Huskies and Gophers Clash this Weekend at Mariucci

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The Huskies and Gophers spit their last series in 2014  (photo prout)

 

The Matchup

The #7/7 ranked SCSU Huskies (9-3-0)  travel to Minneapolis for a Friday / Sunday (6:00 PM CT both nights) non-conference series with unranked University of Minnesota (4-5-0) at Mariucci Arena. This will be the first meeting between the two former WCHA rivals since a 4-3 overtime win by the Gophers in a non-conference game in Minneapolis on November 11, 2014. Both games will be televised on Fox Sports North.

The Gophers have yet to play a conference game in the BIG 10. The Huskies are currently co-leaders with North Dakota in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference.

Head to Head

Although both coaches have admitted this rivalry no longer carries the pizzaz it once had when they were both members of the WCHA, the proximity of the two schools and familiarity of the players on each team will lead to a competitive weekend series. Minnesota holds a 7-3 head to head advantage over SCSU in the last 10 games and a 14-6 advantage over the last 20. In a series that dates back to 1990, the Gophers carry an all-time mark of 55-29-12 vs the Huskies. Historically, the Gophers have been very strong on home ice with a 306-120-46 record at Mariucci arena. It’s no different vs SCSU carrying a 17-6-1 advantage since 2003. But, The Gophers have stumbled out of the gate this year entering this series with 4-5-0 overall record and 2-3 record at Mariucci losing to Vermont, UMD and MSU-Mankato. As a result, they find themselves unranked and sitting at #37 in the early Pairwise rankings.

Last Series

In their last outing, the Gophers split a home and home series with Mankato winning on Friday in Mankato 4-0 and losing at home in the rematch 3-2 in overtime. The Saturday loss was particularly frustrating as the Gophers had the game clearly in hand until late in period three. Down by two goals, the Mavericks pulled their goaltender, scored at 16:28 and then again at 19:15 to knot the score at 2-2. The Mavericks then won in overtime with 59 seconds left in the extra session.  SCSU is fresh off a very competitive series with #5 North Dakota being edged 4-3  on Friday but rebounding for a solid  6-1 win on Saturday.

University of Minnesota

Gophers coach Don Lucia will be seeking his 400th collegiate win this weekend vs St. Cloud. Based on history, odds are in his favor to do so as Minnesota carries a 30-10-5 home ice head to head advantage in the all-time series.

This Gophers squad that includes 12 NHL draft choices and ten first-year players is struggling to find offense so far this season. Without a player in the top 50 in scoring nationally, an offense that is ranked 40th at 2.44 gals per game  and a power play ranked 42nd at 14% it’s not a surprise that the Gophers plan to install a more defensive system of play vs SCSU.  Coach Lucia remarked “St. Cloud will be the best team we’ve seen this year”.

On offense, junior forwards Justin Kloos and Hudson Fasching lead the squad at forward. Combined, they’ve contributed 7 goals and 14 points. Kloos had a career outing vs the Huskies in their last meeting netting a hat trick including the game winning goal in overtime in the 4-3 win. Fasching  is a big rangy forward with a scoring touch who is extremely effective when working physical down low. Sophomore, Leon Bristedt leads the team in goal scoring with 5 goals and has been an effective forward at +5 in plus/minus. Slow starts by Taylor Cammarata and Vinnie Lettieri have added to the Gophers woes at offense. First-year forward Tyler Sheehy has been impressive thus far.

On Defense, the Gophers have been solid allowing 2.22 goals per game, good for 13th nationally. First-year goaltender Eric Schierhorn has done his part with a 2.11 GAA (16th nationally ) and .931 SV% (#17 nationally). The early departure of juniors Brady Skjei and Mike Reilly who signed professional contracts was a huge setback on the blueline. As a result, the Gophers have relied on Juniors Michael Brodzinski (2-6-9 +3), Jake Bischoff (0-3-3) and UNO transfer Nick Seeler (0-1-1) for leadership back at the point. The Gophers have been superb on the penalty kill at 90.6% and only allowing one power play goal in the last six games.

St. Cloud State University

The Huskies continue to turn heads nationally with a 9-3-0 record, a potent offense and a goaltender that has been impossible to beat at times. The Huskies balanced scoring attack is led by sophomore Patrick Russell (6-7-13 +7), senior Kalle Kossila (2-11-13 +8), senior David Morley (5-7-12 +8), senior Joey Benik (7-4-11 +8) and sophomore Judd Peterson (7-3-10 +8).

But, it doesn’t stop there. Much like the Gophers, the Huskies have nine rostered first-year players and in most games insert 6-7 first-year players in the lineup. And, these players have contributed significantly combining for 8 goals, 25 assists and 33 points. Robby Jackson (3-3-6), Patrick Newell (3-2-5), Jacob Benson (1-2-3) and Mikey Eissymont (1-3-4) have proven they can be relied upon to compete effectively regardless of opponent.

Statistically, the Huskies currently rank third nationally in team offense averaging 4.17 goals per game. The power play suddenly is clicking and is 11th nationally at 23.4%.

The 6th ranked defense in the country has become a strength on this team despite the regular lineup of three first-year players and a sophomore. Yielding only 1.67 goals per game it’s a testament to the entire crew of blueliners and superb goaltending by Charlie Lindgren. The hands down co-MVP of the team so far is senior captain Ethan Prow who has shown few weaknesses in his game, plays all game situations and provides outstanding on-ice leadership. In addition to logging major ice time, he’s contributed 2 goals and 7 assists and is +4 – great numbers considering he’s normally paired against the oppositions best players. Junior Niklas Nevalainen had a break out weekend vs North Dakota with a goal and 2 assists for +3 and was named NCHC defensive player of the week. Sophomore Nate Widman is one of the top shut down defenseman in college hockey and the first-year trio of Will Borgen (0-5-5) Jimmy Schuldt (1-4-5) and Jon Lizotte (0-6-6) have become a strength of this team.

Junior goaltender, Charlie Lindgren the other team MVP candidate is 8-3-0 with a 1.68 GAA and .937 SV%. He’s also earned 4 shutouts this season.

The Game

The Huskies enter this series as the favorite but with 12 NHL draft choices, the Gophers have the depth and talent  to make this an intriguing series. It appears the Gophers will install a tighter defensive tactic this weekend in an attempt to shore up issues with neutral  and defensive zone play they had with teams like Northeastern and to combat the speed of SCSU. The Huskies will test the relatively inexperienced Gopher blueline and Schierhorn will have to be at the top of the game.

In the battle of special teams, the Gophers have been outstanding on the PK and despite a 14% power play, the Gophers can move the puck effectively with Brodznski, Kloos and Fasching the key personnel. The Huskies PP numbers were bolstered in the 11-1 blow-out of Western Michigan but have improved with the return of Ethan Prow from injury  and were 30% vs a strong North Dakota team last weekend.

The Huskies do have more balanced scoring  and it’ll be imperative for the Gophers to squeeze more offense out of players like Cammarata, Littieri and Novak if they are to have success this weekend.

As always, all the pertinent links for this weekends games can be found HERE

Enjoy the games!

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