ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Playing the No. 4 team in the PairWise rankings in a road series is a daunting task. The St. Cloud State men's hockey team had the added burden of playing the Denver Pioneers without their leader in assists and points.
Sam Hentges, a sophomore center from New Brighton, did not make the trip due to a lower body injury and the Huskies got swept in the NCHC series. Huskies head coach Brett Larson said that Hentges is "questionable" for this weekend's series against Minnesota Duluth, the two-time defending NCAA Division I champions.
"It's an injury where you want to make sure you're healed before you go back in (to games)," Larson said. "It's not serious-serious, but it's one that if you go back in too early, it could become serious.
"Basically, it's day-to-day right now."
In 18 games, Hentges leads the Huskies in assists (15) and points (22) and has already topped last season's totals in those categories (10 assists, 20 points) that he accrued in 37 games.
In the Minnesota Wild draft pick's absence, sophomore Nolan Walker moved from right wing on Hentges' line to center. Junior Easton Brodzinski played left wing on the line both nights with Micah Miller on the right wing on Friday and Nick Poehling on the right wing on Saturday.
Walker had two assists in Friday's game against Denver and has six of his eight assists this season in his last six games.
"Nolan continues to get better and better each weekend," Larson said. "He sensed that Sam was out and that motivated him more that he had to pick up his game because we need him."
2 goalies get starts
Coming out of the holiday break, Jaxon Castor started both games in goal for the Huskies in the Mariucci Classic. The reason given at the time was that junior David Hrenak was back only two days from a trip home to Slovakia. But Castor beat second-ranked Minnesota State University-Mankato in the first game and stopped 27 of 31 shots (.871 save percentage) on the weekend.
Hrenak came on in relief in the second game of the Mariucci Classic and stopped 18 of the 19 shots he faced. Hrenak started on Friday at Denver and stopped 42 of the 47 shots he faced against the Pioneers.
Castor, a freshman from Phoenix, started the second game of the series against Denver and stopped 26 of the 30 shots he faced.
"Both nights, the goalies gave us a chance," Larson said. "I felt our goalies did their job and gave us an opportunity."
So where are the Huskies at in terms of a starting goalie?
"We've got some competition in the net right now," Larson said. "It's our hope that it drives both of them to be better."
Hrenak is 5-7-4 with a 3.12 goals-against average and an .890 save percentage in 18 games this season. Castor is 1-3 with a 2.94 goals-against average and .885 save percentage.
The problems against Denver
In the series against Denver, the Pioneers outshot the Huskies 79-55 and St. Cloud State never had a lead.
"We scored six goals on the weekend and that should give us a chance to at least come out of there with one win," Larson said. "We felt defensively, we didn't play very well Friday. We weren't able to kill the play. We spent way too much time in our (defensive) end and that cost us.
"In our league, if you score six goals in a weekend, you've got to play defensively well enough to win one of those two."
The Huskies were 2-for-4 on the power play, but Denver was 3-for-6.
All of that said, Larson was pleased with something he saw in Saturday's game. Denver, which made the Frozen Four last season, led 4-0 with 6:40 left in the second period. The Huskies scored the next three goals to get within 4-3 and had chances on a power play that began with 5:04 left in the third period.
"We got that power play and had some chances and then the next shift, Will Hammer had the puck right after that down by the net for a Grade A (scoring chance)," he said. "There was a point in that game where our team really grew. Down 4-0 in that game, we really could have fallen apart. I really saw some growth in their maturity and willingness to stick together and willing to fight until the end."