Offense still a challenge at St. Cloud

29 Nov.14:  University of North Dakota hosts St. Cloud State University in a WCHA match-up at the Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, ND Lexi Slattery (St.Cloud State University-15) Jordan Hampton (North Dakota-7) (Bradley K. Olson)
Lexi Slattery (St.Cloud State University-15) anchors an experienced blue line at St. Cloud State. (Bradley K. Olson)

St. Cloud State Huskies
USCHO prediction: Seventh
Coaches’ prediction: Seventh
Last season: Seventh (8-28-1, 5-22-1-1 WCHA)

The names
His first season at St. Cloud State was a learning experience for both coach Eric Rud and his players.

“Last year was just a year where we knew we would struggle with wins and losses and tried to implement a lot of things,” he said. “I think by the end of the season, we were better off than we were at the start. We’re going to continue to build on that.”

The Huskies embraced their new off-season workout program with enthusiasm.

“We’ve still got to find a way to score goals,” Rud said. “It’s one thing to push the barbell around, but it’s another thing to score some goals.”

Top scorer Molly Illikainen returns for a senior campaign, but the next three on the scoring chart have graduated.

“We have a fairly experienced D corps, which we’re really going to rely on, and a senior goalie who really showed that she had the ability to be a difference maker at times last year,” Rud said.

With Julie Friend having graduated, Katie Fitzgerald figures to get plenty of minutes in the cage.

Right out of the gate, the Huskies get the honor of being the opponent as Merrimack launches its new program in J. Thom Lawler Arena. Rud is impressed by the roster that the Warriors have assembled.

“It’s going to be a great challenge for us,” he said. “Obviously, we all want to support all universities and programs that are starting women’s hockey. We’re just very excited to be part of their opening weekend.”

The numbers
Scoring 45 goals last season made it five straight years in which the Huskies averaged less than two goals per game. The last year SCSU exceeded two goals per game offensively was in 2009-10, when four senior forwards combined to score 80 of their team’s 96 goals.

The prognosis
“I think we went into this thinking, every season, every day, every week, we get a little bit better,” Rud said. “I think we’re doing that to this point. We’re going to have to continue with the mantra this year.”

Needing an eight-game jump to gain a spot, that improvement likely won’t translate into the standings yet this season.

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