ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Given that the St. Cloud State men's hockey team will be playing on the home ice of the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins at next week's Frozen Four, perhaps it was a preseason omen that the the four penguins from the "Penguins of Madagascar" cartoon are subtly painted in the red paint of David Hrenak's goalie mask this season.
The affable Hrenak also has some sentimentality painted on that goalie mask. He had Gilders Design paint the names of the 47 teammates he has played with for the Huskies in the last four seasons on the mask. Hrenak played one season of junior hockey in North America for the Green Bay Gamblers of the United States Hockey League before joining the Huskies.
"It is the first letter of their first name and then their last name," Hrenak said. "Before the season, I was thinking that this will be my last year in St. Cloud and I wanted to create a memorable item that I will be able to take a look at every day. It will remind me of everything that's happened.
"This is family-first culture here in St. Cloud. I remember when I came freshman year and English was not my biggest strength," said Hrenak, a 22-year-old from Považská Bystrica, Slovakia. "I came into the locker room, scared about how the homework is going to work and how school is going to work. I had all of my teammates ready to help me without even asking.
"Every guy just means so much to me. I think every guy means so much to anyone who I've played with. Those guys are great teammates, but better persons. I just thought it would be nice to have all those names on my mask because everyone just means so much to me."
This is the third goalie mask that Hrenak has worn and there is even more sentimentality attached to it now. That's because Hrenak was the MVP of the NCAA Division I Northeast Regional and the Huskies have advanced to the Frozen Four. St. Cloud State (19-10-0) plays Minnesota State University-Mankato (22-4-1) at 4 p.m. April 8 (ESPN2) at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Pa.
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No changing for black jerseys
Hrenak said that he typically wears a different mask when the Huskies wear their black road jerseys. But when it came to the postseason, he decided to stick with the mask with all of his teammates represented.
"When we were playing with black jerseys in the playoffs, I was like, 'No, I'm playing with this mask.' I told myself that I'm going to play for every guy who is on that mask," he said. "It reminds me every time I put on the mask that I'm not only doing it for myself, but I'm doing it for every guy who is on that mask.
"Before games, when I'm putting that mask on, I'm thinking of all those great guys ... especially now in the playoffs. It gives me more energy, I say."
In the Northeast Regional, Hrenak helped the Huskies to wins over Boston University (6-2) and Boston College (4-1) by having a 1.50 goals-against average and a .952 save percentage (60 of 63).
"David has been playing good for us all season and it's exciting to see how well he can play and how well he can save us when we need him," senior defenseman Luke Jaycox said after SCSU beat Boston College. "It's great to see him at the top of his game when we need him the most."
"He was so good this weekend," junior center Nolan Walker said. "I was so happy to see him after the game. He had so much emotion. In the past, he's been through a lot of stuff. It's just awesome to see him come out successful."
In two previous NCAA tournament first round games, Hrenak took losses to AIC and Air Force and he had an .868 save percentage (33 of 38) when the Huskies were the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament. Despite the MVP honors in the regional over the weekend, he credited his teammates for the honor.
"I'm definitely happy with that, but the way guys played in front of me, they made things so easy for me," Hrenak said. "I was able to see the puck both games. They were doing a really good job of boxing guys out and helping me with rebounds. That award goes to the whole team. There were 27 guys (to) win that MVP and we will need that in the next game."
In his career, Hrenak has helped the Huskies reach three straight NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship games, which includes two overtime wins, helped the team win two NCHC regular season titles, been named to the All-NCHC Second Team twice and was named to the All-NCHC Rookie Team.
Hrenak holds the program's Division I era record (since 1987) for career shutouts (11) and is second in career games (113), career wins (65) fourth in career goals-against average (2.40) and eighth in career save percentage (.910). The Los Angeles Kings draft pick (5th round, 2018) is one win away from tying Brian Leitza (1994-98) for career wins. But people will remember his performances in the regional.
"I just thought David was very sharp and composed and his compete level was high," Larson said of Hrenak, who played for Slovakia in the IIHF World Junior Championships as a freshman in 2018. "He's been working on that down the stretch, just focusing on simple parts of the game. I know he's going to keep on pushing on those things in the next week or so to try to get better.
"That's what he's going to have to do to keep us on the right track."
While the names of all his teammates will be with him on his facemask, Hrenak wishes one of his current teammates would be able to play in the Frozen Four. Easton Brodzinski, the team's leading goal scorer each of the past two seasons, suffered a broken leg in the win over Boston College. Brodzinski had to have surgery to repair the femur bone in his right leg and is done for the season.
"It's so tough and we are still talking about it and we feel so bad for Easton, such a great guy, great teammate, great leader on and off the ice. He brings so much to this program and he means so much for every one of us. He's our brother.
"After the game, we realized that it's a big injury. It's going to bring our whole team closer. Now as we are going to do as we did against Boston College, we are playing for him."
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