WeldieBlog: Huskies Sweep Fairbanks
You prepare all week. Study tape. Go through lines. Get plenty of rest. You made a game plan and are ready to follow through.
After the first nine minutes of last weekend, you may as well throw it out the window.
The Huskies men’s hockey team swept the University of Alaska Nanooks by means of which they wouldn’t want to repeat many times this season. Emotionally, players and fans experienced quite the ups and downs, but the important fact remains; the Huskies got two wins.
The Huskies were down 3-0 to the start of Friday’s opener and managed steady the ship and score the next six unanswered. Saturday’s game was a fairly pedestrian affair until the floodgates opened in the third period that featured five goals, two of which in the final 3:02 of the third. The emotional roller coaster ended when Nick Poehling notched the game winner from his twin Jack in overtime.
Last year, the Huskies had trouble against adversity. If things weren’t going well, a snowball turned into an avalanche very quickly. Case in point: Look at the first game at Miami. Jacob Benson gets called for a bogus contact to the head penalty (made by his hip, which is apparently possible in the NCHC) with almost three minutes left in the game. Redhawks score on the major with an extra attacker and end up winning in OT on that same power play.
In fact, the Huskies were 1-6-1 in overtime games against conference opponents. The only win was against national champion Denver because hockey is weird sometimes.
Let not forget the two home games against Minnesota Duluth in early November last year were epic meltdowns that mirrored each other. Robby Jackson scored in the first minute of both of those games, had 3-2 leads going into the final frame, only to see the Bulldogs score three of their own to win 5-3 both nights.
I had flashbacks to those games over the weekend. Not because of the situations were alike, but because of how the team faced adversity. Down 3-0 against a team that is traditionally tough to score against is a monstrous task. Allowing a go-ahead goal from a turnover in your own zone because it hit the ref’s skate would normally be a dagger to many teams.
But this team didn’t roll over. They faced adversity and overcame every obstacle that was thrown in their way. Last season’s team doesn’t do that. Heck, I’m not even sure the 2015-2016 Huskies that went 31-9-1 does that. That team was down 3-0 against Omaha and eventually lost 7-2.
This team was on the brink of success last year, but just didn’t quick have the experience to put away teams or come from behind. A lack of a killer instinct, if you will. They learned from experience what it was like to lose. You have to learn how to lose before you know how to win.
It’s easy to say how I am getting ahead of myself and how it is only three games into the season and I’m already comparing this team to the best team in Husky Hockey history. Fine. I get that. But you can’t help but be excited for the growth this team has shown and where that can lead us.
There will be many instances where adversity will stare the team down. This team won’t blink. These experiences in October pay off exponentially in March.
- Jeff Smith’s breakaway stop in the second period right after Jimmy Schuldt cuts the Nanook lead to 3-2 was the biggest save of the game Friday. I’m not sure the comeback happens if the Nanooks go up 4-2.
- For the second weekend in a row, Schuldt was a powerhouse. He has seven points in three games, including four goals. Considering he has only been credited for eight shots on the year, that makes the mark even more impressive. I commented on twitter how his shot is like Aaron Brocklehurst’s with accuracy. (For those who haven’t been following Husky hockey long, that is like combining Troy Williamson with Cris Carter’s hands.)
- As expected, both goalies saw action this weekend. I thought both played well despite what the box score indicates. Smith couldn’t be faulted on any with uninspired defense in front of him for the start of Friday, but he came up big a couple of times. David Hrenak looked sound with his positioning, but a little wild on rebound control. That usually comes from not playing consistently.
- How fitting was it to see Ryan Poehling score the tying goal Saturday with under two minutes left (and Mikey Eyssimont staying cool after missing on a wide open net to come back and set up the assist seconds later on the same play) and have Jack set up Nick in overtime for the winner. Hockey can be poetry sometimes.
- I wanted to make sure to give a special shout out to Nick and Jack’s line with Judd Peterson at center. That line was dominant all weekend and Alaska didn’t have an answer for them. I know Huskies coach Bob Motzko likes to change up the lines, but that is one I’m hoping sticks. I can’t imagine splitting them up.
- I expected most freshmen to get some game action last weekend. Blake Lizotte played both games. As a center, he will probably be a mainstay there. Easton Brodzinski sat on Friday while Kevin Fitzgerald (who played well on Friday) sat Saturday. Luke Jaycox got his first point of the season on Saturday with an assist on Jacob Benson’s goal. Tyler Anderson and Will Hammer sat all weekend. Jaycox and Fitzgerald were real positives. Brodzinski and Lizotte are still getting used to the faster pace of the game. That will come.
- It’s hockey nature to take some time on a five minute major. That’s the wrong way to think about it. The mindset shouldn’t be ‘I’ve got five minutes to score a goal’, but should be ‘I’ve got five minutes to score multiple goals.’ The Huskies major power play chance on Saturday’s game was very lackadaisical when Alaska dialed up the intensity. The Huskies currently have three power play goals and a 27.3% on the power play and converted on the major in Friday’s game, so I’m probably just nitpicking.
- Jackson has started the season with a fire more serious than his bow ties. In three games, he already has 12 shots on goal and is second on the team with five points.
Big clash with Boston College here in St. Cloud next week, who came back from a three goal deficit of their own Sunday against Providence to beat them in overtime. It’s a huge series with a lot of NCAA implications. I’ll preview them later in the week.