ST. PAUL -- Before last season started, new head coach Brett Larson told his St. Cloud State men's hockey team that they were going to talk about the Huskies' upset loss in the opening round of the NCAA Division I tournament.
The Huskies went on to be the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament for the second straight year and ... got upset again in the first round.
Larson has not talked with his team about how last season ended this fall.
"It's a different feeling because of the youth," said Larson, whose team has 10 freshmen and six sophomores on its 27-player roster. "Last year, there was kind of pressure and an expectation that we were going to be the No. 1 team in the country all year and you kind of had that target on your back.
"I've been a part of something like this once before where I used to work where you have a really, really young group come in," said Larson, referring to being an assistant coach for Minnesota Duluth when it won a national title in 2018. "There's enthusiasm and excitement. They're not really looking backwards, they're looking forwards. There's an excitement about where this group thinks it can get.."
Larson said that at NCHC Media Day, which was held Thursday, Sept. 19, at Xcel Energy Center. All eight teams had one player and their head coach available for interviews.
Picked to finish 5th
On Wednesday, St. Cloud State was picked to finish fifth in the NCHC in a preseason poll of media members who cover the conference. The Huskies are the two-time defending regular season champions in the conference, but lost its top four scorers -- and five of their top six -- to either graduation or signing pro contracts early.
Senior defenseman Jack Ahcan, a Preseason All-NCHC pick, is the team's top returning producer (34 points in 39 games) after helping the Huskies record the program's best winning percentage (.808) when they went 30-6-3 last season. Despite the losses in production, don't look for a big change in the style of play for St. Cloud State.
"I don't think we're going to start as a more defensive team," said Ahcan, who is one of five regular defenseman back from last season's top seven. "We're going to lean on (goalie) David (Hrenak) a little bit because we had to last year and he's improved in the offseason."
"He's going to be a big part of this team and we've got some defensemen back, but I don't think we're going to be a defensive team. That's not how St. Cloud has ever played since I've been here. We're not going to start now."
Having Hrenak and those defensemen back provide a base that the Huskies will build from. Hrenak, a Los Angeles Kings draft pick, was an All-NCHC Second Team pick and was 23-5-2 with a 2.18 goals-against average and .906 save percentage.
"Whenever you're trying to build a group of young forwards up and let them play through some mistakes, it's nice to have a really great 'D' core and a great goalie," Larson said. "In addition, you have the Poehlings (Jack and Nick) and (Kevin) Fitzgerald and (Easton) Brodzinski and some of the other guys up front ... it's not like the cupboards are bare."
Brodzinski, a junior from Blaine, Minn., is the team's top returning goal scorer (16). Fitzgerald, (Jr., Hinsdale, Ill.) and sophomore forward Sam Hentges (So., New Brighton, Minn.) both had 10 goals last season. Forward Nolan Walker (So., Anchorage, Alaska, 27 points) and defenseman Nick Perbix (So., Elk River, Minn., 20 points) were both named to the NCHC All-Rookie Team last season.
"I think one of our big players is going to be Nolan Walker," said Ahcan, who has 78 points in 111 career college games and is the team's captain. "I had him on my power play (unit) last year and he's a really smart player and I think this is going to be a big breakout year for him. He's so smart at both making skilled plays and with shooting pucks at the right time."
Among the 10 freshmen are six forwards (Kyler Kupka, Jami Krannila, Zach Okabe, Thomas Rocco, Henry Enebak and Chase Brand), two defensemen (Ondrej Trejbal and Trevor Zins) and two goalies (Joey Lamoreaux and Jaxon Castor).
St. Cloud State plays an exhibition game against the University of Alberta at 5:07 p.m. Oct. 6 at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center. The Huskies open their regular season with a nonconference series on Oct. 11-12 at Bemidji State. St. Cloud State has its regular season home opener on Oct. 25 against Northeastern.