ST. CLOUD, Minn. — The St. Cloud State men's hockey team will be without not only its head coach, but two players, due to the Beijing Olympics.
Forward Sam Hentges and defenseman Nick Perbix were both named to the U.S. Olympic men's hockey team on Thursday, Jan. 13. They will join Huskies head coach Brett Larson, who was named an assistant coach for the team on Jan. 6.
"They earned it and I can tell you that when I came on the staff that they were already on the list of guys that USA Hockey was looking at," Larson said. "I really think they earned it with their play.
"Their play kind of solidified their spots on the team," Larson said. "Put it this way: I didn't have to twist any arms. There was a lot of belief that those guys could be a big part of the team."
Hentges, a senior from New Brighton, is a Minnesota Wild draft pick. He was taken in the seventh round (210th overall) of the 2018 NHL Entry Level Draft. The former Totino-Grace High School standout has four goals, nine points, eight penalty minutes and is a plus-3 in seven games this season. He has 29 goals, 70 points, 66 penalty minutes and is a plus-7 in 101 career college games.
"Just a few days ago, I heard some rumblings and then coach (Larson) called me because he's on the team and he said, 'Would you like to go to Beijing with me?' And I was super excited," Hentges said. "Obviously, it's a dream come true.
"I was confident in how I've been playing, but I've also had injuries, which everyone knows," Hentges said. "I think I was a little surprised because of how long I was out, but I'm extremely excited that they picked me."
Perbix, a senior from Elk River, is a Tampa Bay Lightning draft pick. He was taken in the sixth round (169th overall) of the 2017 NHL Entry Level Draft. The former Elk River High School standout and All-NCHC Second Team pick last season has 11 assists, 12 points, 24 blocked shots, six penalty minutes and is a plus-3 in 18 games this season. In his career, he has 17 goals, 70 points, 63 penalty minutes and is a plus-25 in 122 career college games.
"Lars was the one who called me last week around this time," Perbix said. "We had to keep it quiet.
"Playing for your country, playing in the Olympics ... I think its' an opportunity I'll never have again. Once-in-a-lifetime, for sure. The whole team supported us going, so I think it was a no-brainer for me."
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On Dec. 22, the NHL announced that it would not allow its players to play in the Olympics in Beijing. Once that happened, USA Hockey began searching for players under the direction of Team USA general manager John Vanbiesbrouck and head coach David Quinn.
St. Cloud State has played in one series since that announcement and it was a home-and-home series against Bemidji State. Hentges, who had not played since Oct. 22 due to injuries, had two goals in the first game of the series on Dec. 31 and a goal and an assist on Jan. 1.
"Hentges, since his move to the wing, he's been really effective with his speed, his pace, his ability to pressure pucks, his ability to take the puck between the dots and take it to the net and get to the dirty areas with it," Larson said. "I know that they're really looking for him to add that pace and speed and be dangerous on the wing.
"I think that Sam has become a better, more complete player," Larson said of this season. "I really think that helps Sam a lot, particularly trying to make an Olympic team — not only now and with St. Cloud State — but in the future. You can trust him on the ice. He's become a better, more complete, 200-foot player."
Perbix has a goal and six assists and is a plus-3 in his last four games.
"I think the biggest thing about Nick is he can play in any situation," Larson said. "He can play on the power play. He can kill penalties. He can play if you're up by a goal. He can play if you're down by a goal.
"He's a 6-foot-4 player who can skate and he's really smart and can break pucks out under pressure. That's hard to find. He can defende with a long stick. He's patient and can add offense to your lineup as well. To have a 6-foot-4 defenseman who can break pucks out and add offense is a attractive for any team."
Larson, Hentges and Perbix will leave for the Olympics on Jan. 30 and will return on Feb. 21. Hentges and Perbix both see time on the power play and Perbix also kills penalties for the Huskies, who are 12-6 and are No. 3 in the PairWise Rankings.
"I'm going to feel bad missing some of the (SCSU) games, I know that we have a deep enough team that they won't skip a beat," Perbix said. "The next man up mentality. I'm not worried about them taking care of business."
Hentges and Perbix have both played on a national team one other time. Both played for the U.S. Junior Select Team, which comprised of players that compete in the United States Hockey League, took second place at the 2017 World Junior A Challenge in Truro, Novia Scotia.
15 collegians on roster
On the Team USA roster are 14 forwards, eight defensemen and three goalies.
Hentges and Perbix are two of the 15 college players named to the roster. The other college players are Matty Beniers (F, Michigan), Brendan Brisson (F, Michigan), Noah Cates (F, Minnesota Duluth), Drew Commesso (G, Boston University), Brock Faber (D, Minnesota), Sean Farrell (F, Harvard), Drew Helleson (D, Boston College), Matthew Knies (F, Minnesota), Marc McLaughlin (F, Boston College), Ben Meyers (F, Minnesota), Jake Sanderson (D, North Dakota), Nathan Smith (F, Minnesota State University-Mankato),
There are also two players playing in the American Hockey League and eight who are playing professionally in Europe. You can find the compete roster HERE.
Huskies who have played in the Olympics
Hentges and Perbix will be the seventh and eighth St. Cloud State players to play in the Olympics for Team USA. The lone other St. Cloud State player to be on the US Olympic team during their college career was Will Borgen in 2018. The other former SCSU player to play in the Olympics was forward Andreas Nodl in 2014 for Austria.
Here are the Huskies who have played for Team USA:
2022 — F Sam Hentges, D Nick Perbix
2018 — D Will Borgen, F Garrett Roe
2010 — F Ryan Malone
2006 — F Mark Parrish, F Matt Cullen, D Bret Hedican
1992 — Hedican