From Minot Daily News
By Ryan Ladika
The first half of Wyatt Waselenchuk’s first season as head coach of the Minot State men’s hockey squad is best summarized with two words: goal prevention.
With their most recent two-game home-and-home split with the 11th-ranked Jamestown University Jimmies Dec. 10-11, the No. 2 Beavers put a bow on a 16-2-0-0 first half, good for a point total of 32 bested only by Robert Morris’ 33, Adrian College’s 34, and Niagara and Iowa State’s respective 35.
The team entered its three-and-a-half-week winter break with a share of fifth place overall in the ACHA’s Division I standings and a firm grasp on the second spot in the conference rankings.
“I think that the break was needed,” Waselenchuk admitted. “We’re a little banged up, and we weren’t overly happy with our final weekend to split like that against a team that we’ve taken it to this year. I think the general consensus amongst us as coaches is we had a good first half.”
Minot State rode stingy defensive play and almost-impenetrable goaltending to its stellar first-half record and allowed only 28 goals, narrowly beating out the Cyclones’ 32 for the fewest among teams with at least 18 games played.
The Beavers’ duo between the goalposts was a crucial factor in their success throughout the season’s first two and a half months. Jake Anthony and Riley Wallace both earned nine appearances in the crease, and both allowed fewer than two goals per game in that span.
In fact, through the Beavers’ first 18 games, the team yielded more than two goals just three times and matched that mark with three shutout victories. Wallace and Anthony both find themselves in the ACHA’s top 11 in goals-against average and boast the two best marks in the category (1.44 and 1.55, respectively) among goaltenders with at least nine games under their belt.
“That’s a nice luxury to have as a coach, to be incredibly confident in both of your goalies,” Waselenchuk noted. “When you’re keeping teams to two or less every night, you’re giving your team a chance to win, and that’s all that I could ever ask out of those goalies. They’re going to both be a really good one-two punch for us moving forward.”
A balanced attack in the offensive zone has complemented Minot State’s suffocating defensive play nicely. Freshman Jared Hamm has wasted no time in his acclimation to his new program; in his 18 games, the forward scored a team-leading 11 goals and assisted on 10 more for a point total of 21 topped only by Carter Barley’s 25.
“He’s been fantastic,” Waselenchuk said of Hamm. “When we announced that he was going to come to Minot State in the summer, I can’t tell you how many messages that we had from coaches and players who have known Jared and just telling us what a player he was. The sky’s the limit for him, we’re certainly lucky that he chose to come to Minot, and we’re going to have him for four or five years.”
After leading the Beavers in scoring a year ago, Barley has taken the mantle once again through his team’s first 18 games. The forward has recorded 10 goals and 15 assists entering the club’s second half, while cashing in a couple of times on the man advantage as well.
Minot State has no plans to abandon what got it here, and the schedule will not get any easier upon the resumption for the second half. The Beavers will open January with a three-game road trip through Arizona, facing off against Grand Canyon University for one game before opening a two-game set against No. 16 Arizona.
Games against Jamestown, No. 5 Liberty, No. 21 Midland and two more with Arizona at the Maysa await Minot State following its month-opening swing through State 48, and while he knows the challenge the programs present, Waselenchuk would not have it any other way.
“We want to play the best schedule that we possibly can,” he added. “I don’t know if there’s a tougher away building to play in than Liberty. They play in front of 2,500-3,000 people every night, and that’s a challenge that I’m really, really looking forward to for our team, and kind of seeing where we’re at as a hockey club in a real hostile environment.”
(Originally published at https://www.minotdailynews.com/sports/local-sports/2021/12/beavers-gearing-up-for-second-half-challenge/)