Time to Hit the Ice: Tommies prepare for first test of season with St. Cloud 

St. Thomas’ Luke Manning fights for the puck against St. Cloud State’s Mason Salquist as fellow Husky Jack Rogers (20) looks on during a game Oct. 1, 2022, in Mendota Heights. (Photo by Shannon Stieg)

By Ryan Stieg 

MENDOTA HEIGHTS, Minn. — The offseason and preseason preparations and training have finally come to an end for the St. Thomas men’s hockey team as the Tommies will hit the ice for their first game of the year this weekend.

The first test of the season is a big one for them though as they’ll have to tangle with No. 8 St. Cloud State. This is the third straight year that UST has opened its season with a home and home series with the Huskies and it’s building toward somewhat of a rivalry.  

Last year was supposed to be a bit of a rebuilding one for St. Cloud, but it ended up putting together a solid campaign and made it to a NCAA Regional Final before bowing out to eventual national runner-up Minnesota. That tough matchup to start the season might be one that some teams might dread, but Tommies head coach Rico Blasi said his team is looking forward to that challenge.  

“I don’t think we’ll ever shy away from playing the best teams,” he said Monday. “I think that’s part of what we want to do. I think you learn a lot about your team right off the bat, and you grow and mature quicker than maybe you would if you didn’t play some of the best teams.

“We’re playing against the NCHC Champion. That means a lot and we’re going to find out where we’re at and where we need to go probably after the first period. I think it’s a huge challenge for our program. We’re now in year 3 and we’re closing the gap on the scholarships and the type of player that we’re recruiting. So, a necessary step for our program and this build.”  

St. Thomas’ Mack Byers brings the puck into the St. Cloud State zone during a game Oct. 1, 2022, in Mendota Heights. (Photo by Shannon Stieg)

The Huskies have lots of talent and depth as usual with a fast group of forwards and one of the best defensemen in the country in Jack Peart. Blasi said that his team knows what to expect from the Huskies after facing them three straight years and they know it’ll be a tough battle.

“Typical St. Cloud team,” he said. “They’re going to sling pucks from everywhere They’re going to work from behind the net. They’re going to be good in transition. They don’t give you much offensively, so you’re going to have to earn everything, and you better stay out of the box because their power play is lethal.” 

As far as his own team goes, Blasi said a couple weeks ago that as the days get closer to the season opener Saturday that he’ll have a better idea of where his team is at by then, and he thinks things are starting to take shape.  

“I think you’re starting to kind of solidify your lines a little bit and starting to have a little bit more chemistry in your D pairings where you’re starting to figure out who’s going to be in certain spots and certain situations,” he said. “So, I feel like our team is progressing really nicely. I think we’re moving in the right direction in our growth and our maturity as a program. I feel good about the team that we’ve assembled. It’s a good group. It’s a deeper group. A little bit more skilled group than we’ve had and those are all necessary steps in our journey here.  

“So hopefully, we can come together and start gelling as a team because we do have some new guys that haven’t played in our system yet. But we have some veteran guys too that have played college hockey for a while, and they shouldn’t be in a position where they’re not feeling good about preparing for a weekend.” 

The puck drops at 6 p.m. Saturday in St. Cloud, and 4 p.m. Sunday in Mendota Heights.  

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