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Hatten: Five reasons why the Huskies have been exceeding expectations

St. Cloud State went into the season with 10 new players on its roster, a wide-open goaltending situation and picked to finish fourth in the NCHC preseason poll. Instead, the Huskies are 11-3 and

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St. Cloud State forward Jami Krannila (13) celebrates his goal against Bemidji State with teammates and fans in the third period Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022, at the Herb Brooks National Center in St. Cloud.
Jason Wachter / The Rink Live

ST. CLOUD, Minn. — There were a lot of question marks for the St. Cloud State men's hockey team going into this season.

Who is going to play in goal? How are the Huskies going to replace 44.4% of its goals and 43% of their points from last season lost due to graduation? How were 10 new players going to fit in with the team?

SCSU has definitely found some answers to those questions. The Huskies are off to their best start (11-3) since starting the 2018-19 season 13-1-2 and are ranked No. 3 in both NCAA Division I polls going into Thanksgiving.

Here's five reasons the Huskies are off to such a good start:

1. The goaltending has been outstanding. David Hrenak graduated after starting the overwhelming majority of games during his five seasons at SCSU.

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Going into the season, senior Jaxon Castor had played in 19 college games and was 6-8 with a 2.96 goals-against average and .888 save percentage.

Through his first seven starts this season, Castor is 5-2 with a 2.01 GAA and .923 save percentage. He is 15th in the nation in GAA and tied for 17th in save percentage.

Going into the season, Dominic Basse had played two seasons at Colorado College before transferring. In his two seasons with the Tigers, Basse was 10-26-3 with a 3.21 GAA and .891 save percentage in 43 games.

Through his first seven starts this season, Basse is 6-1 with a 1.29 GAA, .948 save percentage and two shutouts. He leads the nation in save percentage and is second in GAA.

The team GAA is 1.65 and the team save percentage is .935. We will see if they are able to sustain that pace, but here's some perspective on the numbers. The school record for GAA in a season is 2.01 by Jeff Smith in 2018-19 and the school record for save percentage in a season is .931 by Jase Weslosky in 2007-08. Only seven SCSU goalies have had a season where they have had a save percentage of .923 or better.

The competition between Castor and Basse is pushing them to new heights.

2. The defensemen have been as advertised. The goaltending has been outstanding, but so has the play of the defensemen.

This was thought to be the strength of the team going into the season with nine players able to make legitimate claims to being in the lineup on a nightly basis. Spencer Meier and Josh Luedtke — two key returners — have both missed good chunks of time due to injury.

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The Huskies are giving up an average of 25.5 shots-per-game (13th nationally), are eighth in the nation on the penalty kill (86%) and second in short-handed goals (5).

The additions of senior Dylan Anhorn and freshmen Cooper Wylie and Mason Reiners have made decisions as to who is going to sit among the nine defensemen (seven dress) a difficult one for the coaching staff.

This has been a puck-moving group that typically limits the opposition to shots to the outside and the amount of time it spends defending.

3. The transfers are playing big roles. You don't have to love the transfer portal, but it's a part of college sports and is not going away.

The Huskies knocked it out of the park with their three additions this season: Basse, defenseman Anhorn and center Grant Cruikshank.

Besides Basse's dominance, Anhorn and Cruikshank are off to All-American starts to their seasons.

Anhorn, a transfer from Union, is second in the nation among defensemen in both assists (12) and points (15). He is averaging 21 minutes, 4 seconds of ice time, is winning 55% of his puck battles and is tied for second on the team in blocked shots (16). He plays in all situations and has been part of the top defensive pairing.

Cruikshank, a transfer from Minnesota, is tied for second in the nation in goals (11), tied for 10th in points (17), is winning 56.8% of his faceoffs and is averaging 18:16 per game. And like Anhorn, he plays in all situations, including being on the top penalty kill unit with linemate Micah Miller. To put his start in perspective, consider that he has tied his career-best for goals in a season and is one point away from the most points he has had in a season.

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4. The top two lines have picked up the scoring. For most of the season, the top two lines have been Jami Krannila centering Veeti Miettinen and Zach Okabe and Cruikshank centering Miller and Kyler Kupka.

Those six players have combined for 32 of the team's 46 goals and 44 of the team's 80 assists. Despite losing the likes of forwards Easton Brodzinski (12 goals, 27 points), Kevin Fitzgerald (17, 36), Sam Hentges (12, 22) and Nolan Walker (11, 24), the Huskies are tied for 18th in the nation in goals (3.3).

The production of the top two lines has allowed the team to ease in freshmen forwards Grant Ahcan, Ethan AuCoin, Adam Ingram, Jack Rogers and Ryan Rosborough. Ingram, a third-round draft pick of the Nashville Predators, has been a staple in the lineup and played on the power play. But the other four forwards have been able to find their footing without being expected to produce big numbers because of the production of the top two lines.

5. The coaching staff has been finding the right combinations. This all starts with recruiting and, as mentioned, SCSU has found some gems in the transfer portal, which is not an easy task. They went into last offseason with some specific needs and found three players who have not only played those roles, but have fit in well in the locker room.

When the lineup has needed tweaks due to injury or ineffectual play, there have been good answers. The special teams have been very good (22.4% power play, 21st; 86% penalty kill, 8th) despite a lot of turnover in all the units from last season. The freshmen all look promising and the team looks like it has not hit its peak yet.

READ MORE ST. CLOUD STATE HUSKIES COVERAGE:
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Mick Hatten is a reporter and editor for Forum News Service and helps manage TheRinkLive.com, a website dedicated to hockey. He began working for Forum Communications in November 2018 and has covered St. Cloud State University hockey since 2010. A graduate of St. Cloud State, he has more than 30 years of experience as a journalist and has been a youth hockey coach since 2014. mhatten@forumcomm.com
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