After a disappointing stretch of road games losing three of four the Huskies needed a strong weekend facing the #3 ranked UMD Bulldogs. Although the Huskies dropped off the USCHO top twenty ranking, they were still hanging on the fringe of the NCAA bubble with a #17 Pairwise ranking. Upcoming NCHC games vs UMD, Denver and North Dakota would continue to prop the Pairwise assuming some on-ice success vs these opponents. Additional contests in the North Star Cup the end of the month would also be beneficial to the Huskies cause.
Friday’s game vs the Bulldogs was highlighted by SCSU goaltender Jeff Smith’s best performance of the season. A combination of solid defensive play by the blueliners in front of him and the fact that Smith appeared to be seeing the puck extremely well led to a 41 save performance and a .976 SV% on the evening. The only imperfection in the contest being a goal by UMD’s NHL first-rounder Riley Tufte at 13:30 of the third period. The SCSU offense was led by first-year defenseman Jack Ahcan, fresh off a “Gold Medal” winning performance in the recent World Junior Championships. Highlighting his versatility, Ahcan buried a shot from the point in the first period and then backhanded a shot by Hunter Miska on a rush up ice in the second period for SCSU’s only two goals of the game. This gave Ahcan his 4th and 5th goals of the season and earned him NCHC Defensive and Rookie of the Week honors.
Sophomore defenseman Will Borgen also was prominent all evening exerting his physical presence in a game that very much-needed this element from the Huskies. Possibly a little too aggressive at times considering the tight officiating we are seeing these days Borgen finished +2 in the contest with 2 penalties for 4 minutes. His crushing check at the blue line early in the game on UMD forward Adam Johnson set the tone for his physical play all evening. The rest of the defensive crew did a nice job boxing the solid core of forwards to the perimeter all evening giving Smith a good look at the majority of the Bulldog shots.
Finally, the SCSU penalty kill was perfect once again stopping all five Bulldog man-advantage opportunities on the evening.
On the other side of the ice, UMD’s first-rounder from Blaine, Riley Tufte who’s been somewhat maligned for his lack of offense this season perhaps had his been game of the year. Needing to use his size to his advantage, he did just that in Friday’s contest digging for a goal in the crease in the third period for his first goal of the season. It was obvious he was competing with a different attitude on Friday and he was certainly one of the Bulldogs better players all evening.
Saturday’s game merited more urgency by the Bulldogs who have been less than dominant on their home ice lately. An early power play goal by Karson Kuhlman and another goal by Avery Peterson a little more than five minutes later gave the Bulldogs a 2-0 lead in an otherwise fairly even first period of play. But, a stoppable backhand shot from the right dot by Dan Molenaar at 4:25 of the second chased SCSU starter Jeff Smith from goal. In contrast to Friday’s game, Smith allowed three goals on twelve shots and he was relieved of duty by Zach Driscoll.
With a three-goal lead early in the second period it appeared the Bulldogs were fully in control of the rematch. But, an odd goal on a shot from the corner wall by Blake Winiecki that got by Miska gave the Huskies some hope. Undisciplined play by the Bulldogs opened the door even further and the Huskies took advantage scoring twice – first by Patrick Newell and next by Jimmy Schuldt on a cannon from the blue line and suddenly the game was all tied at 3-3 heading into period three.
But, after penalty issues on the Bulldogs in period two they appeared to get the break they needed when the Huskies Borgen was assessed a five-minute major on a seldom seen call for “interference blindsiding” at 11:33 of the third. However, the Huskies penalty kill was more than up to the task allowing only two shots on goal and nearly getting a short-handed goal by Duluth native Judd Peterson as the penalty was expiring.
Ultimately, the game proceeded to an overtime session with Molenaar playing a key role once again sending a shot from the point that was deflected by Kyle Osterberg that got by Driscoll for the game-winner. Certainly a disappointment to the Huskies who battled back in a game that seemed out of reach early in the second and a relief to the Bulldogs who were facing a winless start to 2017 on home ice.
For the Huskies, Blake Winiecki again had a solid weekend going 1-1-2 and +3 and adding his 10th goal of the season. He’s been one of the Huskies most consistent players with points in seven of his last ten games.
The Saturday loss dropped the Huskies to a tie for sixth place in the tightly contested conference with Miami although they are only 4 points behind North Dakota currently in third place. The Huskies return to home ice this weekend facing a big challenge from Denver University currently ranked #2/3 in college hockey and #2 in the Pairwise.
A preview of this weekends series will be posted later this week.