College Hockey Game of the Week: No. 2 St. Cloud State at No. 1 Minnesota State
The college hockey season is underway and in only the second weekend of play, we get a series between two of the best teams in the country. The No. 2 St. Cloud State Huskies travel to Mankato to face No. 1 Minnesota State on Oct. 8 and 9.
St. Cloud State is coming off a season where they fell short to Massachusetts in the National Championship. The Huskies began their season with a sweep over St. Thomas winning Game 1, 12-2, and Game 2, 2-0.
Brett Larson’s squad is one the most experienced teams in college hockey, losing only Will Hammer and Jared Cockrell from a season ago. Hammer and Cockrell were a big part of the fourth line a year ago and there will be a point of emphasis on replacing them.
“I like our top-nine, but I want to find three guys that are going to fill that role because for me that was the key to our success last year,” Larson said.
Even with the losses of those two, there are still plenty of talented forwards, led by Veeti Miettinen. The Finish-born sophomore had 24 points last year, 11 goals and 13 assists, and already has two points this year.
The Huskies forward group also features Easton Brodzinski, who is already off to a hot start with three points, two goals and an assist. Brodzinski got hurt in the NCAA Regional last season and is ready for his fifth season with St. Cloud.
Finally, in between the pipes for the Huskies is David Hrenak, who has had an impressive career. Last season he went 17-10 with a 2.66 goals-against average, a .904 save percentage and two shutouts.
The Huskies have one of the best defensive groups in the country, headed by captain Spencer Meier and senior Nick Perbix. They also added 2021 Minnesota Mr. Hockey winner Jack Peart from Grand Rapids, Minnesota.
Moving onto the Mavericks of Minnesota State, led by head coach Mike Hastings. Last season, Hastings’s group made it to the Frozen Four but were knocked out in the semifinals by the team they face this weekend, St. Cloud State, 5-4.
Minnesota State opened their season on the road with a huge sweep over defending National Champion UMass, taking Game 1, 2-0, and Game 2 by a score of 6-3.
The road does not get any easier after St. Cloud State, as Minnesota State will head to the Ice Breaker Tournament for games against Providence and Michigan or Minnesota-Duluth.
“Four months ago, this seemed like a really good idea, and as it gets closer, you wonder a bit. It’s a challenge,” Hastings said about the tough games ahead.
There was a lot of action in the transfer portal, with players coming and going for the Mavericks. Still, most of the leading scorers returned from last year giving Minnesota another strong team.
Among the returners, is junior Julian Napravnik who led the team in points last year with 28. The Germany native is off to another good start, nabbing two goals and an assist over the weekend.
They also return Nathan Smith, 25 points, Cade Borchardt, 24, Reggie Lutz, 21, and Brendan Furry, 13.
The Mavericks also have a ton of talented defensemen, headlined by super sophomores Akito Hirose and Jake Livingstone. Last season, Hirose and Livingstone were the two top defensemen in points on the team, Hirose had 15 points and Livingstone totaled 14 points.
The biggest strength for Minnesota State lies within the blue paint with senior Dryden McKay. A first-team All-American member and finalist for the Hobey Baker and Richter Award, McKay is ready for another outstanding season.
Last year, McKay went 21-4 with a 1.54 goals-against average, a .924 save percentage and a nation-leading 10 shutouts.
This weekend features a series of the top two teams in the nation and a rematch of a National Semifinals game last season. Both St. Cloud State and Minnesota State boast strong teams from head to toe, so a split seems likely.
Game 1: Minnesota State 3, St. Cloud State 1
Game 2: St. Cloud State 3, Minnesota State 2
Matthew Scalzo is a second-year majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org