SCSU notebook: Huskies ramp up, prepare for Quinnipiac, David Hrenak is 'day to day'
The starting goalie for St. Cloud State against Quinnipiac likely to be 'a gametime decision,' according to coach Brett Larson
ST. CLOUD, Minn. — The St. Cloud State men's hockey team will face a team it has not played in a game against since the 2015-16 season. But Huskies head coach said Tuesday that he sees similarities between Quinnipiac and two NCHC teams that SCSU faced this season.
"They look a lot like North Dakota or (Minnesota) Duluth to me," Larson said of the Bobcats. "They're aggressive on the forecheck, they play extremely hard. They defend the neutral zone very well and stay above you. And they defend their net front very well, too.
"They don't give you much. You have to earn it," he said of Quinnipiac, the toughest team in NCAA Division I to score against (1.1 goals-per-game). "The biggest thing for us is that we play teams like that throughout the year. That's one of the best things about the NCHC — you're playing really good teams all season. That's what prepares you for games like this."
St. Cloud State is looking to get to its second straight Frozen Four after reaching the national championship game last year. But the Huskies (18-14-4) will head out to the regional in Allentown, Pa., with a question at a key position going into the game against Quinnipiac (31-6-3) at 7 p.m. Friday at PPL Center.
David Hrenak, who has started each of the last six NCAA tournament games for the Huskies, will likely be a "game-time decision" as to whether he will play against Quinnipiac. Hrenak missed the NCHC quarterfinals series against Minnesota Duluth on March 11-12 due to illness.
"Right now, day-to-day on David," Larson said of Hrenak, a Los Angeles Kings draft pick who has Division I program career records for games played (146), wins (82) and shutouts (14). "David continues to get a little bit better, day by day."
If Hrenak cannot play, that would mean that Jaxon Castor would likely get the start against Quinnipiac. Castor, a junior from Phoenix, suffered both losses in the series against the Bulldogs, but stopped 70 of 79 shots in the two games.
"I thought he played well," Larson said of Castor, who was starting his first game since Feb. 19 and has played in 18 career games. "For a kid that hadn't played much in 2 1/2 months, to be able to step into a high pressure situation and play the way he did, tells me a lot about him.
"He's a kid that wants the pressure, wants to live up to that, wants to prove himself. Getting him into those two games (vs. UMD) — whether we use him or not this weekend — I think was good for him, to get that playoff feel. I don't know if you could ask for much more out of a kid coming out of that situation. If he does have to play, I think playing in that situation is going to help him prepare."
Castor and Hrenak were not available to comment on Tuesday. Castor, 25, played in some big playoff games in junior hockey. In 2018, he was named the MVP of the North American Hockey League's playoffs when he helped the Shreveport Mudbugs win the Robertson Cup. In 12 playoff games, he was 9-3 with a 1.66 goals-against average, .929 save percentage and two shutouts.
This season, Castor is 2-3 with a 2.91 GAA and .906 save percentage in eight games.
"I thought he played great in the last weekend that he played," SCSU senior wing Micah Miller said of the UMD series. "It's a tough thing to do to step in when you haven't played in a while and he did a really good job. If he plays, we have a lot of confidence in him."
Hrenak, the Northeast Regional MVP at last year's tournament, is 16-11-4 with a 2.26 GAA, .914 save percentage and three shutouts in 31 games this season.
NCAA experience, keys for Huskies
While the status of Hrenak is unknown, unlike last year, the Huskies have a lot of experience returning to the lineup from last year's region championship team. St. Cloud State is likely to have 15 skaters in the lineup who helped the Huskies beat Boston University and Boston College to go to the Frozen Four.
"I don't think we were nervous last year and we won't be nervous this year," Miller said. "We know what to expect and what we need to do to get it done."
OK, so what do the Huskies need to do to get past Quinnipiac?
"I think we've got to shut things down on defense, once we get behind their 'D,' work it down low, be on the offensive, have a good neutral zone and just get back to the way we play," Miller said.
"We want to get out to our game as fast as possible," said graduate student center Kevin Fitzgerald, whose team is 17-6-1 when it scores first this season. "We watched them on film and know that they're a good defensive team and they're just a good team in general.
"We want to play fast, get pucks down below their goal line, get traffic. We want to keep applying pressure, shift after shift."
Fitzgerald and Miller are two of the top penalty killers for the Huskies. St. Cloud State, which has killed penalties at an 81.7% rate and leads the nation in short-handed goals (10), struggled a bit in their last four games on the kill, giving up four goals in 10 chances.
The penalty kill has been one of the focal points in recent practices.
"Communicating off of faceoffs, knowing what we're doing," Fitzgerald said of what they've been working on. "Making hard clears, making hard plays and making it tough on them. Trying to play fast and make them react and we need to apply pressure up ice.
"Early on in the year, we were good on the penalty kill, good at applying pressure up ice and making it hard on teams to get into the zone and just trying to get back to that."
St. Cloud State leaves Wednesday for Allentown. There will be a practice day on Thursday for all four teams. Unlike past years, there will be an off day on Saturday and then the regional championship game will be played Sunday.
The Frozen Four will be played April 7-9 at TD Garden in Boston.