SCSU notebook: Larson shares some Olympic memories, a tough 10-game stretch, Academic All-NCHC team named
Huskies head coach 'such a surreal and cool experience'. A look at some of the numbers behind the 1-5-4 stretch SCSU is in and 13 Huskies earn academic honors
ST. CLOUD, Minn. — There are tales all around of how members of the U.S. men's Olympic hockey team got back to their respective college teams last weekend.
There were 15 college players and two head coaches (St. Cloud State's Brett Larson and Minnesota State University-Mankato's Mike Hastings) on the Olympic team. The Americans lost to Slovakia in the quarterfinals on Feb. 16.
Larson and two of his players, senior defenseman Nick Perbix and senior forward Sam Hentges, were all in Omaha, Neb., by 3 p.m. Feb. 18. Larson was back behind the bench for the first game of the series against Nebraska Omaha. Hentges and Perbix got back into the lineup on Saturday.
While Larson was glad to be back with the team, he said he tried to temper some of his input because he had been gone and associate head coach Dave Shyiak, assistant coach Nick Oliver and acting assistant coach R.J. Enga had done all of the preparation work with the team.
"I had to be kind of careful because Shick, Ollie and R.J. had done the planning and prep and had prepared the team and they'd done a good job of that, I thought," Larson said. "We had (volunteer goalie coach) Matt Bertram behind the bench when I got there. I just addressed the team before the game and said, 'You're prepared, you're ready and I'm excited to be back in the battle.'
"But it was certainly a different feeling because I hadn't been there all week."
Oliver was also not in Omaha because he and is wife welcomed their first child over the weekend. Nick's wife, Alexandra, a former St. Cloud State women's hockey player, gave birth to Thomas Scott Oliver on Feb. 19.
While Oliver was not able to be at the series, Larson was after spending nearly three weeks away from the team with Team USA.
"The level of pride of being a part of that is unbelievable," Larson said. "It was a great group of players. It was a great staff. It couldn't have been more fun.
"Obviously, the negative part is to go 3-0-1 and feel like you're a team that can win a medal and you lose a shootout and you're out. It was hard to stomach.
"With that being said, being at that Olympic village, everyone eats in a cafeteria. I've never seen anything like it where you're getting ready to play Canada in a game and you're at one lunch table and they're at another. You're kind of sitting across the cafeteria, looking at them. Then you've got the Italian skiers sitting next to you over here and Swedish figure skaters ... all these different athletes and different coaches from everywhere.
"It was such a surreal and cool experience. To see the Olympic village as the weeks went on and to see people come back from winning medals and they're celebrating ... A surreal experience that I was extremely proud to be a part of."
So what were the accommodations like?
"In the village, there were apartments, so we had six of us in one apartment," said Larson, who was in an apartment with the team's staff. "You had your own bedroom, but then there was one living room. It was fun because it was a hockey think tank all the time. It was just hockey 24/7.
"We couldn't communicate much back here because we had those burner phones and couldn't use our real ones. The time change was different. It was being immersed in Olympic hockey, preparing for each game and spending time with great coaches and great players. It was an experience of a lifetime for sure."
There were fans allowed to watch the games, but it was limited due to the pandemic. Larson compared it to playing Tuesday's game against Minnesota Duluth when there was a snowstorm.
"It was like on Tuesday night and it was a big game and there wasn't a huge crowd, but it felt intense and it was the same thing over there," he said of the game against the Bulldogs, which had about 2,000 fans. "It was the same thing over there (in Beijing). The crowd wasn't huge, but they did a nice job of filling it in with some people, media on the other side.
"It still had an intense, big-game feel when the puck dropped."
Of course, the experience was made more unique with Larson being able to share it with Hentges and Perbix. Hentges played in the last two games and scored the second goal for Team USA against Slovakia. Perbix played in all four games and had an assist on Hentges' goal.
"I thought they represented our country and St. Cloud State very well," Larson said. "They both played well. Sammy had to work his way into the lineup. Perby had to work his way up the lineup.
"They became more and more valuable to the team as the tournament went on."
Some tough numbers
Since sweeping Miami on Jan. 21-22, the Huskies have gone 1-5-4. In that 10-game stretch, SCSU is averaging 2.4 goals and giving up an average of 3.9 per game.
Not surprisingly, special teams has played a role. The Huskies are 6-for-34 (17.6%) on the power play and 26-for-37 (70.3%) on the penalty kill in those 10 games.
SCSU has some players having the best seasons of their careers: Kevin Fitzgerald has career-bests in goals (15), assists (16) and points (31); Micah Miller has a career-best nine goals and leads the nation in short-handed goals with four. Zach Okabe has career-bests in goals (11) and points (25) and so does linemate Jami Krannila (13 and 25). Perbix has career-bests in assists (20) and points (23) and so does Spencer Meier (13 and 17).
OK, so where is some of the lack of offense coming from? Easton Brodzinski has not scored a goal in 10 games, the longest stretch of his college career. In his last 11 games, Nolan Walker has three assists and no goals. Veeti Miettinen has one goal and one assist in his last 10 games.
Brodzinski led the team in goals as both a junior and senior, Walker tied Miettinen for the team lead in points (24) last season.
13 Huskies earn NCHC academic honors
Fitzgerald, Hentges, Meier, Miller, Perbix and Walker lead a group of 13 St. Cloud State players who were named to the NCHC Academic All-Conference team.
Fitzgerald, a graduate student from Hinsdale, Ill., earned the honor for the fifth straight season. Meier, Miller, Perbix and Walker were each honored for the fourth time. Chase Brand, Joey Lamoreaux and Thomas Rocco were named to the team for the third time. David Hrenak and Ondrej Trejbal were named to the second time. Brady Ziemer and Jack Johnston were both named for the first time.
To be eligible for the Academic All-NCHC team, players must have a 3.0 cumulative grade-point average or better while having completed at least one full semester at their current institution.