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Sam Hentges picks up attention to details, his scoring follows suit for SCSU

Since returning from the Olympics, the senior wing from New Brighton has five goals and two assists in six games. Hentges and the Huskies play host to Minnesota Duluth in a best-of-three playoff series beginning Friday

St. Cloud State's Sam Hentges take the puck past Princeton's Reid Yochim towards the goal during the first period Friday, Nov. 1, 2019, at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in St. Cloud, Minn. Jason Wachter/The Rink Live

ST. CLOUD, Minn. — When Sam Hentges was named to the U.S. Olympic men's hockey team, he undoubtedly had a number of expectations for what his experience might be like. He would be playing on a world stage and getting a chance to see and meet some of the best athletes in the village where all of them lived.

What Hentges may not have imagined was some of the hockey knowledge that he would bring back with him. Playing on a team that included 15 college players and 11 pro players, he ended up learning some key things.

"I learned a lot from the older guys (on the team), guys that have been in the NHL and are in the KHL now," Hentges said. "They taught me a lot every day, just the details.

"The game at that level is a lot faster and a lot more physical. Even when the (Olympic) game wasn't as fast — sometimes college hockey is ripping around — everyone is always in the right spot, their sticks are in the right spot, so it felt faster. The smallest details always matter. I think the biggest part I've brought back is the details of my stick and breaking up plays, which leads to more offense."

It has shown in the play of the 22-year-old senior from New Brighton since he has come back. Hentges has five goals and two assists in six games since returning to the St. Cloud State men's hockey team.


The fourth-seeded Huskies (18-12-4) play host to fifth-seeded Minnesota Duluth (17-14-4) in a best-of-three NCHC quarterfinals series this weekend at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center. The teams play at 7:30 p.m. Friday, 6 p.m. Saturday and, if necessary, 6 p.m. Sunday.

Sam Hentges of the U.S. pursues the puck against Michal Cajkovsky of Slovakia
Sam Hentges of the U.S. pursues the puck against Michal Cajkovsky of Slovakia during a quarterfinal game Feb. 16, 2022, at the 2022 Beijing Olympics.
Brian Snyder / Reuters

A key contributor to securing home ice

Hentges is one of the reasons why the Huskies secured home ice with a 2-0 win over UMD on Saturday at Amsoil Arena. He scored SCSU's first goal in that win, but there were other elements he added for the Huskies with his play.

"There was a shift that I didn't even see from the bench, but we watched the game again on Sunday and Monday and Sam must have hit three or four guys in the same shift," Huskies head coach Brett Larson said. "I just grabbed him in the locker room (Tuesday) and said, 'After watching the video, I was real happy with how hard you competed on Saturday.' That high compete level out of him led to some offensive chances and more 'O' zone time for our team.

"I really thought that Sam was a catalyst to that win on Saturday."

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One of the reasons why Hentges played more physical is because he said he is finally feeling healthy. Before his time away for the Olympics, he missed 11 games with upper and lower body injuries from Oct. 23-Dec. 30.

Since returning from the Olympics, the Minnesota Wild draft pick is experiencing the most productive stretch of his college career. Hentges went into the season with 15 goals and 61 points in 94 games. This season, he has 11 goals and nine assists in 17 games.

"Being healthy is the biggest thing and the puck is finally going in," said Hentges, who had eight goals and nine assists in 29 games in 2020-21. "I'm not hitting posts or having goals get called off. I had a lot of those last year.


"It's a lot more than just scoring. It's the small details like taking care of my body off he ice even more. In past years, I've had some bad injuries and played through it. I was hurt earlier in the year, but now I feel great and I'm excited for this big (playoff) push."

People around Hentges can see a few reasons for his success.

"It seems like he's got his confidence back and that he's scoring pretty much every game," Huskies junior center Jami Krannila said. "He's strong, he's fast and stays on pucks. He's exciting and gets the boys going.

"He's probably one of the best competitors out there. He doesn't want to lose anything. Even in practice, it's great to go against him because he doesn't want to lose, you don't want to lose. It snowballs around to a bigger thing that's more than just him."

St. Cloud State's Sam Hentges (19) scores the game-winning goal through a pile with 1:11 left against Minnesota Duluth on March 9, 2019, at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in St. Cloud, Minn.
Courtesy of St. Cloud State University

Playing physical

While Hentges has decent size (listed at 6-foot, 190 pounds) and his speed is often what gets him noticed by casual fans, Larson has other things that he appreciates.

"What's not appreciated about him is that when he's healthy and on, he's not only fast and skilled, but he's physical, too," said Larson, who is in his fourth season coaching Hentges. "He wins puck battles. He's not afraid to bump and finish his checks.

"I really watched that (Saturday) game again and I thought there were shifts where he willed his way to help our team win. He really was hard to play against with his speed and his physicality. When he's at his best, those things match up."


Hentges, who will play in his 112th college game Friday, sounds like he has found the right combination to being productive.

"I think the biggest thing is playing my hockey and consistency," he said. "Every shift, it's doing the little things and the details. I know that if I do the details right — in the 'D' zone, in the neutral zone — the offense will come."

And outside of the hockey knowledge gained, Hentges has a number of things that he will remember from his Olympic experience and said he was glad that teammate Nick Perbix and Larson were there to share it with him.

"It was a great experience and I got to meet a lot of different people, people I will talk to the rest of my life," he said. "Perby was there and coach was and it was great bonding with them. It's something that we'll always talk about the rest of our lives.

"The whole experience, talking to famous athletes, all the Olympians just eating with them at the dining hall, watching them perform is very special."

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

For more coverage of St. Cloud and the surrounding communities, check out St. Cloud Live.
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