WeldieBlog: Embrace The Exhibition
Ah, yes. The exhibition game.
I love the exhibition game.
It’s where you get a sneak peek at the new freshman and how they mix with some of your old favorites. Reminds me of mom’s tater-tot hotdish. It’s comfort food, but there will be some new ingredients.
Many people can put too much stock into the exhibition game. It’s understandable. Everyone’s excitement for the season is at a fever pitch. If you lose, you are the laughing stock of college hockey. These are no-name colleges from Canada. Regina George University? So not fetch.
But it’s important to remember the main reason of the exhibition game. It is nothing more than dusting off the cobwebs. Just work on getting back into the swing of things.
Much like Jon Snow in Game of Thrones, we know nothing. After this game, we will still know nothing. Coach Bob Motzko is behind the bench and he has no clue what to expect. All he is going to try to do is juggle lines around and try to find a hint of chemistry. Also, don’t get injured.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at what I will be looking at concerning the three groups.
First thing I am going to watch is senior Judd Peterson. The newly appointed captain had a great year in 2015-2016 with 16 goals, which was good for third on the team. However, his season hit a little bit of a bump with an injury during the first game of the Omaha series in December of that season. He didn’t play for nearly a month.
Last season was a different story. After a two goal showing on December 10th (ironically, against Omaha), Peterson only had two goals the rest of the season. The stretch included six overtime losses to conference foes. Now I’m obviously not saying that was the reason we lost those games, but his lack of offense when his team really need a goal hurt.
Motzko confirmed on his radio show Peterson was playing injured for much of last season and required to have surgery over the summer. Motzko is confident Peterson is at 100 percent and is poised career-defining season. I’m looking forward to see that out of the Duluth native and he has a game-breaking ability this team thrives on. I just hope he survives the Omaha series.
There is a lot to be excited to see with the freshman group. With the last name of Brodzinski, you know there will be a lot of focus on Easton to have a dynamic season. Blake Lizotte (no relation to Jon on defense) had a dynamic 65-point season in 56 games for the Fargo Force in the USHL. I can see Patrick Newell, who had 20 assists last season, feeding one of these freshmen all year.
During his radio show, you can tell how excited Motzko is about his defense. In his ‘defense’ (ugh, that was bad. I apologize. No more puns.), there is plenty to like.
The top four have been standouts during their time at SCSU. While the forwards will have a lot of mixing and matching that will last a good chunk of the season, the pairings on defense may be a little more set. Jack Ahcan, Will Borgen, Jimmy Schuldt, and Jon Lizotte all saw considerable time last year and are looking to make a big step for the blue line.
I do wonder about the pairings, though. Last season saw only Borgen as a right-handed shot that saw considerable time on the blue line. Usually, defenseman playing on their ‘off-hand’ side (righty playing left defense and vice versa) can have a tougher time retrieving pucks out of their zone. Many coaches in the NHL, notably Mike Babcock of the Toronto Maple Leafs, really fixate on having players play on the ‘correct’ side.
The Huskies don’t have that luxury. Incoming freshman Luke Jaycox and Tyler Anderson are both lefties. The only righties are the aforementioned Borgen and Clark Kuster.
This is where I think Kuster has an inside track. He didn’t play last year (I believe Motzko said he will be redshirted) and only played a couple of games his freshman year. He never really got the chance to step up. This is going to be his chance to really make an impact and become an everyday defenseman. He’s been working with the team and knows the system, so I expect him to get a long look early in the season.
Unlike Babcock, Motzko isn’t afraid of putting a defenseman on his off-hand. If he thinks Kuster isn’t stepping up, he has no problem sticking five lefties on defense.
Aww… the elephant in the room.
The biggest question mark will be between the pipes. The start of last year, there was a goaltending tandem between Jeff Smith and Zach Driscoll. Motzko hooked his wagon to Smith for the stretch.
Smith ended the season with a save percentage of .906, but Motzko is quick to point out how he finished the year strong with a .920 once he was awarded the starting gig. Some players bring their best in a competition; others need the start every night. Smith’s numbers show he needs the start.
Driscoll, on the other hand, is not on the team this season. He has decided to take a hiatus from college hockey and play in the USHL for the Omaha Lancers. It was a little bit of a surprise, but not unexpected as it is his last eligible year of playing in the USHL and didn’t feel like splitting time will be beneficial for his development. Can’t say I blame him, but one wonders if he plans on returning to the Huskies or find a different college team. With three young goalies, I’m leaning toward the latter.
To challenge Smith for the job comes freshman David Hrenak. The Slovakian born goalie has been a mainstay on the Slovakian national team. He played last season for the Green Bay Gamblers and had a 2.24 goals against average and a .923 save percentage.
Those aren’t numbers to take lightly. We have seen freshman goalies do wonders in the NCHC (look at Hunter Miska in Minnesota-Duluth). I think Motzko would be foolish not to give him a long look, especially if Smith starts the season like he did last year.
The Huskies are carrying three goalies (the other being David Zevnik), so it will be easy to just say all three will be playing a period on Saturday. But I wouldn’t be surprised, and would actually prefer, if Smith and Hrenak each play half the game.
Those are just a couple of things I’ll be looking at during the exhibition tussle with the University of Regina. Many more things will surprise me, so I’ll be sure to give my impressions as well as opinions about other NCHC teams next week.