Close, kill and collect.
All teams develop phrases and jargon that help unify concepts – and locker rooms – but St. Cloud State elevates this to an artform this season.
“We talk about Husky Hockey, just our identity,” said forward Nolan Walker. “I think we’re a very deep group from top to bottom. We like to play in the offensive zone, obviously, but we talk a lot about close, kill and collect. That’s kind of our mentality. We like to go from the back out and I think we defend really hard. I think we’ve been really successful when we’ve been doing that.”
Junior Micah Miller echoed his linemate and clarified that the team’s vocabulary is just as much about showing the world that the 2019-20 season was an anomaly as it is about defining this year’s campaign. Last year, St. Cloud State’s season ended with two losses to Minnesota-Duluth in the NCHC playoffs, a week before the rest of the season ended because of COVID-19.
“Yeah, for sure,” said Miller. “I feel like we’ve gotten so close with this group with the shortened season last year and getting to know the transfer and freshmen this year, and we had such a tight group. It’s just been a no-days-off mentality. Every practice is intense and every guy’s bringing it every day.”
Walker and Miller had played the season with Easton Brodzinski, who suffered a broken femur in St. Cloud’s 4-1 win over Boston College in the Albany Regional title game. Brodzinski led the Huskies with 13 goals, and as much as the team will miss him in Pittsburgh, both Walker and Miller say it’s time for the next guy to step up.
“It’s a next-guy-up mentality,” said Walker. “Obviously, it hurts that he’s out, but Kyler Kupka is going to play with me and Micah and we’ve had some good chemistry so far.”
“Like Walks said, we have such a deep team that it’s just kind of a next-guy-up mentality,” said Miller. “Obviously it sucks to have Brodzy go down like that and that’s how the whole team feels, but we’re kind of motivated to do it for him a little bit and just keep rolling here.”
That sophomore Kyler Kupka is, indeed, the next guy up was news at the team’s press conference during Wednesday’s practice day. “The guys really hid the game plan well,” joked coach Brett Larson.
Larson acknowledged that the concepts that define Husky Hockey aren’t exactly new.
“I think it’s everybody on the same page, everybody playing together,” said Larson. “Some of it may sound cliché, but there are things that we’ve come up with throughout the year that this team has really grown to believe in.”
Things like offense, as evidenced by St. Cloud’s 10-goal output in the Albany Regional.
“We’re good when we’re on the attack,” said Larson. “When we’re on a five-man attack, playing north, playing north through the neutral zone, a strong forecheck, not giving up the puck once we get it, doing what we call the body-blow theory, trying to set the next line up for success.”
The body-blow theory. That’s one that Miller and Walker didn’t mention.
Larson had more on this. “Strong over pucks. Not throw it away. Obviously starts with defending in our end first and defending the right way to put our team on the offense instead of spending too much time in our end.”
More than anything, says Larson, Husky Hockey “is a team concept.”
“Every guy knows that there’s no individual bigger than the team,” says Larson. “They all know that they have to bring what they can, and they know what their role is and they believe in it. I think Husky Hockey to those guys is that when they’re all playing hard, they’re playing free, and they’re getting after it together.”