ST. CLOUD, Minn. — The abruptness that the IIHF World Junior Championships was over hit St. Cloud State men's hockey coach Brett Larson quickly.
"The Canada loss (6-4 on Dec. 26) hurt early, but we felt we played well that game," said Larson, whose team went on to get two wins and an overtime win in the preliminary round. "Then we felt like we were playing better each game.
"It was just so sudden. You get into a game and all of a sudden it's 1-0 and you're on a flight out of there. It was tough to swallow because we thought the team had been playing really well in the prelims. The hardest thing about losing was not being able to keep playing because it was so much fun, how high the level of play is and how skilled the teams were. It was fun to be around something like that."
Finland beat Team USA 1-0 in the quarterfinals to knock the Americans out of the tournament. It was the first time since 2015 that Team USA did not receive a medal in the tournament.
Larson is back with the Huskies this week and St. Cloud State (3-5-0-0-0 NCHC, 6-8-4 overall) returns to conference play with a series at fifth-ranked Denver (3-3-2-0-1, 13-4-3) after a bye week.
Even though his first experience on a national team staff was shorter than he wanted, Larson enjoyed it. He mentioned Team USA's win over the Czech Republic in overtime on Dec. 30 as one of the highlights.
"The hockey is so good, so high end and the atmosphere there was awesome," said Larson, the reigning NCHC Coach of the Year. "They packed the rink every game, especially playing the Czechs and going overtime with them. People were just jumping up and down and screaming."
Larson said that one of the challenges for Team USA in preparing for the tournament is trying to get the team to gel in a short amount of time. The roster is made up of players from NCAA Division I college teams and juniors and the team does not get a ton of time to practice and play games before the tournament.
"That's probably the biggest challenge because there's not a lot of practice time. You basically get a three-day camp and then you're over there playing exhibition games," Larson said. "The biggest challenge is to get the guys comfortable together and trying to find ways to do that. You've got to use those first two exhibition games to try things that you think will work and hope that they gel. You don't want to change a bunch of things."
Larson was one of four assistant coaches for Team USA under head coach Scott Sandelin, the University of Minnesota Duluth head coach. The other assistant coaches were David Lassonde (associate head coach at Dartmouth), Steve Miller (associate head coach at Ohio State) and Jerry Keefe (associate head coach at Northeastern).
Larson was in charge of the defense and Sandelin ran the forwards, Miller was in charge of the penalty kill and Keefe was in charge of the power play. Lassonde, Keefe, Miller and Sandelin were assistant coaches for Team USA in the 2019 World Junior Championships under head coach Mike Hastings.
"You could tell there was a lot of continuity and they were comfortable together," said Larson, who is a former Minnesota Duluth assistant coach for Sandelin.
While he was away with Team USA, Larson missed two games. In the Mariucci Classic on Dec. 28-29, St. Cloud State beat Minnesota State University-Mankato 7-2 and lost 4-1 in the championship game to the University of Minnesota.
Larson, who is in his second season as St. Cloud State's head coach, said it was tough being away from the Huskies.
"It was a really weird feeling," he said. "I told myself that I was going to try to sleep because we had big games going on ... no chance.
"I was on my phone all the time either texting people or checking on the score or on Twitter," he said. "I told (assistant coach Nick Oliver) that I wasn't really comfortable until that seventh goal went in because I know how good a team Mankato is. A 6-2 lead is not safe against them in the third period."