SCSU HUSKIES ( 8-2-0 | 4-0-0 NCHC) #2 PWR | #7/7 vs UND FIGHTING HAWKS (9-1-2 | 4-0-0 NCHC) #9 PWR | #4/4
7:37 PM CT Friday | 7:07 PM CT Saturday – Herb Brooks National Hockey Center, St. Cloud, MN
THE COLLEGE HOCKEY SPOTLIGHT will be pointed at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in St. Cloud, MN this weekend as the two early front-runners in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference collide in a key league battle. Both squads place their 4-0-0 league record on the line in an early show of conference strength. Both teams are coming off successful conference weekends with UND earning a sweep of Miami ( 6-2 | 4-3) on home ice and SCSU burying Western Michigan ( 5-2 | 11-1) on the road.
This weekend series will see a continuation of a rivalry that has become more and more prominent over the last half a decade because of recent national success of both programs, a shifting of rivalries after the creation of the NCHC and proximity of both schools. It’s also validated by the competitiveness of their head to head battles over the past 20 games with UND holding a miniscule 10-9-1 advantage vs the Huskies. This matchup is also fueled by two important contests during the 2014-15 season. SCSU defeated UND 3-1 in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff on March 20, 2015 and UND won 4-1 in the NCAA West Regional in Fargo a week later. The last 10 meetings between the squads is dead even at 5-5 although UND has won 4 of the last 5. Previous to that, the Huskies had quite a run winning six of the previous eight games. This will be the only regular season meeting between the two teams during the 2015-16 regular season. Home ice generally is not a factor as the visitor has a 10-9-1 advantage in the prior 20 games. Both squads are ranked prominently in the national media with UND ranked #4/4 and SCSU #7/7. In an early PWR comparison, SCSU sits at #2 while North Dakota is #9. The Huskies only blemishes thus far this season are two losses on the road to ECAC power house and undefeated Quinnipiac while UND’s only loss was to unranked Wisconsin on home ice and they’ve had overtime ties with unranked Maine and Bemidji State.
University of North Dakota
A changing of the guard in the coaching position has long-time assistant ( 9 years) Brad Berry now the head coach taking over for Dave Hakstol who accepted the head coaching position for the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers following the 2014-15 season. However, one should not expect the style of play to deter much from Hakstol teams as UND continues to adhere to strong forechecking and wide open style of play. Some of the usual suspects will continue to lead North Dakota in offense in 2015-16 with upperclassmen, Drake Cagguila, Nick Schmatz, Ben Chyzyk, Troy Stecher and Luke Johnson combining for nearly 50% of the teams points so far this season. Another expected contributor is first-year player Brock Boeser, a de-commit from Wisconsin and first-round draft choice of Vancouver of the NHL who is the early leader in goals scored with seven and twelve total points. Another early surprise is freshman defenseman, Christian Wolanin, a fourth round draftee of Ottawa of the NHL who has contributed two game winning goals and six points. Further leadership from the blue line comes from Junior Paul LaDue, Keaton Thompson and Tucker Poolman.
Without a doubt, the biggest surprise and team MVP to date has been Junior goaltender, Matt Hrynkiw. A walk-on and “depth and practice” goalie, Hrynkiw had not suited up for a regular season game since his last start in junior hockey in April of 2013. The 5′ 9″ 190 mechanical engineering major was called into action on October 16 after injuries to goaltenders Cam Johnson and Matej Tomek. He’s since played 10 games and carries a 8-1-1 record and .920 SV% and .181 GAA into the series with St. Cloud.
Statistically, North Dakota is averaging 3.58 goals per game and allowing just 1.83. Their power play and penalty kill are lagging somewhat at 14.3% for the PP and 79.1% for the PK. Last weekend vs Miami UND was 1/7 on the power play and yielded 3 of 7 opportunities to the RedHawks.
St. Cloud State University
The surprise team of the NCHC thus far, the Huskies were tabbed in the NCHC pre-season poll to finish 6th in the conference. However, their play thus far contradicts any notion that they can’t be a contender in the league this season. Having won four straight conference games, the Huskies are riding the coattails of goaltender Charlie Lindgren’s sparkling 1.49 GAA and .944 SV% to success. They’ve also fortified the defense further with three defenseman, all first-year players who have more than answered the call of duty back on the blue line. Jon Lizotte, Will Borgen and Jimmy Schuldt have combined for an outstanding +20 in the early going and as an added bonus have contributed 11 points in the process. They have played way beyond their experience level and have injected toughness and poise as the last line of defense for Charlie Lindgren. Although the offensive numbers have been skewed by the 16 goals scored vs Western Michigan last weekend, the senior class is doing their part to lead this team on offense with 40% of the total scoring. Senior, Joey Benik, had a career evening last weekend vs WMU scoring 4 goals and adding 2 assists for a 6 point game. Sophomore, Patrick Russell continues to thrive on offense with balanced scoring of 6 goals and 6 assists to match senior Kalle Kossila for the team lead in points with 12 The return to the lineup last weekend vs WMU was an immediate success for senior and captain Ethan Prow who had a six-point weekend (1-5-6) and was +2. As a result, Prow was named NCHC defensive player of the week along with Joey Benik who was named offensive player of the week.
Suddenly after a weekend of going nearly 42% on the power play ( 5/12), the once dormant SCSU PP currently sits at 21.6% and team offense is ranked 6th in the country at 4.10 GPG. Team defense a strength all season thus far is #3 in the country at 1.50 GAPG and the penalty kill is solid at 84.6%.
Expect nothing less than a packed house and two emotionally charged contests this weekend. If history and the current records are an indicator, expect two close games with no clear advantage to the home team. Both goaltenders are playing well, there is ample offense on both teams and the battle to remain on top of the NCHC standings will add to the intensity this weekend. Both squads have had disciplined play this season with UND sitting 29th nationally in penalties and the always well-behaved Huskies ranked near the bottom penalties at 45th. On paper, the Huskies win the battle of special teams and should the emotions of this series lead to man-advantage opportunities it could work to the advantage of the home team.
As always, all the pertinent links for this weekends games can be found on the Center Ice View website HERE
Pre-Game Gathering for St. Cloud and North Dakota Fans Saturday
The annual gathering of SCSU and North Dakota fans will take place on Saturday from 4-6:00 PM at Brothers Bar and Grill 119 5th Avenue South, St. Cloud. The gathering will be on the second level and complimentary appetizers will be served. The “Challenge Cup” will be on hand and all SCSU and UND fans are encouraged to attend this fun event.
Enjoy the games!