Closing Thoughts and Recap: 2014-15 SCSU Hockey Season
It’s always difficult to see the season end for your home team. In tournament play it’s quick, sudden and final. Human nature dictates we’d like to prepare for finality but that’s not how it works in NCAA college hockey. You hope for the best, begin preparation for a trip to Boston and suddenly have to scrap plans when things don’t turn out the way you’d like them to. You then begin to reflect and appreciate the excitement and enjoyment and yes, maybe even some of the disappointment you experienced as another six month collegiate hockey season comes to an end. The 2014-15 season had the Huskies fans on a roller coaster of a ride as they battled through one of college hockey’s toughest schedules.
It all started with an 8-0 shellacking of Trinity Western in an exhibition game and it was that game that hosted the coming out party for senior, Joey Rehkamp, a durable and dependable forward who dazzled fans with blazing speed and confounded defenders as they tried to contain him on his wide rushes up ice. The team drew us in with their 3-2 start, not by their record, but with wins over assumed hockey contenders Colgate and Minnesota and a road split with defending national champion Union College. It was probably appropriate that SCSU’s first goal of the regular season was on the power play with Benik getting the goal and Brodzinski getting the assist and that the two juniors would finish the season as the team’s top two scorers. It was also a preview of special teams play that would lead to much success the entire season. An overtime loss to Minnesota in an early season Saturday rematch at Mariucci Arena was tolerable especially considering the Huskies were outshot 35-14, but more importantly was the start of greater things to come from sophomore goaltender, Charlie Lindgren.
So, as fans, after drawing us in, the #7 Huskies let us down with two losses at home to the #17 UMD Bulldogs, their first sweep in St. Cloud since November 12-13, 1999. Falling to #15 in the rankings, the Huskies made their first road trip to Western Michigan in decades to face the Broncos and the “Lawson Lunatics” in a truly collegiate atmosphere. A four-point weekend had the Huskies back on track as they prepared for a home weekend with North Dakota, two of six games they’d ultimately encounter with them in the 2014-15 season. A home split with then #2 ranked North Dakota and another road split the following weekend at Bemidji led to a mid-December road trip to Omaha for the final series of the 2014 calendar year. In a highly disappointing road series, the Huskies outshot #12 ranked Omaha 49-23 on Friday yet were victimized by Austin Ortega and his 5th GWG of the season in a 3-2 loss. Not to be outdone by his Friday effort, Ortega once again nailed the game winner, his 6th of the season the next night and capped off a weekend sweep for the Mavericks.
A NEW YEAR
Looking for a new beginning to start 2015, the 6-9-1 Huskies hosted #14 Quinnipiac and again had difficulty with this ECAC team that eventually won their league title and received an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. A 3-2 comeback win on Friday was followed by a disappointing 4-1 loss on Saturday and again had the coaching staff striving for some consistency from the team. They found it the next weekend at home against #5 Miami in perhaps their best overall series to date. They doubled up the RedHawks 3-1 and 3-2 and knocked Miami from first to fourth in the NCHC and in the process picked up their first sweep since March of 2014. Backup goaltender Rasmus Reijola was given a rare start and earned his first collegiate win. An exuberant Reijola remarked “This is the best feeling I’ve had in my life”. However, things changed quickly the following weekend as SCSU probably hit the low point of their season at #13 Denver where the Huskies were thoroughly outplayed getting outshot 72-47 on the weekend and getting swept for the second time in conference play.
A return series with Western Michigan at home yielded another split but started an offensive trend as the coaching staff began lineup changes looking to take advantage of the strength of the teams top scorers, Benik and Brodzinski. The line of Morley, Benik and Russell took hold and the strategy worked with Benik and Brodzinski picking up four even-strength points and an emerging David Morley adding two goals in the 7-0 shutout of a usually solid defensive Bronco team. It was encouraging to see first-year players Judd Peterson and Patrick Russell net goals in the rematch but another disappointment to drop game two to the 7th place Broncos after Friday’s dominating win. SCSU began a streak of winning five of the next six games starting with the CC Tigers on the road where they outscored their opponent 13-2 over the weekend. Leading goal scorer, Jonny Brodzinski ate up the last place Tigers netting four goals and adding two assists in the weekend romp. Next, the now unranked Huskies earned a split on the road with #6 UMD but kept the momentum scoring four goals in game two with Morley again picking up steam with a two-goal night in the Saturday win.
With six games left in the conference schedule and the Pairwise becoming an ever important subject, the Huskies were facing three top ten teams in Omaha, North Dakota and Denver. The Huskies proved they were ready for the stretch run bottling up the UNO offense allowing only 2 goals all weekend by the Mavericks in a home sweep. Another showdown with #1 UND at Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks proved to be a difficult task in the won/loss column despite two very close games. The common theme both nights was seeing SCSU trail in each game by a 3-1 margin and despite playing well not being able to recover from the early deficit. Although the series did not hurt their Pairwise, the losses kept them in sixth place in the league standings and delegated SCSU to the road for the NCHC playoffs. In an extremely crucial weekend vs #7 Denver, the Huskies sorely needed a win to keep their Pairwise ranking propped up and they rallied on Saturday with a 4-2 win after dropping Friday’s contest 3-2. After a 10 game scoring drought, Jonny Brodzinski once again emerged scoring two goals in less than two minutes to lead 16-17-1 SCSU to victory in the last home game of the 2014-15 season.
For the NCHC playoffs, the Huskies were paired against third-place Omaha and it turned out to be the ideal matchup for SCSU despite being on the road. In a very tight game one, SCSU held the Omaha offense in check and they prevailed in a two overtime game on a goal by David Morley, suddenly the teams most reliable scorer. In the Saturday rematch, the two teams were obviously still beat up from the two-overtime contest the night before and it was the Huskies prevailing once again 3-1 against a suddenly offensively challenged UNO squad. Having dispatched the Mavericks quickly, the Huskies advanced to the NCHC Frozen Faceoff tourney to face nemesis and #1 ranked North Dakota in the opening game. With a nearly perfect game plan vs UND at the Target Center, the Huskies, outshot, outscored and outplayed top-ranked UND in a 3-1 win. This time it was Joey Benik who was the game hero with the GWG in period two. However, most importantly, the win provided SCSU with the won/loss record 19-17-1 and #12 Pairwise ranking that seemed to secure them an at large bid in the NCAA tourney regardless of the outcome with Miami in the championship game. The NCHC championship game against Miami turned out to be another tightly contested affair and a game that typically would have played into the Huskies hand. However, a second period injury to Kalle Kossila on a check from behind, disrupted the special teams and the Huskies were never able to get the power play on track scoring once in five opportunities but failing on a key 5 minute advantage late in period two. Ultimately, the Huskies were edged 3-2 by the RedHawks and in the process failed to capture the NCHC Frozen Faceoff Championship.
On the heels of 10 consecutive games vs top-ten ranked opponents and a #12 Pairwise ranking, the Huskies were slotted to face #5 ranked and 29 win opponent, Michigan Tech University in the NCAA West Regional at Scheels Arena in Fargo, ND. Contrived pretty much as the home venue of North Dakota, the cards seemed to be stacked against any team matched against the regional host, UND at this site. The Huskies again found themselves in a matinée game and what a dandy this game turned out to be against their former WCHA foe MTU. After being outplayed and outshot by the ridiculous margin of 29 to 9 after two periods, the stout goaltending of Charlie Lindgren allowed SCSU to stay relevant in a game knotted at 1-1 after two periods of play. A mid third period goal by MTU suddenly made things look quite dire until David Morley and Alex Petan took penalties at 17:42. This turned out to be a huge break for SCSU as with goaltender Lindgren pulled, it essentially became an SCSU power play. With a mere 37 seconds left in regulation, Patrick Russell make a herculean effort against three MTU players and dished the puck to Jonny Brodzinski who buried it from a bad angle to tie the game. Not to be outdone in the drama department, first-year forward Judd Peterson then sealed the win at 8:11 of OT collecting his own rebound on a two on one with Joey Rehkamp and putting it past Jamie Phillips for an unlikely 3-2 overtime victory.
With only a single game ahead of them, and North Dakota as the only obstacle between their second Frozen Four appearance in three years it was going to be a daunting task in front of the highly partisan and rowdy crowd at Scheels Arena. Nevertheless, the Huskies got on the board quickly on a goal by Jimmy Murray. A seeing eye goal by Andrew Panzarella midway through the period had the game knotted at 1-1 by the end of the first period and it still appeared the Huskies ability to steer their destiny despite adversity was intact. However, two unlikely goals in each of the two following periods spelled doom for the Huskies and their season. First a puck that bounced off Jimmy Murray in the crease gave UND a 2-1 margin. Then, a bad angle shot by Luke Johnson hit Lindgren in the shoulder and after popping straight up into the air came back down near the intersection of the left post and goal line and trickled ever so slowly over the line for a 3-1 lead. An empty net goal at 19:19 was the final blow for the Huskies and ended the season for the lads with a 20-19-1 record and the most difficult schedule in college hockey. This was a schedule that included 28 games against top-ten teams.
The roller coaster of a season finally came to rest on March 28 nearly six months after that season beginning exhibition game against Trinity Western on October 9. This team was a resilient bunch that grew in many ways as the season progressed. Most importantly, it was a team that learned how to fabricate wins when the cards seemed to be drawn against them. When all was said and done, their scorers, Morley, Benik and Brodzinski succeeded as expected. The young, competitive goaltender, Lindgren matured, took control of his game and did what successful goaltenders are supposed to do – “stop those shots you should and those you shouldn’t”. Youngsters Widman, Russell, Peterson and Winiecki all exceeded expectations and played like veterans down the stretch run. The seniors, Oliver, Bertsch, Prochno, Rabey, Daly, Rehkamp, Phillippi and Milan did what seniors are supposed to do – provide leadership. And, they did it well.
And now, the anticipation of the 2015-16 season begins. Already, the coaching staff has lots to think about as leading goal scorer, Jonny Brodzinski has accepted the lure dangled by the NHL and has decided to forgo what was to be a highly successful senior season. With more depth being added to the defense, some fresh young snipers to the offense and goaltending completely set for next season it should be another campaign filled with success for SCSU. Just think, another six months and we do it all over again. And, so it goes… Bill Prout