers struck three times en route to a 4-3 upset victory. Saturday night, the Tigers got on the board first, but only led for four minutes. St. Cloud struck four consecutive times to grab control of the game, which ended in the visitors’ favor, 5-2.
What is the state of the offense?
With four regular season games left, there are two forwards, freshman Alex Petan and sophomore David Johnstone, who are scoring on a more consistent basis than former captain Brett Olson did last season, when he led the team.
Petan, who’s younger brother, Nicholas, is second in the Western Hockey League in scoring, continues to lead the Huskies in points with 28 in 30 games.
What separates him from the majority of young Huskies is something that might seem very basic. Petan has a knack for shooting at the net with the intention of scoring, something his coach praises highly.
“Alex is going to get his chances,” said Huskies’ head coach Mel Pearson. “The thing about him is that he is a natural goal-scorer. He shoots to score. Some guys think they are scorers, but they just shoot it. He shoots with a reason, a specific reason and a spot. That’s why he’s having success.”
That depth comes in many forms. Petan’s 13 goals are second only to sophomore Blake Pietila’s 14. While he did not pick up a point at Minnesota State, Pietila still has five points in the last four games. He needs four points over the remaining games to eclipse his total of 24 points from his rookie season. Where he is beginning to shine, however, is defensively.
Sophomores David Johnstone and Tanner Kero have both had strong seasons for the Huskies as well. Johnstone, second on the Huskies with 24 points, needs just five points to notch more points than he had as a freshman.
Thanks to a big game against the Wildcats when he scored four points, Kero has surpassed his freshman total of 16 points. Centering the Huskies’ second line, Kero has improved his faceoff technique as well as his compete level.
Juniors Ryan Furne, Dennis Rix, and Milos Gordic all have at least 10 points. Rix has played well all season despite never playing with a consistent set of linemates. Furne and Gordic have both improved markedly since being reunited with classmate Jacob Johnstone.
“Alex’s goals are on the power play, so you can’t watch him as close,” said Pearson. “But we have some depth, so I don’t think you can just concentrate on him.”
That pint-sized speed demon, C.J. Eick, scored our only goal on Saturday. What changed for him?
Eick is listed at 5’-7”, but to be fair, that is generous. However, he has proved night in and night out to be one of the fastest skaters on the ice for either team. Despite all that speed, Eick came into Winter Carnival weekend with the distinct possibility that he might never score this season.
Extra work after practice with assistant coach Bill Muckalt has helped. Eick has now scored two breakaway goals in four games, and his boosted confidence is not lost on his head coach.
“I think he’s shooting the puck,” said Pearson. “Before he was trying to get in to the goalie and make one too many moves and think too much. Now he can shoot it and score. He’s going to get those chances because of his speed and the way he plays.”
Scouting the other Huskies
Going into this weekend, St. Cloud sports a 16-7-1 record in WCHA play, good for 33 points, two more than second-place Minnesota. They are happy to be finished with non-conference play, as they have gone 3-5 outside of the WCHA, beating Alabama-Huntsville twice and Rensselaer once.
St. Cloud shot to the top of the WCHA standings with a six-game unbeaten streak. Since that streak ended at home against the Golden Gophers, however, they have gone 2-2.
Fifth-year senior Drew LeBlanc is tied for fifth in the nation in scoring with 10 goals and 32 points in 32 games. His presence has helped the development of junior Nic Dowd, who has 13 goals and 32 points.
Like Michigan Tech, St. Cloud has a pair of freshmen who have added to the offense. Kalle Kossila has 13 goals and 28 points while playing well at both ends of the ice. Jonny Brodzinski potted three goals last weekend to add to his team-leading 17.
“Obviously, they have depth,” said Pearson. “The difference between their team and our team is that their leading scorers are their seniors and juniors. It comes down to their core. They are good players.”
St. Cloud also sports one of the most dangerous blueliners in the country in Nick Jensen. On a slightly lesser scoring pace than last season, Jensen plays a high number of minutes every night and has racked up 25 points on the season.
What is the goal for the remainder of the season?
The Huskies have not won at the National Hockey Center in several seasons. While the test looks daunting, the Huskies will be looking to at least build some confidence, given that St. Cloud could still potentially be the Huskies’ first round opponent in the WCHA Playoffs.