SCSU Notebook: Jaxon Castor tries to simplify, be ready; former SCSU players named to Olympic team
Huskies men look to return to action this weekend with an NCHC series Friday and Saturday vs. Miami at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center. SCSU women looking to play WCHA series Friday and Saturday at Bemidji State.
ST. CLOUD, Minn. — An argument can be made that one of the tougher jobs in sports is being a backup goalie in hockey.
If a team has a strong No. 1 goaltender, a backup goalie can go weeks — sometimes months — between time that they get into games. But when they are called upon, the backup is often expected to either jump in and provide a solid start or come into a game getting out of hand and try to provide a spark.
Jaxon Castor is in his third season as a backup goalie for the St. Cloud State men's hockey team and his numbers have been good when he has played in place of starter David Hrenak. After making 23 saves in a 5-2 win over Bemidji State on Jan. 1, Castor is 2-1 with a 1.69 goals-against average and .937 save percentage in three starts this season.
In the last two seasons, he is 4-1 with a 2.02 GAA and .922 save percentage for the Huskies.
"He's taken a step from last season," Huskies coach Brett Larson said of Castor. "We've really focused on our goalie training in practice. We've added goalie sessions throughout the week. Our goalie coach, Matt Bertram, has done a really good job with our goalies. I've seen Jaxon make a big step (up).
"The one thing that Jaxon has that I really like is that he has poise and a calmness to him. He doesn't get rattled in the net ... and I think the technical part of his play continues to get better and better."
It will be interesting to see if Castor plays this weekend when the Huskies (No. 4 in the PairWise Rankings, 4-4 NCHC, 12-6 overall) play Miami (No. 46, 1-10-1, 4-16-2) at 7:30 p.m. Friday and 6 p.m. Saturday at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center. Both games will be on FOX 9+.
Before playing against the Beavers, it had been 41 days since Castor got into a game.
"I stepped in there and felt pretty comfortable and the guys did a pretty good job in front of me and that just makes everything so much easier," said Castor, a junior from Phoenix, Arizona.
Castor said he made some adjustments since last season to improve and stay prepared to get into games.
"Just keeping it simple and making my habits an every day thing," he said of the changes. "Getting to my spots, good (puck) tracking and taking care of my body off the ice. Just maturing that way and realizing what I have to do off the ice to perform on the ice is huge.
"Every day, I'm coming to practice like it's a game and trying to get better every day. I'm learning from David (Hrenak) and (goalie) Joey (Lamoreaux) every day. It's a treat to have them as goalie partners and we have a lot of fun with it too.
"I think when I'm at my best, I'm getting to my spots early and just dropping straight down, not having to make that athletic play all the time. But if I have to, I will. When you're square to pucks, it makes it a lot easier."
Another interesting thing to watch will be to see how the schedule affects how much Castor may get into games down the stretch. The Huskies have had both of their last two series against NCHC postponed due to COVID-19 protocols.
Because of that, St. Cloud State's scheduled off week in February has had to be filled with games. St. Cloud State will play its rescheduled series at Denver on Feb. 4-5, then will play a home series against Western Michigan, Feb. 18-19 at Nebraska Omaha, play host to Colorado College on Feb. 25-26 and then finish with a series March 4-5 at Minnesota Duluth.
What has yet to be decided is when to make up the two home games the Huskies had postponed against UMD. If those games are to be played, they are likely going to be during the middle of a week and SCSU will have to play three games in a week — possibly twice.
"I know our administration is working on that with the league right now," Larson said."We're trying to do the best we can to make up as much as we can, I think without it being a detriment to a team being able to compete down the stretch and in the playoffs. We want to make sure to get some rest. We're making progress, but nothing is finalized yet."
With the possibility of three games some weeks, that could mean more playing time for Castor, though Larson does not have set plans yet.
"He hasn't said anything, but I don't think he necessarily has to," Castor said. "Nothing really changes for us as goalies. We're always prepared and ready to go if we get our name called. There may be some more opportunity and I'll be ready if I get my name called."
Larson compares the situation to playing in the NCHC Pod last season when the team played nine games in 20 days in Omaha.
"You're almost looking at a pod mentality with how we prepared, how we practiced and how we ran things in the pod when we were playing more than two games in a week," Larson said. "I know the guys, in some ways, would be excited about it. They want to paly hockey. This time of year, practices can get long and you're getting into the dog days of practices a little bit.
"It's our job as coaches to manage the rest, making sure we're recovering the right way and making sure we have the ability to compete and be successful."
'About half' were not able to skate
The Huskies' series last weekend was postponed due to positive COVID-19 tests for SCSU. Players who tested positive were not able skate again until Tuesday. Healthy players held captains practices over the weekend. So how many of the 28 players on the Huskies roster were able to skate over the weekend?
"We had about half the team that was able to skate and the other half had to quarantine," Larson said. "We got everybody back (Tuesday) out of quarantine and it was really good. You could tell they were excited to be here and everybody is feeling pretty good. It was fun to get a full team practice in for the first time in a week."
So what is the practice plan for this week?
"Unfortunately, we've had to go to this blueprint three times now," Larson said. "We had a blueprint for before we played Bemidji because we hadn't played in three weeks. You focus on simple things: special teams, goaltending, executing at a high pace and getting our conditioning back.
"You want to keep it simple and you want to be good in the most important areas of the game ... It leads to a team going into a weekend not overthinking it, getting out there, playing hard and focused on those areas."
2 former Huskies to play for Denmark
Former St. Cloud State players Oliver Lauridsen and Patrick Russell have both been named to Team Denmark, which will compete in the Beijing Olympics.
Lauridsen, 32, played defense for the Huskies from 2008-11 and is playing for the Malmö Redhawks in the Swedish premier league. He has three goals, 37 penalty minutes and is a minus-6 in 33 games this season. Since leaving St. Cloud State, Lauridsen has played in the American Hockey League, NHL (16 games for the Philadelphia Flyers), with Frölunda Hockey Club in Sweden and, from 2016-20, he played for Jokerit in the Kontinental Hockey League. The KHL has teams in Belarus, China, Finland, Latvia, Kazakhstan, and Russia.
Russell, 29, played forward for the Huskies from 2014-16 and is playing for the Linköping Hockey Club in Sweden. He has 10 goals, 17 points, 10 penalty minutes and is a minus-3 in 26 games this season. Since leaving St. Cloud State, Russell has also played for the AHL's Bakersfield Condors (2016-19) and 59 games for the Edmonton Oilers from 2018-21. Russell's sister, Emma, will play forward for the Denmark women's team in Beijing. She plays professionally in Denmark.
The official announcement of the Danish men's team came after current St. Cloud State players Sam Hentges and Nick Perbix were named to Team USA's roster for the Olympics. Larson was previously named an assistant coach for Team USA.
So far, the lone St. Cloud State women's hockey player to be named to a national Olympic team is forward Klara Hymlarova. Hymlarova, a 22-year-old forward playing in her third season with the Huskies, was named to the Czech Republic's roster. This season, she has five points and 10 penalty minutes in 11 games for SCSU.
The Huskies women's team has also had back-to-back series postponed due to COVID-19 protocols. SCSU (2-11-1 WCHA, 7-12-1 overall) is scheduled to play a WCHA series this weekend at Bemidji State (4-12-2, 7-12-3).