ST. CLOUD — Brett Larson has a lot of Minnesota Duluth in him. After all, he was a defenseman for the Bulldogs and spent a pair of three-year stints as a UMD assistant coach under Scott Sandelin. So, when he took over as St. Cloud State’s head coach after the 2018-19 season, did he suddenly turn the Huskies’ style into Bulldogs West?
“Just a little,” Larson said from the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center during Puck Drop’s Tour of Minnesota stop last week. “At the end of last year, I asked the players what was the same and what was different, and they felt we were about 80 percent of what we’ve always done here with the Huskies.”
Larson’s hands-mostly-off approach worked well in his debut season. The Huskies won their second consecutive NCHC regular-season championship, earned the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament for the second year in a row and rolled to a 30-6-3 record behind a deep, talented roster. The ending, however, was spoiled with a 2-1 loss to American International in the first round of the NCAA West Regional.
Larson’s second season begins Friday and Saturday at Bemidji State, and he starts with the task of replacing five of his top six scorers, a group that amassed 72 goals and 195 points. He’s confident that his returning players will fill bigger roles and freshmen will contribute quickly. Larson doesn’t expect to make big changes, just continue some structural changes in the defensive zone that he installed last season.
Though St. Cloud State and Minnesota Duluth historically might seem to take different approaches — the high-scoring Huskies and the lockdown defense Bulldogs — Larson sees many similarities. He shared a story from his days as a UMD assistant, when he came across Huskies assistant Mike Gibbons on the recruiting trail.
“Gibby’s line was a funny one. He said, ‘Lars, we always shop in the same aisle,’ “ Larson said. “It’s true. We’re going for that kid who has a chip on his shoulder, sometimes a little bit older, kind of a team-first, character guy that can play fast, skilled and hard. Both programs have been looking for that same type of kid.”
Larson, 47, is the newest and youngest of Minnesota’s five Division I men’s coaches and he’s enjoying the camaraderie. “I respect all those guys so much. One thing you notice as an assistant coach is how the head coaches from the other teams treat you when you’re out on the road,” he said. “Those guys always treated me really well.”
The competition among coaches is fun for Larson, too. “Believe me, I love them in the summer,” he said. “You always respect them, but you want to beat them.’’