#18 SCSU HUSKIES VS UNIVERSITY OF CONNECTICUT HUSKIES
The #18 St. Cloud State University Huskies (8-5-3 | 4-5-1 ) face the University of Connecticut Huskies (6-6-6 | 4-3-2) of Hockey East in the first game of the Arizona Desert Classic in non-conference play on Friday, December 30 at the Prescott Valley Events Center in Prescott Valley, AZ. The nightcap will have the host team, Arizona State University Sun Devils facing off against Brown University Brown Bears of the ECAC at 9:00 PM CT. Saturday’s schedule will be determined based on results of Friday’s play. SCSU could either face ASU at 9:00 PM CT or Brown University at 6:00 PM CT.
Tickets: Tickets are available online through Ticketmaster HERE or at the Prescott Valley Event Center Box Office.
Video Stream: Friday’s game with UCONN will be steamed on a pay-per-view basis on hockeytv.com
Radio | Audio Stream: Both games will be broadcast on REV 96.9 FM with play by play announcer Jim Erickson.
HEAD TO HEAD
This will be the Huskies first ever meeting with the UCONN Huskies. SCSU is 2-0-0 all-time vs tournament host Arizona State posting a sweep vs the Sun Devils last January 1-2 in St. Cloud by 6-1 and 7-0 scores. The Huskies have a more significant history vs the Brown University Bears with their first meeting in 1988. The Huskies are 7-1-1 all-time vs Brown including a sweep by 5-3 and 5-1 scores in St. Cloud on January 2-3, 2010. Coach Motzko is 3-0-1 vs the Brown Bears.
University of Connecticut – The Huskies had a tough November going 1-4-2 but rebounded with two wins and a tie in December thus far. Most recently, the Huskies skated to a 2-2 overtime tie with UMass-Lowell and a 3-1 win vs UMass. Tage Thompson scored twice in the UMass win and goaltender Adam Huska stopped 24 of 25 shots on goal. Both players are currently competing in the World Junior Championships and unavailable for this weekends tournament.
Arizona State University – The Sun Devils have been on a nice streak after dropping five of seven games in November. Since then, they’ve won four of five in December including two 4-1 road wins vs the University of Massachusetts. In the Friday contest, ASU scored three times before UMass got on the board in the 4-1 win.Robert Levin stopped 30 of 31 SOG and Joe Lappin scored the GWG for the Sun Devils. In the rematch, ASU duplicated the Friday effort with another 4-1 win falling behind 1-0 and then scoring four straight goals in the victory. Louie Rowe scored the GWG and Robert Levin stopped 23 of 24 SOG in the win.
Brown University – The Bears split their last conference series with Union and RPI on home ice. They were outshot by Union 35-27 in a 3-1 loss with Brown’s lone goal scored by Tommy Marchin. Gavin Nieto stopped 32 of 35 shots on goal. They rebounded for a solid 6-3 win over RPI on Saturday outshooting the Engineers 34-22 and Nieto stopping 19 of 22 RPI SOG. Connor Wyne scored the GWG and Charlie Corcoran and Davey Middleton were both 1-1-2 in the win.
St. Cloud State University – The Huskies returned home for a series with Omaha and after dropping Friday’s contest by 3-1 score rallied for a 4-2 win on Saturday. For the second weekend in a row, the Huskies won the battle of special teams shutting down the Mavericks top-producing power play seven times and adding two goals on eight opportunities on the man-advantage over the series. They also outshot the Mavericks 41-24 on Friday and 36-24 on Saturday. Omaha goaltender Evan Weininger was simply unbeatable on Friday despite large segments of pressure by the Huskies in the Omaha defensive zone. Dennis Cholowski scored his first goal as a Husky on the power play in the second period for SCSU. On Saturday, Judd Peterson scored twice and Jeff Smith stopped 22 of 24 SOG in the 4-2 win.
UNIVERSITY OF CONNECTICUT HUSKIES
The Huskies have been plagued by inconsistent play thus far this season but look to improve on their 2-0-1 start to December in this tournament. However, it may be difficult as the Huskies will be missing two of their top players who are currently competing in the World Junior Championships. Sophomore forward Tage Thompson is currently competing for Team USA and drives the success of the UCONN offense. Thompson leads the squad in goals and points with 12-8-20 and has three game-winning goals. Goaltender Adam Huska is competing for Team Slovakia in the WJC and carries a 4-2-3 record with a 2.28 GAA and impressive .935 SV%. The offense is also led by Junior and Minnesota native Spencer Naas 7-1-8 who will be primed to play against the Huskies. Sophomores Maxim Letunov 4-11-15 and Karl El-Mir 6-3-9 have also been solid contributors to the offense. On defense, Miles Gendron +7 and Derek Pratt +6 have been solid on the blue line and another Minnesota native, Johnny Austin 1-5-6 provides some offense from the back end.
It is assumed Rob Nichols will be the UCONN starter in goal in place of Adam Huska. Nichols is 2-3-3 on the season with a 2.56 GAA and .911 SV%.
The Huskies offense is #34 in the country at 2.84 goals per game but takes a hit with the unavailability of Tage Thompson. They are #18 in goals allowed at 2.67 but again, at a disadvantage without goaltender Huska. The penalty kill has been impressive at 86.5% good for 10th in college hockey. The power play is 36th at 16.67%. UCONN spends little time in the penalty box currently ranked 50 out of 60 teams.
ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY
As mentioned, the Sun Devils have had a nice run winning five of their past seven games. The offense does not revolve around a single player as scoring has been pretty much by committee thus far this season. However, the offense is led by senior, Robbie Baillargeon who has posted 8 goals and 7 assists for 15 points. Others contributing to the offense are David Norris (3-9-12), Wade Murphy (4-8-12) and Tyler Busch (5-7-12). Defensively, the team relies on first-year player Brinson Pasichnuk (5-4-9) including two GWG, sophomore Nicholas Gushue (4-4-8) and sophomore Jakob Stridsburg (4-2-6). The team only has one defenseman in the plus and that’s senior drew Newmeyer at +1.
In goal, the team has rotated their three goaltenders evenly over the first 20 games. Senior Robert Levin leads the group with a 3-4-0 record, 3.48 GAA and .901 SV%. Sophomore Ryland Pashovitz is 2-3-0 with a .882 SV% and 4.11 GAA. First-year netminder Joey Daccord has a 2-3-0 record, 4.90 GAA and .864 SV%.
The Sun Devil offense is ranked 43rd in college hockey at 2.55 goals per game while yielding 4.25 goals per game placing them near the bottom nationally. Special teams are struggling as well with a power play at 11.58% and penalty kill at 75.5%.
After a five-win season in 2015-16, the Bears were hoping for a much better start to this season. After dropping eight of their first nine games they’ve won two of their last three giving them something to build on. But, with a struggling offense and young goaltending it’s been tough to gain any traction. The offense is 56th in the country scoring only 2.17 goals per game while allowing 3.83 goals per game – also 56th in college hockey. Several juniors lead the offense including NHL draft picks Sam Lafferty (3-11-14) and Max Willman (4-4-8). Charlie Corcoran leads the squad in goals with seven and the team is still waiting for last seasons scoring leader Tommy Marchin to get untracked with only three points in twelve games. On defense, Matt Gottlieb (0-5-5) and Connor Wyne (2-1-3 +3) have been bright spots.
In goal the Bears are relying on first-year goaltender Gavin Nieto to lead the way. He was the NAHL top goaltender in 2015-16 and is still trying to gain his footing. Currently he is 2-7-0 with a .877 SV% and 3.97 GAA. Not numbers that are going to lead Brown to a lot of success.
Special teams are underperforming as well with a power play 53rd in college hockey at 11.54% and a penalty kill #58 at 74.2%.
ST. CLOUD STATE UNIVERSITY HUSKIES
It appeared to be a sigh of relief in coach Motzko’s post-game interview following the Saturday 4-2 win vs #20 Omaha at the Brooks Center. After five straight losses at home and an obvious lack of scoring punch from his team he had to be concerned after Friday’s 3-1 loss to a potent and experienced Omaha team. After all, he’s off to Canada to coach the USA World Junior squad and won’t see his team again until the Miami road series on January 6 and 7. Obviously the thought of returning home to face #2 ranked Denver University on January 20 with six straight home losses might have required a supply of Rolaids. Thus, an upbeat Motzko commented “There was one game in the first 16 that we got out-competed but, our guys come ready to play. We learned a lot of lessons in the first half. We needed to win a game (at home). I’m proud of our guys the first half. Let’s enjoy the break and come back and get after it in the second half”.
Drilling down the weekend, you can’t help but be positive about the way the series ended. For the second weekend in a row, the Huskies won the battle of special teams shutting down the Mavericks top-producing power play seven times and adding two goals on eight opportunities on the man-advantage over the series. They also outshot the Mavericks 41-24 on Friday and 36-24 on Saturday. It was encouraging to see Jeff Smith inserted into the lineup on Saturday and stop close to 92% of the Omaha shots on goal. The Huskies need the competition at the goaltender position and Saturday’s result should most likely get Smith back into the rotation to start the second half of the season. Ryan Papa was inserted into the lineup for the first time since October 29th and he was placed on a line with Judd Peterson and Jacob Benson. The line certainly makes sense and it was productive with Papa earning two assists and Peterson scoring twice which were his first goals since November 11th vs Colorado College. If there was one element missing from the lineup this season it was grit and physical play around the opponent’s goal and this line provided it on Saturday. Both Peterson and Papa as upperclassmen need to be successful if the Huskies are to continue to progress the second half of the season.
First-year defenseman, Jack Ahcan continued his stellar play vs Omaha adding a power play goal on Saturday which maintained his hold of a tie for second on the squad in points. But, he’s currently competing for Team USA in the World Junior Championships and unavailable for this weekend.Judd Peterson started the season with 10 points in 9 games but had one point in the next five until he netted two goals in the last game with Omaha. He now is tied for second in points with 9-4-13. Mikey Eyssimont has taken over the points lead with 8-6-14.
Defensively, it’s been a mixed bag with two defenseman in the plus of +/- and three in the negative. First-year defenseman Jack Ahcan is having an outstanding season and is second on the team in points with 13 and even in +/-. Sophomore Jimmy Schuldt is 2-8-10 +6 and sophomore Will Borgen is 1-8-9 +3. Goaltending continues to improve under the tutelage of former SCSU goaltender Mike Lee. Sophomore Jeff Smith evened his record with his win over Omaha and now has respectable numbers of 2.95 GAA and .890 SV%. Zach Driscoll is currently 6-5-1 with a 3.13 GAA and .889 SV%. The numbers still need to improve with a combined 3.18 GAA and .885 SV% but they are making progress.
Nationally, the Huskies continue to improve in most categories. On offense, SCSU is #14 in scoring 3.38 goals per game and allowing 3.19 goals per game placing them #41 in that category. The power play is ranked 16th converting 20.59% and the penalty kill 20th at 84.7%. As always, the Huskies spend little time in the penalty box and are currently ranked 59th out of 60 teams.
On paper, the Huskies are clearly the favorite in this tournament. Unfortunately for UCONN, their two top players, Tage Thompson, their leading goal-scorer and Adam Huska, their top goaltender are unavailable as they are competing in the World Junior Championship. Otherwise, this could have been a real test for the SCSU Huskies facing a top-notch goaltender in Huska. It’ll be interesting to see how UCONN responds without these two players and if they can squeeze some offense out of some other forwards. It is assumed Rob Nichols will be the UCONN starter in goal in place of Adam Huska. Nichols has been solid in a backup role and is 2-3-3 on the season with a 2.56 GAA and .911 SV%. This tournament weekend will be a good warm-up for SCSU as they prepare to jump back into the conference schedule vs Miami on the road next weekend.
SCSU Assistant coaches Mike Gibbons and Garrett Raboin will be running the team while coach Motzko is coaching in the World Junior Championships.
Expect to see both Driscoll and Smith rotating in goal this weekend.
I will be at the tournament and will provide updates.
As always, all the pertinent links for this weekends games can be found here