ST. CLOUD, Minn. β€” Keep this on the down low, but the parents of Mason Salquist may be getting a special gift soon. It is not something he went out and bought and it may have a scratch or gouge in it.

Salquist, a 21-year-old freshman from Grand Forks, N.D., scored the game-winning goal in St. Cloud State's win over Minnesota State University-Mankato on Saturday. He got the puck he scored it with because it was his first college goal, but he plans on making it a gift.

"I'm thinking about giving it to my parents, but they don't know that yet," Salquist said with a smile at a press conference on Tuesday. "They got me to this stage and this part of my life.

"It was an awesome feeling and ice to get that one (goal) out of the way early."

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It will be interesting to see what happens with Salquist this weekend when the second-ranked Huskies (3-1) play fourth-ranked Minnesota (2-0) in a nonconference series. The teams play at 7 p.m. Friday (Bally Sports North) at 3M Arena at Mariucci in Minneapolis and then at 5 p.m. Saturday (FOX 9+) at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in St. Cloud. Saturday's game will be part of homecoming week at St. Cloud State and there will be pregame festivities and a postgame concert on Herb Brooks Way.

St. Cloud State forward Mason Salquist (16) and St. Thomas University defenseman Kimball Johnson (28) chase the puck in the first period Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in St. Cloud.  Jason Wachter / The Rink Live
St. Cloud State forward Mason Salquist (16) and St. Thomas University defenseman Kimball Johnson (28) chase the puck in the first period Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in St. Cloud. Jason Wachter / The Rink Live

Strong start

Salquist, who is listed at 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds, has played in two of the Huskies' first four games. In the season-opener, he played center and had an assist, a shot on goal and was 10-4 on faceoffs and was named the NCHC Rookie of the Week, despite not playing in Game 2 of the series against St. Thomas.

Last weekend against the Mavericks, he was a healthy scratch on Friday, but played wing Saturday and, besides the game-winner, had three shots on goal and two blocked shots. Salquist was moved back into the lineup after Sam Hentges suffered an upper body injury on Friday and he also saw time on the power play.

"We've really liked him. He's off to a great start," Huskies coach Brett Larson said. "With Sammy out, we needed a guy to go on the power-play unit. Salzy played the bumper (on the power play) up in Fargo and it was a spot we could fit him in. He did a great job on the power play. He did a great job 5-on-5. He played with a lot of poise for a young player.

"He seemed to be able to get into the game and find his game. That crowd was rocking in Mankato and they're certainly one of the top teams in the country and he was able to step in and play. The situation didn't seem too big for him and he didn't seem overwhelmed by it. He's a smart player with some compete."

Salquist admitted that he had some nerves before Saturday's game.

"A little bit, But after warmups, I kind of settled in and went out there and played my game, doing what I'm capable of doing and playing to my strengths.

"(I'm) a 200-foot player, playing well in my 'D' zone and bringing a little bit of offense and skill to the game, being hard to play against."

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Fargo Force connections

Salquist played juniors last season for the Fargo Force of the United States Hockey League. He had seven goals and 12 points and was a plus-3 in 14 games before a lower body injury kept him out of the lineup from Dec. 30-Feb. 26. Salquist returned and helped the Force reach the Clark Cup Finals in the playoffs.

"It was tough. It's not easy having a lower body injury and then coming back and trying to get your feet back into it," he said. "But it was a lot of fun and part of the process. I had a really good group of guys with me, which made it easier."

He will see a handful of those former Force teammates this weekend. Jack Peart, a Minnesota Wild draft pick, is a freshman defensemen for the Huskies and also played for the Force last season. Forwards Tristan Boz and Aaron Huglen and goalie Brennan Boynton are all freshmen for the Golden Gophers.

"It will be nice competing against them and it should be a good matchup," Salquist said.

St. Cloud State forward Mason Salquist (16) moves the puck against St. Thomas University in the third period Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in St. Cloud.  Jason Wachter / The Rink Live
St. Cloud State forward Mason Salquist (16) moves the puck against St. Thomas University in the third period Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in St. Cloud. Jason Wachter / The Rink Live

Because of the pandemic, Salquist had an interesting recruiting experience. College coaches were not allowed to go out and see players play, so they had to watch games on the internet and players were not allowed to go on recruiting visits to campuses.

In the spring of 2020, though, the Huskies coaching staff got in contact with him over the phone and he ended up having a virtual campus visit.

"It was a little different. I got a phone call from the coaching staff and got to know them a little bit," Salquist said. "Then I took a virtual visit, through the hockey facilitiy on Facetime with (assistant) coach (Nick) Oliver. Then through the academic side, I was on a Zoom meeting and got to see campus."

Salquist played high school hockey for Grand Forks Red River in North Dakota, but the Fighting Hawks were not in the recruiting mix. But he was sold on a number of things with the Huskies.

"Just a great hockey culture and being close to home is really nice, too," said Salquist, who played 24 junior games in the NAHL with the Janesville Jets in 2018-19 before joining the Force. "The coaches and the family that they bring β€” everyone's in it together. I just love how coach Larson and the coaching staff present things.

"I always wanted to be close to home and play in the NCHC. St. Cloud was up there on my list with recruiting. That helped, too."

He has been one of the few additions to the St. Cloud State roster with 23 players returning from last season's team. But Salquist has looked like a good fit in the early going.

"Mason is a great player. He came out with some jump and he was good mentally to stay engaged" after sitting out Friday, Huskies fifth-year senior forward Kevin Fitzgerald said. "We thought he did great offensively and defensively (Saturday). He had a couple big blocked shots down the stretch."

"He can play really anywhere and on the power play and penalty kill, up and down the lineup. You can say that about a lot of players on our team."

And Salquist is enjoying his new team and surroundings.

"It's been awesome. The guys have been really welcoming," he said. "It's been a lot of fun so far. Playing my first game at the Herb, it was a lot of fun. The crowd really got into it and it was a good thing that we came out on top.

"This last weekend was a challenge. There were two games going head-to-head and we split with them. Friday night probably didn't bring our best game, but Saturday night, we turned it around and came out strong and a lot faster."