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SCSU notebook: After bye week, 2 Huskies are 'getting closer' to returning to lineup for UND matchup

Forwards Kyler Kupka and Chase Brand have been practicing with the third-ranked Huskies, who play host to Fighting Hawks this weekend.

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St. Cloud State forward Kyler Kupka (10) and Minnesota State forward Sam Morton (6) battle for the puck in the third period Friday, Oct. 21, 2022, at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in St. Cloud.
Jason Wachter/The Rink Live

ST. CLOUD, Minn. — The St. Cloud State men's hockey team is getting closer to getting two senior wings back in the lineup after a bye week.

Kyler Kupka and Chase Brand both missed the Huskies' NCHC series on Nov. 18-19 at Colorado College.

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Chase Brand

It was the third straight series that Kupka missed since he had to have an appendectomy . For Brand, he missed the series against the Tigers after taking contact to the head for the second straight week .

It sounds like there is a chance that both could be back in the lineup this weekend when the third-ranked Huskies (4-2 NCHC, 11-3 overall) play host to North Dakota (2-3-1, 6-6-3) at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center. The teams play at 7:30 p.m. Friday and 6 p.m. Saturday (FOX 9+).

"Kupka and Brand are getting closer," SCSU coach Brett Larson said after practice Tuesday. "Instead of week-to-week, they're day-to-day now."

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The Huskies will be without senior defenseman and captain Spencer Meier for the third straight series with an upper body injury.

In the Colorado College series, freshman Adam Ingram replaced Kupka on a line with center Grant Cruikshank and wing Micah Miller; junior defenseman Brady Ziemer was in the lineup; and freshmen forwards Grant Ahcan, Ethan AuCoin, Jack Rogers and Ryan Rosborough all saw time in the games.

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The Bulldogs jumped out to a 3-0 lead via special teams goals to win their third-straight game and sweep their first NCHC series of the season.

Coming off the bye week

St. Cloud State tried to stay in game mode, despite having a bye week on the schedule.

"We tried to have a really good week in practice," Larson said. "We pushed the pace during the week. We competed hard and wanted to make sure we didn't get rusty. Sometimes, coming out of a break, you can come out a little bit sleepy.

"I like the fact that we play a big rival coming out of the break. This building is going to be rocking and we're going to need to be ready to go."

The one thing that you see year-to-year is that they get better every weekend.
SCSU head coach Brett Larson on UND

North Dakota is the three-time defending NCHC regular season champion. The only other team in the conference to win three Penrose Cup titles since it began in 2013 is SCSU (2013-14, 2017-18, 2018-19).

The Fighting Hawks enter the series coming off a tie at Bemidji State and a home win over the Beavers in a nonconference series. North Dakota goes into the series four points behind the Huskies, who are in third place in the NCHC.

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"The one thing that you see year-to-year is that they get better every weekend," Larson said of the Fighting Hawks, who have 11 NHL draft picks on their roster. "There's no doubt that we're going to see a really good North Dakota team coming in here this weekend.

"Discipline will be really important. Their power play is really good," Larson said of UND, which is third in NCAA Division I on the power play (28.36%). "You look at guys like (Riese) Gaber and (Jackson) Blake — those guys can make plays all over the rink. I think our discipline and our compete level are going to be really important aspects to our game this weekend."

Last season, the teams split their series in St. Cloud (8-1 SCSU on Dec. 3, 5-3 UND on Dec. 4) and UND picked up five points in the series in Grand Forks (7-1 win Jan. 28, shootout win Jan. 29).

Gaber (10 goals, 18 points), Blake (8 goals, 17 points) and graduate student defenseman Chris Jandric (14 assists, 16 points) lead North Dakota's offense.

Like SCSU, the Fighting Hawks have yet to settle on one starter in goal. The difference is the Huskies have a team goals-against average of 1.65 and a team save percentage of .935, while the Fighting Hawks are at 2.89 GAA and a .877 save percentage.

St. Cloud State has been splitting time between senior Jaxon Castor (5-2, 2.01, .923) and junior Dominic Basse (6-1, 1.29, .948). North Dakota has been splitting time between sophomore Jakob Hellsten (3-3-2, 2.73, .869) and graduate student Drew DeRidder (3-3-1, 2.95, .891).

The two teams will play again Jan. 17-18 in Grand Forks.

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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