ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Nolan Walker has gotten a request from coach Brett Larson that is a bit unusual for a lot of offensive players.
"I thought (last) Saturday night at Western (Michigan) was his best game of the year," Larson said of Walker, who had the team's lone goal in a loss. "He's really shown that he's wanted it and wants to take the next step. He's been playing harder, attacking more and being a little more selfish at times. He's always a pass-first guy.
"Now he's looking to attack and shoot a little bit more and it's paying off. I think he's been trending in the right direction the last three weeks."
Walker, a junior from Anchorage, Alaska, had his best college game on Saturday. He had four goals and an assist in an 8-2 win for the St. Cloud State men's hockey team over Miami in an NCHC game at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center.
Walker said that Larson has been on him to shoot more this season after scoring two goals on 37 shots in 31 games last season. Walker also was a team-worst minus-24 last season, but is a plus-4 after scoring on all four of his shots on Saturday.
"He's been on me a lot this year, whether it's my overall game" or shooting, Walker said. "Coming into this year, I really worked on getting stronger and working on my shot, getting pucks to the net and attacking more. Coming from last year when I only had two goals, I wanted to be more focused."
In an odd game, Walker ended up with the game-winning goal among his quartet on the night. The Huskies led 2-0 after his first goal of the game came on the power play at 7:12 of the first period. After Miami had a power-play goal taken away after a video review, the Huskies led 2-0 going into the second period, despite being outshot 15-9 in the period.
Then came a bizarre 1:13 during the second period, in which, Miami rallied to tie and then the Huskies took the lead for good. Miami got a power-play goal by defenseman Derek Dashke (at 9:56) and an even-strength goal by defenseman Jack Clement (at 10:55).
But then Walker picked up his second goal of the game at 11:09 to give the Huskies a 3-2 lead.
"We needed the lead because we weren't playing as well defensively," Larson said.
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After Walker's second goal, he added a power-play goal at 12:20 and then Sam Hentges scored 20 seconds later and the Huskies led 5-2 going into the third period. Hentges' goal helped chase Miami freshman goalie Ludvig Persson, who was the NCHC Goalie of the Month for December.
Walker scored at 6:28 of the third period for his fourth goal and added an assist on a Chase Brand goal at 16:35 to close out his five-point performance.
Walker has seven goals, 14 points and two game-winning goals after having 12 points last season.
"I think I went 24 straight games without a goal last year" to start the season, Walker said. Scoring four goals "definitely gives you a lot of confidence. We kind of talked about it in between periods and I was trying to shoot the puck tonight as soon as I got it.
"Micah (Miller) made some great plays tonight and I give him a lot of credit. Chase (Brand) was unbelievable, too," Walker said of the wings on his line. "I think our line played real well."
Joining some big names
Walker became the seventh St. Cloud State player to score four or more goals in a game in the NCAA Division I era. Here are the Huskies who have scored four goals in a game:
Zach Okabe, Dec. 28, 2020, vs. MSU-Mankato
Joey Benik, Nov. 14, 2015, vs. Western Michigan
Mark Hartigan, Feb. 15, 2002, vs. Alaska-Anchorage
Mark Parrish, March 7, 1997, vs. Northern Michigan
Fred Knipscheer, Jan. 23, 1993, vs. Michigan Tech
Jeff Saterdalen, Jan. 26, 1990, vs. Air Force
Knipscheer scored five goals in that game against Michigan Tech and is the lone player to have five in a game for the Huskies. He went on to play seven seasons of pro hockey in North America, including 28 regular season games and 16 playoff games in the NHL
Saterdalen played for the Huskies from 1988-92 and is third on the program's career goal list (78) and second in career points (179).
Parrish played two seasons for the Huskies (1995-97) before playing in 722 NHL games and picking up 216 goals and 387 points.
Hartigan (1999-2002) was a top three finalist for the Hobey Baker Award in 2002 and is SCSU's Division I era leader in career goals (86). Hartigan played 102 games in the NHL.
Benik (2012-16) was the MVP of the NCAA Midwest Regional in 2013 and is 11th on the school's career goal list (59). Benik has signed to play professionally in Norway this season after finishing third in the Swiss League in points last season.
Okabe, a sophomore this season for the Huskies, scored four of his seven goals last season in one game. Okabe had two assists on Saturday after having a goal and an assist for the Huskies in a 3-2 win on Friday.
Hrenak gets win in return start
One night after Jaxon Castor stopped 20 of 22 shots to pick up the win in goal, David Hrenak got the start in net for the Huskies. Larson gave credit to Hrenak for helping bail out some sloppy play by his team in the first period. The Huskies led 2-0 after the first period, despite giving up 15 shots.
"(And) they called off one goal, which was close and I really didn't like our first period at all, to be honest," Larson said. "It was an odd game. We gave up more (scoring) chances in the first period than we did in the whole game (Friday) night.
"We didn't have very good detail to our game, we weren't very sharp."
Hrenak stopped 32 of 34 shots to pick up his 57th career win (second in program history) in his 101st college game.
"He was unbelievable for us," Walker said. "In the first period, they were really hard on us and he made some really huge saves and they had as many Grade 'A' (scoring chances) as they did in the whole first game. He was our backbone tonight and give him a lot of credit."
Miller 'unsung hero'
While Walker had a great game, Miller, a junior from Grand Rapids, Minn., also had the best statistical game of his career. He had four assists, was a team-leading plus-4 and tied for the team lead with four shots on goal.
"Walks had all those goals, but I thought Micah had a great game and a great weekend," Larson said of Miller, who had nine shots in the series and helped the Huskies go 7-for-8 on the penalty kill. "He played really hard, played north with speed and taking things to the net. He did a great job on the penalty kill.
"A little unsung hero award for him tonight."
Defenseman Nick Perbix had two assists for the second straight game and Veeti Miettinen continued his outstanding freshman season with a goal and an assist for the second straight game.
Perbix, a junior from Elk River, Minn., and Tampa Bay Lightning draft pick, moved into the national lead for points by a defenseman with 17. Perbix had 15 points in 34 games last season.
Miettinen, who is from Espoo, Finland, and is a Toronto Maple Leafs draft pick, moved into a tie for fifth place in the nation in points with 18.
Still leading the NCHC
With the win, the Huskies improved to 11-6-0 and have 33 points, one point ahead of North Dakota (11-3-1) in the NCHC regular season title race. The Fighting Hawks beat Colorado College 4-1 in their home opener on Saturday at Grand Forks, N.D.
Minnesota Duluth (7-5-2, 24 points) moved into a tie with Nebraska Omaha (8-4-1, 24) for third place. The Bulldogs beat Western Michigan 5-1 in Duluth. Denver (6-8-1, 21) moved into fifth place with a 4-1 win over UNO in Omaha, Neb.