With four regular season games remaining, the #3 ranked SCSU Huskies host NCHC pre-season favorite UMD Bulldogs in another key NCHC weekend series. The Huskies (15-4-1 conference | 25-6-1 overall) look to at least maintain their co-leadership with North Dakota in the standings in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference. The Bulldogs (7-10-3 conference | 11-14-5 overall) need a successful weekend to keep within striking distance of a possible NCHC first-round home playoff series. Currently, UMD, Omaha and Miami occupy fourth place in the NCHC standings with 25 points.
With the Bulldogs plummeting to #25 in the Pairwise, it’s getting to the point where their only hope may be to win the NCHC Frozen Faceoff for a chance at the NCAA tournament. The #2 Pairwise Huskies have already secured home ice for the first round of the NCAA playoffs and regardless of the NCHC playoff results seem to have an NCAA appearance wrapped up.
Both games will be televised nationally this weekend with CBS Sports Network picking up the Friday contest and Fox Sports North / Fox College Sports the Saturday night game. Additionally, the Saturday game will be streamed on NCHC.TV HERE
HEAD TO HEAD
Historically, the Bulldogs have had difficulty winning games at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center. The exception was their last series in St. Cloud on November 7/8, 2014 when the Bulldogs swept the Huskies by scores of 3-2 in an overtime session and 3-1 in the weekend finale. Prior to that, the Bulldogs had not won in St. Cloud since March 9, 2007. In the all-time Division I series, SCSU has a 59-39-8 advantage. In the past 20 games, SCSU carries a 10-6-4 edge and a 6-3-1 advantage in the last 10 games. In their most recent series on January 15/16 in Duluth, the Huskies earned a 3-1 win on Friday and the squads skated to a 1-1 overtime tie in the Saturday rematch. For the NCHC extra point, Patrick Russell scored with 33 seconds left in the second overtime 3 X 3 session for the win.
UMD was swept by North Dakota last weekend on the road in two tightly contested games. On Friday, they were edged in overtime after a controversial call awarded UND’s Austin Poganski a penalty shot. Poganski buried the opportunity at 3:19 of the overtime session for the 3-2 win. UMD outshot the Fighting Hawks 33-25 in the game. On Saturday, it took a Brock Boesser goal at 14:39 of period three to break a 1-1 tie for the one-goal win and sweep for North Dakota.
The Huskies picked up their third conference road sweep of the season last weekend in Omaha. SCSU survived being outplayed on Friday with a 32 save effort by Charlie Lindgren and timely goals by Jacob Benson and Joey Benik for a 4-1 win. On Saturday, in a nice effort by the Huskies, Blake Winiecki scored twice and a 29 save performance by Charlie Lindgren earned the Huskies a 6-3 win over the Mavericks and weekend sweep.
UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA-DULUTH BULLDOGS
The Bulldogs, who were the pre-season favorite in the NCHC have been the enigma of the league thus far. Whether on the road or on home ice, the Bulldogs have failed to find consistency this season. Their defense and goaltending has been solid but the difficulty has been scoring – whether it’s by team offense ( 2.53 GPG) or via the power play (14.5%). Compounding the issues on offense has been the absence of leading goal scorer, Austin Farley, who has missed the last three games. Included in his 13 goals are eight power play tallies which is a key to having more success on the struggling Bulldog power play. But, as mentioned, the offense has been lean relying on Tony Cameranesi (9-18-27), Austin Farley (13-13-26) and Dominic Toninato (11-4-15) to lead the offense. Much more was expected out of junior Alex Iafallo who has only has added 15 points thus far. Defenseman, Andy Welinski has been a horse on defense and much like SCSU’s Ethan Prow is solid on both ends of the ice. Welinski is +10 with 4-13-17. Goaltending has been a bright spot all season with sophomore Kasimir Kaskisuo a key to the solid defense of the Bulldogs. His 2.01 GAA and .918 SV% place him close to the top of the league in the NCHC. The penalty kill, currently at 85.7% is a good counter balance to the potent power play of SCSU. UMD has lost three consecutive games and they need to regain their confidence if they are to finish the season on a positive note.
ST. CLOUD STATE UNIVERSITY HUSKIES
The Huskies offense continues to score goals at a torrid pace and is ranked #2 nationally in team offense at 4.38 GPG. The power play is ranked #2 nationally and is converting 29.8% of it’s opportunities. The Huskies balanced scoring attack includes seven players with 10 or more goals and five players scoring a point or more each game. The team points leader is Kalle Kossila (11-27-39 +22) placing him 2nd in the NCHC and 12th nationally in points. Right behind Kossila in points are Joey Benik ( 19-18-37 +29), David Morley (11-23-34 +23), Patrick Russell (16-16-32 +20), Ethan Prow (7-23-30 +22) and Jimmy Murray (10-19-29 +6). Prow leads the nation in scoring by a defenseman. The senior class has contributed heavily to the teams offense producing 43% of the team’s total points.
The stingy defense of the Huskies is anchored by senior Ethan Prow who has also added to the offense with 7 goals and 23 assists and a +22 rating. And, he’s doing this with only 2 penalty minutes all season. He’s backed up by a solid core of young defenseman including sophomore, Nathan Widman (+23), Jimmy Schuldt (+23), Will Borgen (+14) and Jon Lizotte (+13). Junior Niklas Nevalainen has been a key defensive and offensive component to this unit with 20 points in 30 games and a +20 ranking. Goaltender Charlie Lindgren is ranked 13th in the country with a 2.03 GAA and .929 SV %. He leads college hockey in wins with 24. The Huskies are ranked 7th nationally in team defense allowing 2.06 GPG. The penalty kill has been improving not allowing a power play goal in the last 17 attempts over the last four games. As always, SCSU is one of the least penalized teams in the country currently ranked 56 out of 60 teams.
The Bulldogs did a did a nice job defending the Huskies offense in the January series allowing only 4 goals against all weekend. The Bulldogs will need a similar effort if they are to have success this weekend. However, the depth of the Huskies offense continues to give their opponents fits even when the Huskies are being outplayed. With scoring spread throughout the lineup they are difficult to keep off the scoreboard as evidenced by the solid weekend put forth by Winiecki, Jackson and Benson vs Omaha. Just one more line for UMD to have to defend in this series. And, if the Bulldogs find themselves in penalty trouble they’ll have to contend with a power play clicking along at 30%.
No doubt the Bulldogs will outshoot the Huskies this weekend as they typically do vs their opponents. The question is how many pucks can an offense scoring 2.5 GPG get by Lindgren who is at the top of his game right now. The return of Austin Farley should help bolster UMD’s struggling power play but how many opportunities will they have vs the Huskies who spend little time in the penalty box. With a scoring margin of less than +.50 it’s easy to see why the Bulldogs overall record is less than .500. They just don’t score enough goals to support the solid effort their defense typically puts out.
The bottom line is the Bulldogs offense needs to come alive if they are to pick up any league points this weekend. It’ll be a good goaltending duel between Kaskisuo and Lindgren but unless they can slow down the SCSU offense and bury the puck themselves they could find themselves losing ground in the hunt for a home NCHC playoff series.
As always, all the pertinent links for this weekends games can be found HERE
Enjoy the games!