Huskies Face Another Challenge in Top-Ranked Denver this Weekend

(Photo Prout)

(Photo Prout)

SCSU HUSKIES  VS  #1/2 UNIVERSITY OF DENVER PIONEERS

The St. Cloud State University Huskies (10-11-1 | 5-8-1 ) host the University of Denver Pioneers (15-5-4 | 7-2-3) in a challenging NCHC conference series Friday, January 20 and Saturday, January 21  at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in St. Cloud, MN.

Tickets: Tickets are available online at scsutickets.com or from the SCSU Ticket Box Office. You can also call 1-877-SCSUTIX.

TV: SCSU Sports Network | Charter Cable 426/823 and Comcast Cable 999 (Twin Cities)

Video Stream:  Both games will be streamed on NCHC.TV

Radio | Audio Stream: Both games will be broadcast on  REV 96.9 FM with play by play announcer Jim Erickson and Dave Reichel doing color commentary.

The games will also be broadcast on KVSC 88.1 FM

SCSU Weekly Release (PDF)

Other Links: CenterIceView Twitter | CenterIceView Website 

HEAD TO HEAD

The Huskies are 41-45-5 all-time vs the Pioneers dating back to 1988. They are 4-1-0 in the last five games and 5-4-1 in the last 10 games vs Denver. SCSU head coach Bob Motzko is 18-14-1 all-time against DU. SCSU defeated the Pioneers in their last meeting by a score of 4-2 in the semi-finals of the Frozen Faceoff on 3/18/16. The Huskies are 17-20-3 vs Denver on home ice.

LAST SERIES

The Pioneers split a road trip to Kalamazoo, MI with the Western Michigan Broncos by scores of 0-3 and 7-2 last weekend. On Friday, in a defensive battle, the teams skated to a scoreless tie after two periods before WMU got on the board with a power play goal by Frederik Tiffels at 6:28 of period three. The  Broncos added two empty net goals in the last minute and a half to earn the 3-0 shutout. DU goaltender Tanner Jaillet stopped 27 of 28 shots on goal in the loss.

In the Saturday rematch, it was a totally different story with the Pioneers scoring twice on the power play in period one for a 2-0 lead. The Broncos narrowed the score to 2-1 early in period two before the Pioneers scored the next five goals to bury the Broncos 7-2. Seven different DU players scored in the contest with Evan Ritt and Jarid Lukosevicius each having a three-point game. Tanner Jaillet and Evan Cowley combined to stop 24 of 26 WMU shots on goal in the win. For his weekend efforts, Jaillet was named NCHC Goaltender of the Week.

The Huskies on the other hand needed a strong effort on the road facing #3 UMD and they got it winning 2-1 on Friday on the heels of a 41 save effort by goaltender Jeff Smith. First-year defenseman, Jack Ahcan had an outstanding game scoring both of the Huskies goals in the victory. Ahcan was named NCHC Rookie and Defenseman of the Week for his efforts.

On Saturday, Smith was chased from goal after allowing three goals on 12 shots as UMD took a commanding 3-0 lead early in period two. Blake Winiecki scored his 10th goal of the season to close the gap to 3-1 and undisciplined play by UMD allowed two power play goals by the Huskies by period end to tie the game at 3-3. A scoreless third period led to an overtime session which was won by the Bulldogs on a shot from the point that was deflected by Kyle Osterberg 2:33 into the session.

UNIVERSITY OF DENVER PIONEERS

The #1/2 ranked Denver Pioneers have been one of college hockey’s top teams all season and are currently 7-2-3 in the NCHC three points behind UMD with two less league games played. Most importantly, the Pioneers are ranked #2 in the Pairwise with history telling us they’ve pretty much locked up a spot in the NCAA tourney. They’ve accomplished this primarily with a stingy defense and strong goaltending despite fairly ordinary offense and special teams numbers. Tanner Jaillet has been the key to their success currently ranked 8th in college hockey in GAA at 1.92 and 11th in save percentage at .927 SV%.

It’s not that they don’t have some elite offensive players as they do with first-year phenom Henrik Borgstron (12-10-22; 2 GWG; 6 PPG), Troy Terry (11-11-22; 3 GWG; 1PPG), Dylan Gambrell (5-16-21) and Jarid Lukosevicius (9-8-17;4 PPG). Unfortunately, for the Pioneers, World Junior Team shootout hero Troy Terry sustained an upper body injury in the WMU series and will be unavailable this weekend.

On defense, senior Will Butcher is a workhorse and has contributed 4-17-21 and is +14. First-year player, Michael Davies is +9 and has added 1-7-8 and junior Adam Plant is +13 with 1-6-7.

Nationally, the Pioneers are ranked 26th in offense at 2.96 GPG and 5th in defense allowing only 2.04 GPG. Special teams have been middle of the road at 26th on the power play with a 18.5% success ratio and penalty kill 38th at 81.3%. The Pioneers tend to stay out of the penalty box averaging 10.79 minutes per game good for 54th out of 60 teams.

ST. CLOUD STATE UNIVERSITY HUSKIES

The Huskies continue to be an unpredictable team losing twice on the road at Miami but rebounding to nearly sweep the Bulldogs on their home ice. Lately, the Huskies have found ways to shoot themselves in the foot with untimely penalties late in the game and inconsistent scoring 5×5. Goaltender Jeff Smith had his best game of the season on Friday vs the Bulldogs stopping 41 of 42 shots but was then chased from goal on Saturday allowing three goals on twelve shots. The power play is responding well and some personnel changes have contributed to that. Pairing Jack Ahcan with Jimmy Schuldt appears to be a combination that works extremely well as Ahcan handles the puck so well and Schuldt has a cannon of a shot.

At forward, the most consistent forwards have been Blake Winiecki who has moved into second in team scoring with 10-9-19 and team leader Mikey Eyssimont 10-10-20. Eysimont has 3 GWG and 4 PPG while Winiecki has contributed 3 PPG. Patrick Newell has been consistent and a good distributor leading the team with 15 assists and is +5. Ahcan has been outstanding with 5 goals and 11 assists for 16 points.Forwards Judd Peterson and Robby Jackson have all but disappeared from the offense combining for only 6 goals and 2 assists in the last 13 games.

The coaching staff has used 30 different forward line combinations this season and 13 different defensive pairings. The most productive forward line combination has been the Eyssimont, Winiecki, Benson line with 42 points. The most productive defensive pairing has been Ahcan and Borgen with 17 points.

Statistically, the Huskies have been allowing as many goals per game (3.14) as they’ve been scoring (3.14). That’s the root of their problem and indicative of their .500 record. Nationally, they are 21st in offense, 41st in defense, 16th on the power play (20.2%) and 25th on the penalty kill (84.5%). Although they only average 10 minutes of penalties per game which is 58th out of 60 teams untimely penalties late in the game have hurt the squad.

Goaltending still has not hit that magic save percentage of .90 but they are inching closer to that number.  The effort by both the defense and Jeff Smith on Friday was impressive in limiting the Bulldogs to one goal.

GAME PROSPECTUS

This weekend will be another huge test for the Huskies vs one of the top defensive teams in the country. They will also have their hands full containing high-powered forwards Dylan Gambrell and Henrik Borgstrom. Borgstrom has been extremely effective on the Pioneers power play and they’ll have to find a way to stop him in man-advantage situations. Denvers goaltending has been crazy good and unless the Huskies can figure out a way to solve Tanner Jaillet it will be a long weekend for the Huskies.The Huskies need another strong performance out of Jeff Smith on Friday assuming he gets the start once again. Will Borgen was a physical force all weekend vs the UMD Bulldogs and he’ll have to walk the line between unnecessary aggressiveness and solid physical play this weekend. And once again, more scoring spread out throughout the lineup is essential against this solid defensive team.

If history is any indication, it would be best that the Huskies hold a lead after the second period of play. The last time they rallied to win after being down after two periods was in November of 2015.

The Huskies cannot afford anything less than a split on home ice. Although their Pairwise is still in reasonable shape they are looking to be on the road for the NCHC playoffs unless they can string together some wins. And, it won’t be easy with their upcoming schedule.

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

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