Looking to bounce back: Tommies prepare to face Wildcats at home

St. Thomas’ Jake Braccini tries to keep the puck away from Northern Michigan’s Colby Enns during a February game in Mendota Heights. (Photo by Shannon Stieg)

By Ryan Stieg 

MENDOTA HEIGHTS, Minn. — The St. Thomas men’s hockey team is one month into its season, and it’s been an up and down affair so far.  

The Tommies split their first series with St. Cloud State, got swept by Minnesota, and then swept Lindenwood at home to enter the CCHA season last weekend with a little momentum. The momentum didn’t last though as UST was swept at Bemidji State in what Tommies head coach Rico Blasi called “a setback.” 

“I don’t think we played to our identity,” Blasi said Monday. “Certainly not Friday night, a little bit better Saturday night. But when you’re not focused on playing the right way from the start of the weekend, sometimes, you don’t get the bounces on the second night. So, we need to continue to focus on our identity and how we play, with purpose, with meaning before a game. So that was really the message coming out of the weekend. We’ve got to get back to what we do.” 

St. Thomas’ Cooper Gay sets himself up near the Northern Michigan net as Wildcats’ goalie Beni Halasz tracks the puck in the corner during a February game in Mendota Heights. (Photo by Shannon Stieg)

When asked if Saturday’s game was more physical than the previous night, Blasi said that the Tommies just simply went back to their style of play.  

“Friday night, I don’t think anybody touched anybody,” he said. “As my dad would say, ‘You could skate around with a dozen eggs, and you probably wouldn’t break one of them.’ Certainly, on Saturday, when we started to play our identity, it seemed like we were more physical, but in the end, we just started to play our game and Friday, we didn’t.” 

The interesting thing about the Bemidji series was that it was similar to the outcomes of the St. Cloud and Minnesota weekends. UST scored goals Friday, but was then shut out on Saturday. That’s the third time this season where the Tommies were shutout during the second game of the series and Blasi said that he’s well aware of his team’s inconsistent goal scoring. 

“It’s a concern,” he said. “I actually think structurally, we’ve played better the second night. So I don’t have a real good answer for you. We have to execute better. We’ve got to get more traffic in front of the net. So, I’ll give you all the coaches’ kind of talk. At the end of the day, the outcomes haven’t been there. So, we need to focus on getting better in the process. Being a little bit hungrier around the net and those are things that we have to do that are in our control during the week in preparation. At the end of the day, our athletes have to perform. Like I said, I think our structure has been good on the second night, but so have the teams we’ve played. So maybe you’ve got to fight through a little bit more, which we’ve got to work on in practice to get ourselves to that level.” 

St. Thomas’ Luc Laylin fights for the puck with Northern Michigan’s Artem Shlaine (center) and Josh Zinger during a February game in Mendota Heights. (Photo by Shannon Stieg)

UST’s opponent this weekend is also battling a little inconsistency and that’s Northern Michigan. The Wildcats finally picked up their first win over the weekend in a split with Ferris State and have definitely showcased their ability to score goals with freshman Tanner Latsch leading the way. However, NMU’s defense has been a little shaky and the ‘Cats have the worst penalty kill in the nation. So, if the Tommies can get their power play going, they could get back in the win column.  

Puck drop is set for 7 p.m. Friday and 6 p.m. Saturday in Mendota Heights.  

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