St. Cloud, MN – For the second weekend in a row the Huskies went toe to toe with one of the top-ranked teams in college hockey. Splitting with #2 UMD and #3 Denver “ain’t” a bad outcome in successive weekends. They’ve actually dropped a position in the Pairwise after the weekend to #18 and haven’t been able to move up in the NCHC standings with the split. Nevertheless, we’re beginning to see a few trends develop on this team.
- Jeff Smith is continuing to improve as the “starting” goaltender. Yes, we can safely call him the starter and #1 netminder after nine consecutive starts. This past weekend he stopped 59 of 64 shots on goal vs a skilled Denver team for a .92 SV%. He’s elevated his numbers to .901 SV% and 2.89 GAA. He’s benefited from some pretty good defensive play in front of him (with some exceptions) and from a penalty kill that has been fairly effective. Smith’s play down the stretch is probably the primary component to the Huskies success.
- As expected, we’re beginning to see the “growth” in some of the first-years players as they attack the second half of the season. On Friday, Jack Poehling scored the tying goal with 26 ticks remaining in the second period and Ryan Poehling the game-winner in overtime in the Huskies 3-2 win over Denver. All three of the Poehling brothers are contributing in ways not seen on the individual statistics. They chew up ice time, play with energy and are beginning to score some key goals. Because of their work ethic and skill, they are in demand as linemates and most likely the reason for the three playing on different lines this past weekend. It isn’t a bad thing to have a Poehling out on the ice at all times. Jake Wahlin perhaps had his best weekend of the season. He scored the Huskies lone goal on Saturday on a nice effort stuffing the puck beneath DU netminder Jaillet for his 5th goal of the season. Wahlin was using his speed and that’s when he’s at his best. Jack Ahcan is one of the top first-year defenseman in college hockey and he’ll make the NCHC All-Rookie team – count on it. Pound for pound he’s one of the toughest competitors in college hockey and rarely gets beat one on one. Dennis Cholowski is a great puck mover and fashions pin-point passes but still has work to do on his strength and ability to win one on one battles.
- Blake Winiecki is probably the most underrated player on the team right now. He has points in eight of the last twelve games, takes few penalties and is beginning to play the physical game that the Huskies were getting out of Patrick Russell last season. He also provides that quiet team leadership that the Huskies sorely need out of an upper classmen. He’d be my team MVP if I was forced to pick right now.
- Mikey Eyssimont is giving the squad the offensive leadership that has been expected out of him. He leads the team in points, has scored in seven of the last twelve games including 5 multi-point games. He’s a clutch player with three game-winning goals and four power play goals.
- Sophomore Will Borgen has injected physical play into his game lately and I feel this is an element needed from the Huskies defensive corps. Sure, he gets a little over aggressive at times and leads the team in penalty minutes but his play does disrupt the opponent and has an effect on the other team. He also has 10 points and is a +5.
Currently the Huskies are four points out of third place in the NCHC standings and it’s going to be a battle for those two home-ice playoff positions. With two more games played than three of the teams in front of them the pressure is on the Huskies to win some games down the stretch. With series at North Dakota and Denver it’s going to be difficult to pile up league points. However, for NCAA purposes the schedule is to their benefit as long as they can win some of these key games.
Games this weekend in the North Star Cup can be beneficial as the Huskies look to improve their overall record and improve their Pairwise ranking with success in this tournament. I’ll provide a preview of the North Star Cup later this week.