ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Going into any offseason, hockey players at the NCAA Division I level get instructions on things to work on and typically look to work on strength and speed.
Sam Hentges has not had the luxury of doing all that he wants to in order to prepare for each of the last two seasons. For the second straight year, Hentges had offseason surgery that limited how he could train. He would not say what he had repaired this offseason, but he battled a lower body injury in the second half of last season.
"I just had something fixed in May and I'm back," he said. "(The injury) happened in January and I was playing with it for a little bit. I met with some doctors and they said it was best if I just got it fixed."
Despite battling that injury, Hentges had five goals and 12 points in his last 21 games for St. Cloud State and finished his freshman season with 20 points in 37 games. He is expected to play center for the Huskies when the play host to the University of Alberta in an exhibition game at 5:07 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 6, at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center.
The surgery not only kept Hentges from doing all the training he wanted to for this season, but it also kept him off the ice for the Minnesota Wild development camp for the second straight summer. Hentges, a 20-year-old from New Brighton, Minn., who played for Totino-Grace High School, was taken in the seventh round (210th overall) of the 2018 NHL Draft.
"It takes a while to get back into shape, that's for sure, you lose your wind and skating feels awkward for about a month, but I feel good now, so I'm excited," said Hentges, who began skating again in August for the second straight year.
Upper body work
In 2018, he missed development camp because he was recovering from shoulder surgery after he injured it playing juniors in the United States Hockey League. Hentges was limited to 23 games in his one season in the USHL, but had eight goals and 18 points, which were enough to get the attention of Wild scouts.
While he was not able to skate during development camp, he said he took part in other activities with the draft picks and invitees this summer.
"They told me to focus on your health first," Hentges said. "I got to go to all their off-ice training and to their meetings."
He is listed at 6-foot and 185 pounds, which is five pounds more than last season. Even though he couldn't skate, with the shoulder surgery a year behind him, Hentges was able to work on his upper body strength during the offseason.
"Coach I agreed that to keep getting stronger was the most important thing. I got a lot stronger," he said. "(Last season) was a big adjustment because everyone is a lot better and stronger. I think the biggest thing is the strength of everyone and the goalies are so much better. You have to really beat them or get rebounds. You're not going to beat them straight up that often."
With St. Cloud State's top four in points (and five of its top six) gone from last season, Hentges is one of the players that head coach Brett Larson is hoping takes a step up with his production this season.
"I thought Sam Hentges got better and better as (last) year went on," Larson said. "We're counting on him to step into the role to be one of our top two centers."
A bigger role
Hentges split time between wing and center last season. Center Blake Lizotte, who was a CCM Hockey/AHCA Division I All-America second team pick last season, made the Los Angeles Kings roster to start this season. Center Ryan Poehling, an All-NCHC First Team pick last season, signed with the Montreal Canadiens after last season.
Hentges is looking forward to the opportunity to play more center this season.
"I think I'm more comfortable and better at center," he said. "You get the puck with speed coming through the middle and you can make plays because you can see the whole ice."
"So far, he has looked really good," Larson said. "I think Sam has come into the season looking very determined to try to earn one of those (top-two center) roles. With a young team, we need him to be.
"The big key for us is to see guys like Hentges, (Nolan) Walker, (Easton) Brodzinski and Micah Miller to go from being really good players to great players. Those guys need to make a step for our offense."
While some players set number goals for themselves, Hentges prefers not to.
"I don't really set goals because they can lead to disappointment," he said. "I just try to be the hardest worker and if I do that every game, things will work out for me."
Larson said that Hentges looks like he is putting together all of the pieces of his skill set.
"He's a great combination of a skilled, strong skating and determined player," Larson said. "I really like his overall game right now. I think he's a guy who can play on the power play, play on the penalty kill and against another team's top line. To me, he's looking like a really complete 200-foot center."
7 Huskies in the NHL
There are seven former St. Cloud State players who are listed on NHL rosters as the season starts. The seven are: Dennis Cholowski (2016-17, defenseman, Detroit), Patrick Russell (2014-16, F, Edmonton), Lizotte (2017-19, F, LA Kings), Jonny Brodzinski (2012-15, F, San Jose), Jimmy Schuldt (2015-19, D, Vegas), Nic Dowd (2010-14, F, Washington), Nick Jensen (2010-13, D, Washington). Kalle Kossila (2012-16, F, Toronto) is listed as injured.
Eight former Huskies are listed on American Hockey League rosters: Will Borgen (2015-18, D, Rochester), Mikey Eyssimont (2015-18, F, Ontario), Kevin Gravel (2010-14, D, Toronto), Charlie Lindgren (, G, Laval), Jon Lizotte (2015-19, D, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton), Patrick Newell (2015-19, F, Hartford), Poehling (2016-19, F, Laval) and Ethan Prow (2012-16, D, Springfield). The AHL is the top minor league in North America for NHL teams.