ST. CLOUD, Minn. — A poll of the NCHC media that covers the men's hockey conference was released on Monday, Nov. 23, and St. Cloud State was picked to finish fourth.
The Huskies, who finished fifth in the conference and 13-15-6 overall last season, have five of their top seven defensemen and two-time All-NCHC Second Team pick — goalie David Hrenak — returning. St. Cloud State is scheduled to open the season at 7:35 p.m. Dec. 1 against Western Michigan at Baxter Arena in Omaha, Neb.
"I think we're going to have to win the details and be mentally strong on and off the ice to get us over the edge with those other teams," Huskies junior captain and defenseman Spencer Meier said. "It all starts in the 'D' zone. A clean 'D' zone leads to going to play in the fun zone.
"In our minds, we see that poll and we're like, 'All right, we want to be one.' Our goal is to work our tails off each day. I think one of my favorite quotes is 'each day somebody is getting passed and somebody is passing somebody.' We want to be that team that passes the other teams each day. Our goal is we want to be No. 1 at the end of the year."
St. Cloud State also has senior forward Easton Brodzinski, who led the team in goals (12) and points (27 in 34 games), Minnesota Wild draft pick Sam Hentges (17 assists, 24 points in 28 games) and junior Micah Miller (10 points in last 12 games) back at forward.
"Our forwards are pretty skilled and pretty quick," said Brett Larson, who is 43-21-9 in his first two seasons as Huskies head coach. "If we're moving and on our toes, we can be pretty good. If we're slugging it around, it's going to be pretty tough in this league."
"I think we're a fast team and can get up and down the sheet really fast," Meier said. "As a defenseman, that's fun to have. You break out the puck and the forwards are up the rink."
Hrenak is 49-23-10 with a .910 save percentage and 2.37 goals-against average in 88 career college games. After a slow start last season, he was 7-5-2 with a 2.48 GAA and .922 save percentage in his last 16 games.
"If David Hrenak can build off the second half of last year, I thought his consistency level just got better and better," Larson said. "The team was really growing as well. But we played North Dakota, Denver and Duluth — three of the top five teams in the country — in the second half of the year and I thought David played some of his best hockey ... He's looked really good here in the fall."
Larson and Meier answered questions from a number of reporters as part of the first of two NCHC Media Days that are being held on Zoom.
Here are some other notable quotes from St. Cloud State's questions and answers:
Meier was asked if there was a returning player who might jump up and play a bigger role and have an impact on the team this season. Meier picked forward Thomas Rocco, a sophomore from Midlothian, Va., who had two assists in 15 games played last season.
"I think someone that will be surprising is Thomas Rocco," Meier said. "He's got a ton of speed and I think he's going to make an impact this year."
Multiple Miettinen questions
The player that Larson answered the most questions about was forward Veeti Miettinen, a freshman forward from Espoo, Finland. Miettinen took part in his first practice on Nov. 11 after getting through visa issues to get to St. Cloud State. Larson said the sixth-round draft pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs has been impressive in practice.
"He's made a nice impression right away and he can really shoot the puck," Larson said. "He's an attacking player who has a really high end (shot) release. He scored some goals the first day in practice where guys were saying, 'Holy cow, this kid can fire it.
"I don't want to put too much pressure on him early because it's a big jump to this league for any freshman. But he's got the ability to be a game changer."
Larson said that Miettinen is playing on a line with sophomore forward Jami Krannila, the other Finnish player on the roster and the two are in stalls next to one another in the locker room.
Larson gave credit to assistant coach Nick Oliver for helping get Miettinen through the visa process and said that Oliver had worked on helping him on a daily basis until he got onto campus.
Dave Shyiak was hired to replace the retiring Mike Gibbons as assistant coach in May and was put in charge of the defensemen. Meier was asked about the influence that Shyiak has had since joining the team.
"I think the main thing is he's a teacher. He wants us to teach us every day and for us to become better each day," Meier said. "He gave us sheets at the beginning of the year and his main points were work ethic and give it all you got and we'll go from there. As long as you do those two things, we'll be good."
Maneuvering through COVID-19
Larson was asked how his team was handling the pandemic and how it was getting prepared to go to the NCHC hub, which will include games from Dec. 1-20 at Baxter Arena in Omaha, Neb.
"The last two weeks, we've been testing three times a week and right now, our team is in a 10-day quarantine," said Larson, whose team has everyone healthy at the moment. "They're only at their apartment and we've asked them not to let anyone outside of their team into their apartments and they're only at the rink (otherwise). Hopefully, we can maintain that quarantine.
"We've talked about two goals: Get into the bubble or pod and make sure we're there, and yes, this has been a sacrifice for everyone involved. But we've talked about all the work that the league is doing, (NCHC commissioner) Josh (Fenton) is doing, the ADs are doing, the equipment managers and trainers and doctors. I ask them, 'What are they doing this for?' They all answer, 'Us.' So we have to do our part to get into the bubble.
"The other thing that we've talked about is being thankful. Thankful that we're able to practice, thankful that we have the opportunity to play hockey when not a lot of other people might not be (able to). We've tried to focus on the positives."
TV show help
Meier, who is in his first season as captain was asked how they were trying to build camaraderie during a pandemic.
"We started watching a Netflix series for all of us: 'Ozarks.' You find different ways, even though you socially distance."
Meier said he did not know anything about the series before he started watching it and that junior forward Nolan Walker had made the suggestion.
NCHC poll results
1. North Dakota 223 points (27 first-place votes)
2. Denver 185 (1)
3. Minnesota Duluth 173
4. St. Cloud State 126
5. Western Michigan 116
6. Nebraska Omaha 96
7. Colorado College 45
8. Miami 44