SCSU notebook: Defensemen come through; battling confidence issues; David Hrenak, Josh Luedtke played well
Graduate student goalie had 28 saves, freshman defenseman has assist, plays key minutes in tie against Minnesota Duluth
ST. CLOUD, Minn. — There are times when taking a look at the statistics after a game will tell a small part of the story.
The NCHC tie between St. Cloud State and Minnesota Duluth on Tuesday at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center is an example. If you look at the Huskies who played, you will see that defensemen Seamus Donohue and Spencer Meier scored third-period goals, Josh Luedtke had an assist and the seven defensemen were a combined plus-3 and had 12 shots on goal.
Those numbers do not tell the whole story.
"I thought we struggled early with our 'D' core in terms of uncharacteristic forced plays with the puck, our gaps were a little soft," said Huskies associate head coach Dave Shyiak, who works with the defensemen. "That's kind of a confidence thing when you're playing back (in the defensive zone) too much.
"As the game got closer to the second and third periods, we were on top of them a bit more and that's when we started to take the game over."
When Shyiak is talking about a confidence issue, he was talking about the struggles for the Huskies in their previous four games bleeding over into Tuesday's game. In four road games at North Dakota and Denver, St. Cloud State picked up one point.
In those four games, the Huskies were outscored by an average of 5-2.3 and outshot by an average of 38-24. Remember, one of the strengths of this St. Cloud State team is that it has seven of its top nine defenseman back from last season.
Here's some perspective on that four-game stretch: Before the series at North Dakota, the Huskies were outshooting opponents by an average of 36.6-24.1 and outscoring opponents 4.6-2.4.
In other words, North Dakota and Denver did to SCSU what the Huskies have been doing to opponents all season. Then St. Cloud State did not score in the first two periods of Tuesday's game ... and the mental part of the game was going in a tough direction.
"Five-on-five, it's been a struggle scoring goals," Shyiak said of the Huskies, who have six even-strength goals in their last five games. "It was nice to get a 5-on-5 goal (Tuesday).
"When we're going and playing Husky hockey, we're generating a lot of offense and shots on net. We've got to get back to that. I think it's a confidence thing. We've got to take a deep breath and play our game on Friday."
It certainly does not get easier for the Huskies on Friday. St. Cloud State (6-7-1 NCHC, 14-9-2 overall) plays host to Western Michigan (11-5-0, 19-6-0) in an NCHC series. The teams play at 7:30 p.m. Friday and 6 p.m. Saturday (both on FOX 9+) at the Brooks Center.
Western Michigan swept St. Cloud State (6-2, 4-0) in a series Nov. 19-20 in Kalamazoo. The Broncos are 13-2 in their last 15 games and have won six of the eight games against the Huskies in the last two seasons.
"It means a lot and it's huge that we were able to come back, but I think the most important (thing) now is that we've got to improve from this point," Huskies goalie David Hrenak said of rallying from a 2-0 deficit Tuesday. "If we're not going to start playing better, this (two points) does not really matter. This weekend is really important. We could enjoy this for a couple of minutes, but now it's time to look at Western Michigan because we know it's a big weekend ahead of us."
A win or points this weekend could also be helpful for the team's NCAA Division I tournament hopes. The Huskies are No. 10 in the PairWise Rankings, which try to mimic the criteria used by the NCAA committee to pick the 16-team national tournament field. Western Michigan is fourth in the PairWise.
Luedtke, Hrenak were keys for Huskies
So who were some key players for St. Cloud State in the tie with UMD?
Hrenak quickly comes to mind. A graduate student from Slovakia, he made 28 saves in the win, including 15 in the second period to keep it 2-0 going into the third period.
"I felt pretty good right from the start," he said. "Obviously, the guys are trying to help me and I'm trying to help them. It's a team game.
"When we play against Duluth, we call it a game of inches. We saw that today."
Hrenak, a Los Angeles Kings draft pick, has a .917 save percentage and 2.24 goals-against average in 22 games this season.
"Davy had a great game — he always does," Donohue said of Hrenak. "He kept us in it when he needed to ... for a lot of the game — most of it. He was huge."
Another player who played a key role in the win was Luedtke, a freshman from Minnetonka. The numbers don't pop out, but he had the primary assist on Donohue's goal, two shots, was a plus-1 and blocked a shot.
Not mentioned in the statistics is the number of times he stepped up to keep a play moving into the offensive zone or hustled back to make good defensive plays, particularly in the third period and overtime.
"(Josh) Luedtke was unbelievable tonight," Shyiak said. "I thought he was the best defenseman on the ice tonight."
And consider this: the undrafted 21-year-old Luedtke was not sure how much playing time he would get this season with six of the team's top seven defensemen returning. But he has seven points, is third on the team in plus/minus (plus-11) and fourth in shots among defensemen (27) in 20 games.
"Being a freshman and coming in and playing hard minutes — awesome," Donohue said. "Did you guys see that (defensive) gap he (closed) in OT? It looked like almost a drop pass to him from the other team. I was on the bench and my jaw dropped. It was awesome."