Dylan Anhorn's injury is the latest bit of adversity for top-ranked SCSU
The Huskies have dealt with a fair number of injuries this season to key players. The latest challenge is how to handle the loss of the team's leader in minutes played.
ST. CLOUD, Minn. — A little more than 30 minutes before Saturday's game against Denver, the St. Cloud State men's hockey team was going through warm-up exercises.
In a flash, Dylan Anhorn was on the floor and in pain. Associate athletic trainer Bryan DeMaine was summoned and then he told SCSU head coach Brett Larson that Anhorn was hurt and it was serious.
"To see Dylan roll his ankle like that and in a lot of pain and to lose him before a game, they responded," Huskies coach Brett Larson said of his team. "It was, 'Hey, we all need to bring a little bit more and let's rally around him and get this done.'"
The Huskies had a chance to move into a tie for the NCHC lead with Denver, the national defending national champion. SCSU did that with a pretty convincing 2-0 win with Anhorn out of the lineup.
St. Cloud State (10-4 NCHC, 18-6 overall) moved into the top ranking of both national polls on Monday and sit at No. 2 in the PairWise Rankings. Yes, the Huskies have a number of players having career seasons (Anhorn, Grant Cruikshank, Kyler Kupka, Zach Okabe, Jack Peart, Jaxon Castor, Dominic Basse).
But when you consider the number of injuries the Huskies have had to deal with to key veteran players, the fact that SCSU is off to one of the program's best starts is even more impressive.
Start with opening night. Josh Luedtke, a sophomore defenseman from Minnetonka, was in the starting lineup when the Huskies played St. Thomas on Oct. 1. About 7 minutes into the game, Luedtke took a legal hit into the boards, but his head made contact with the glass and he was knocked unconscious.
Luedtke had to removed from the ice on a stretcher and taken to the hospital. How did the Huskies respond? They went on to beat the Tommies 3-1.
"(The players) see him laying there, unresponsive," Larson said of Luedtke. "You can tell the urgency on the ice with Bryan DeMaine out there. Our team — literally — was in tears on the bench, a lot of them. How they responded to that was they played their best hockey after that."
Luedtke was second on the team in plus/minus (plus-17) in 33 games as a freshman. Luedtke missed eight games and the Huskies went 7-1 in his absence.
Kupka, a senior wing from Camrose, Alberta, has 17 points in 18 games and plays on both the power play and short-handed. Kupka had to have an appendectomy in November and missed six games. SCSU went 4-2 in his absence.
Spencer Meier, a fifth-year senior defenseman and in his third season as captain, had to rest an upper body injury and missed eight games in November and December. Meier, who also plays on the power play and penalty kill, has played in 155 career college games. In his absence, the Huskies went 6-2.
Chase Brand, a senior wing from Nevis, Minn., has missed games for three separate injuries. Brand, who also sees time on the penalty kill, has missed seven games and the Huskies are 7-0 with him out of the lineup.
"We've been fighting through injuries to major players," Larson said. "This isn't anything new. We've been dealing with it all year."
Dealing with the loss of Anhorn, a transfer from Union, is going to be tough. Anhorn leads the Huskies in time on ice (21 minutes, 19 seconds) and blocked shots (30), is fourth on the team in plus/minus (plus-15) and is second in the nation in both assists (20) and points (25) by a defenseman.
Anhorn had surgery on Sunday to repair his foot and will miss the rest of this season. On Saturday, junior Brady Ziemer was at home when he got a call from Larson that he was needed in the lineup as the seventh defenseman.
Anhorn had been playing on the top defensive pairing with Luedtke. In Anhorn's absence Saturday, graduate student Brendan Bushy moved next to Luedtke.
"We'll make some adjustments on the power play and making sure we have a 'D' pair ready to play against other teams' top lines," Larson said. "I know that we have defensemen that can step up in both roles.
"Our 'D' core is deep and it's been a strength of this team and it's going to be really important now. We have really good players who have been sitting out of the lineup."
The first full series without Anhorn will be at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday (NCHC.tv) against Minnesota Duluth (5-9, 10-13-1) at Amsoil Arena in Duluth. The Bulldogs swept the Huskies in the opening round of last season's playoffs at the Brooks Center.
"This is a big rivalry for us," said Larson, a former UMD player and assistant coach. "They came in our rink and won a couple (playoff) games last year and this group definitely remembers that. We're going up there knowing it's going to be an absolute battle, just like it's been every time we've been up there."