Former SCSU defenseman Clark Kuster named Huskies' director of operations, video coordinator
The 27-year-old from St. Louis spent last season as an assistant coach for the St. Cloud Norsemen in the NAHL. Also, Jack Peart is one of 20 defensemen invited to National Junior Evaluation Camp for Team USA.
ST. CLOUD, Minn. — At first mention, Clark Kuster was not interested.
Within an hour, he had changed his mind.
Kuster, 27, has been named the director of operations and video coordinator for the St. Cloud State men's hockey team. Kuster replace R.J. Enga, who had the position for one season before being named an assistant coach for the Huskies after Nick Oliver left to become the head coach of the Fargo Force.
In his new position, Kuster will handle all team travel arrangements and in-game video.
"I didn't really have a great interest from the start — my first reaction," Kuster said. "Once I got off the phone and said, 'Ah, I'm not that interested.'
"I thought about it for about 20 minutes and went on a little drive, just to clear my head. Getting into (NCAA) Division I (hockey) after one year, being at my alma mater — there was a lot of things about it that were intriguing."
Kuster then talked more with SCSU head coach Brett Larson, Enga, Oliver and associate head coach Dave Shyiak and decided he would take the position.
"Just trying to sort through it to make the most informed decision for myself," he said. "Now, I'm completely, 100% feel like I made the right decision."
Defenseman for SCSU for 5 seasons
Kuster played hockey for the Huskies from 2015-20 and was an alternate captain his last season. He battled injuries for the majority of his college career and also battled to get into the lineup with a number of talented defensemen on the roster.
Among his former defensive teammates are Jimmy Schuldt, Jack Ahcan, Nick Perbix, Ethan Prow and Will Borgen. All those players except Perbix have seen time in the NHL. Perbix, a Tampa Bay Lightning draft pick, played for Team USA in the 2022 Olympics and played 17 games for the Lightning's AHL affiliate after completing his senior season in 2021-22.
After playing in a career-best 27 games as a senior, he graduated with a degree in psychology and played one season of pro hockey for the Pensacola Ice Flyers in the Southern Professional Hockey League. Last season, he took a job as an assistant coach in junior hockey for the St. Cloud Norsemen in the North American Hockey League.
The Norsemen went a franchise-best 47-18-5-1, won the Central Division regular season and playoff titles to reach the Robertson Cup semifinals. Kuster was in charge of the defensemen, the video for the Norsemen's penalty kill and their opponent's power play, was the team's equipment manager and "anything that we could share responsibility with to make sure things were getting done."
Kuster said that he learned a great deal in his time with the Norsemen.
"It was a lot of fun to be a part of and I think the group of guys in the locker room were incredible," Kuster said of working with the Norsemen. "That's what it's all about, being able to help the kids. Obviously, as coaches, we want to move on and go somewhere. But at the end of the day, you're there to serve the players and it's going to be no different this coming year and in my career."
And there were some eye-opening elements to being a coach for the first time.
"There is just a lot more responsibility," Kuster said. "You have 23-30 guys you have to worry about. When you're a player, obviously, you care about your teammates. But as a coach, you have a lot more responsibility and a lot more guys you have to worry about.
"You don't really think about that as a player. You just show up and the bus is there, the food is there and things are there for you and you don't think about it too much."
Kuster said that he also learned a lot working under Millen, who coached the Minnesota Wilderness to the Robertson Cup title in 2015 and played pro hockey from 1987-2004.
"The one thing that he always talks about is he wants to get inside the players' brains and figure out why kids do this or do that," Kuster said. "He wanted to understand it and I feel like he did understand why the boys did certain things. His thing was he wanted to teach them why he's doing what he's doing.
"He understood why they did this or that because he played for a long time. I think it's so important to understand the brain and, ironically, I did study psychology in college. So it was very interesting and I like that."
Getting back to SCSU
He also has an understanding of working with Larson, who was Kuster's head coach his last two college seasons.
"Since the second he got to St. Cloud, he and I had an honest relationship and I felt like we trusted each other," Kuster said. "I think that really means a lot to both of us and why we feel like I'd be a good person for this role. I think we've built a trustworthy relationship that has evolved in the past couple years."
Enga was named to replace Oliver on May 20. The Norsemen played their last game on May 21.
"(Kuster) was one of the first people I thought of and we waited for the season to be over for the Norsemen," Larson said. "Then we met with Clark right away.
"He was a good student and he's a detail guy and there's a lot of detail and organization that goes with this job," Larson said of Kuster, who was a five-time NCHC Academic All-Conference honoree and was a CoSIDA Third Team Academic All-American in 2020. "More importantly, he's a really good hockey guy, really good character guy and he's a great Husky. He's really passionate about this program.
"Losing a young guy like Nick Oliver, who was kind of close to the players' ages and able to connect with the guys on a personal level, I think Clark is going to be a really good resource for our guys and will be able to connect with them. He's a guy who has learned from his ups and downs as a player."
Larson said that teams have become more reliant on video help during games in recent seasons. He said that teams can make quicker adjustments and the video coordinator is a big part of that.
"He's our eye in the sky during games," Larson said. "We count on him for adjustments, reviewing penalties and is a big part of the staff during games.
"The technology (of video) has increased a lot and how much we rely on it has increased a lot. We're watching video clips between periods and that's critical for us. We may ask him to put all of our chances against in one period in about a minute and have it ready so that we can look at it in the coaches' office before we go into the locker room. You really need somebody with a really good hockey mind to be able to do that quickly with the techology and what we're looking for."
Ultimately, Kuster said that he would like to work for an NHL team during his career.
"I was talking to (Montreal Canadien) Ryan Poehling and I told him my ultimate goal is to win the Stanley Cup," Kuster said.
Peart going to Team USA camp
St. Cloud State defenseman Jack Peart is one of 60 players who have been invited to Team USA National Junior Evaluation Camp, which will take place July 24-Aug. 3 at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, Mich.
Peart, a 19-year-old from Grand Rapids, Minn., is preparing for his sophomore season with the Huskies. As a freshman, the second round draft pick of the Minnesota Wild had 17 points, 22 blocked shots, 24 penalty minutes and was a plus-3 in 32 games.
He was a late addition to Team USA for the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championships and played in the one game the Americans played before the tournament was cancelled due to COVID-19.
The final 23-player roster is expected to be announced on Aug. 3 and the tournament will be held Aug. 9-20 in Edmonton, Alberta.
The roster for the 2023 U.S. National Junior Team, which will play in the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship Dec. 26, 2022-Jan. 5, 2023, in Halifax, Nova Scotia and Moncton, New Brunswick, is expected to be announced in mid-December.
Peart is one of 20 defensemen who have been invited to the camp.
"I know he's excited for a second chance," Larson said. "He worked so hard to make that team last year and was a late add (to the roster). He went up there and played really well. I know he's excited to try to make that team and be an impact player."