Huskies to Defend Title in North Star College Cup

SCSU captured the 2016 North Star College Cup (Photo Prout)

SCSU captured the 2016 North Star College Cup (Photo Prout)

SCSU HUSKIES  VS  BEMIDJI STATE UNIVERSITY BEAVERS

The St. Cloud State University Huskies (11-12-1 | 6-9-1 ) face the Bemidji State University Beavers (16-9-3 | 16-4-2) of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association in the first game of the North Star College Cup in non-conference play on Friday, January 27 at 4:00 PM at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, MN. The nightcap will have the host team, University of Minnesota of the BIG 10 facing off against University of MInnesota-Duluth of the NCHC at 7:00 PM CT.  Saturday’s schedule will be determined based on results of Friday’s play. SCSU could either face the University of Minnesota or University of Minnesota-Duluth at 4:00 PM or 7:00 PM CT.

Tickets: Tickets are available online through Ticketmaster HERE or at the Xcel Energy Center Box Office.

TV: University of Minnesota games only on Fox Sports North

Video Stream:  Friday’s game with Bemidji State University will be streamed on a pay-per-view basis 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.

Other Links: CenterIceView Twitter | CenterIceView Website 

HEAD TO HEAD

BSU: Since 2/13/2004 the Huskies have a 13-4-2 record vs the Beavers. In the last five SCSU is 3-1-1 and in the last ten they are 6-2-2. SCSU defeated Bemidji State by a score of 5-2 in last years North Star Cup Championship game.

UMD: SCSU leads the all-time series at the Division I level 61-44-8. Bob Motzko has a 23-16-4 record vs the Bulldogs. SCSU is 1-4 in the last 5 and 3-6-1 in the last 10 vs UMD. The Huskies last faced the Bulldogs on January 13 and 14, 2017 winning 2-1 and losing the rematch in overtime 4-3.

U-MN: Since their first official meeting on October 12, 1990 (3-3 OT tie) the Gophers lead the all-time series at the Division I level 54-33-12. SCSU is 4-1-0 vs U of MN in the last five and 6-4-0 in the last 10. Last Season, SCSU swept the two-game series at Mariucci Arena by scores of 3-2 and 7-4 and on October 21/22 of 2016 the Huskies swept again by scores of 6-5 in overtime and 3-2.

LAST SERIES

Bemidji State University –  The WCHA league leading Beavers split their series with Ferris State on home ice last weekend. On Friday, despite outshooting Ferris 36-27, the Beavers fell to the Bulldogs 5-2. The Beavers fell behind 2-0 and narrowed the score to one-goal twice but that was as close as they could get in the 5-2 loss. Charlie O’Connor and Gerry Fitzgerald scored for BSU and Michael Bitzer stopped 22 of 26 shots in the loss. On Saturday, the Beavers turned the tables on the Bulldogs scoring four straight goals after the game was knotted at 1-1 after the first for a 5-1 win. Kyle Bauman scored the game -winner and Gerry Fitzgerald scored his second goal of the weekend. Michael Bitzer had a strong night in goal turning aside 32 of 33 shots on goal.

University of Minnesota – Duluth – The Bulldogs had a highly successful weekend in Grand Forks sweeping the North Dakota Fighting Hawks on their home ice by scores of 5-3 and 4-0. On Friday, after falling behind early, the Bulldogs rattled off four straight goals to take a commanding 4-1 lead in the eventual two-goal win. Riley Tufte scored twice and Avery Peterson picked up the game-winner in the 5-3 win. Hunter Miska stopped 21 of 24 shots on goal in the win. On Saturday in an outstanding defensive effort, the Bulldogs blanked UND on a 29 save effort by Hunter Miska. Adam Johnson scored the game-winner in the first period, Riley Tufte added his third goal of the weekend and Dominic Toninato added a short-handed goal in the weekend sweep.

University of Minnesota – The Gophers split a road series at BIG 10 rival Wisconsin by scores of 4-3 and 3-5. Minnesota and Wisconsin traded goals in a tightly contested game Friday eventually sending the contest to overtime. Justin Kloos scored his10th goal of the season 1:43 in the OT session for the 4-3 win. Eric Schierhorn stopped 29 of 32 shots in picking up the win. In the rematch, the Gophers relinquished a 2-1 first period lead allowing the Badgers to score the next four goals in the 5-3 loss. Eric Schierhorn was victimized for five goals on 32 shots on goal.

St. Cloud State University – The Huskies faced top-ranked Denver and split the home series winning Friday in overtime by a 3-2 score and dropping the rematch 3-1. On Friday, the Huskies rallied to tie the score at 2-2 on a goal by Jack Poehling with 26 seconds remaining in period two. Brother Ryan then netted the game-winning goal 2:27 into overtime in the 3-2 win. Jeff Smith had another strong outing in goal stopping 24 of 26 Denver shots. On Saturday, the Huskies took an early first period lead on Jake Wahlins 5th goal of the season but the Pioneers rallied for the next three goals in the 3-1 win. Smith stopped 35 of 38 shots on goal in the loss.

BEMIDJI STATE UNIVERSITY BEAVERS

After a torrid start to the season going 11-2-1 in the first 14 games, the WCHA league leading Beavers have cooled off logging a 5-7-2 record in their next 14 games. With college hockey’s second-ranked goaltender in goals against and the nations top-ranked defense (1.79 GPG) and penalty kill (90%), the issue is not defense. The issue is the Beavers #47 ranked offense scoring only 2.36 goals per game.

Offensively, the Beavers have a cluster of players in double digits. Senior, Phillip Marinaccio leads the cluster with 9-13-22 and 2 game-winning goals. Another senior, Charlie O’Connor is close behind with 6-12-18. The triplets of Gerry Fitzgerald, Myles Fitzgerald and Leo Fitzgerald have combined for 14-25-39 and six game-winning goals.

Dan Billett, Zach Whitecloud, Brett Beauvais and Justin Baudry provide a cohesive group of defenseman providing that last line of defense in front of goaltender Bitzer.

Goaltender Michael Bitzer has been outstanding leading college hockey in GAA at 1.59 and carrying a .935 SV% into the weekend.

Bemidji is currently ranked 24th in the Pairwise with the 49th ranked strength of schedule out of 60 in college hockey.

UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA – DULUTH BULLDOGS

The NCHC’s league leading Bulldogs have been one of college hockey’s top-ranked teams all season. Despite losing their top two scorers and starting goaltender from the 2015-16 season, the Bulldogs return a seasoned group of players including 7 seniors and 6 juniors. They return 159 points from last season made up of experienced forwards Alex Iafallo, Dominic Toninato, Kyle Osterberg, Adam Johnson and Karson Kuhlman and returning defenseman Carson Soucy, Willie Raskob and Neal Pionk. Pionk is having an outstanding season with 5-13-18 and three power play goals. Carson Soucy has contributed well to the offense with 3 goals and 10 assists.Omaha transfer Avery Peterson has added additional depth to the Bulldogs offense.

The defection of top goaltender and sophomore, Kasimir Kaskisuo placed the Bulldogs in the same predicament as the Huskies requiring UMD to bring in two first year goaltenders. Hunter Miska, who led his USHL team to the Clark finals also was a predecessor to the Huskies Zach Driscoll at the Penticton Vees of the BCHL. UMD also brought in Hunter Shepard who was the 2013-14 MN High School Senior Goaltender of the Year and 2015-16 NAHL Goaltender of the Year. Miska has been a welcome surprise logging a 14-4-2 record including four shutouts. His numbers are currently outstanding with a .920 SV% and 2.13 GAA.

At forward, the Bulldogs brought in two high level forwards in Joey Anderson, a third round draft choice of the New York Islanders, currently 3rd on the squad in scoring with 6-13-19 in twenty-one games and Riley Tufte, a 6’5″ 205 forward who was drafted 25th by the Dallas Stars in the first round of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. However, last years Minnesota Mr. Hockey, Tufte had a slow start to the season having only one point in sixteen games he has picked up 4 goals in his last six games. Anderson was a key forward for Team USA in their Gold Medal effort in the World Junior Championship.

The Bulldogs power play has been struggling and is currently ranked 43rd in college hockey at 18.18%.  Nationally, the Bulldogs offense is ranked #16th (3.25 GPG), defense #8 (2.12 GAPG) and penalty kill needing improvement ranked #43 at 80%. The Bulldogs are not penalized much ranked 42 out of 60 teams averaging about 12 penalty minutes per game.

The Bulldogs are currently ranked #1 in Pairwise and have endured college hockey’s #1 toughest schedule.

UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA GOLDEN GOPHERS

The current Big 10 league leading Gophers are the reigning Big Ten regular season champion and have won the title the first three years the conference has been in existence. They were voted the preseason favorite to win the league in 2016-17. Forward, Justin Kloos returns for his senior season and he is the active-leading scorer in the Big Ten Hockey Conference and second active leading scorer in the NCAA with 56 goals and 78 assists for 134 points in 139 games. Kloos had 16 goals and 27 assists for a career high 43 points during the 2015-16 season. The Gophers had minimal departures from their 2015-16 squad losing only 70 points of offense from last season. The two notable departures were underclassmen, Hudson Fasching (20-18-38) and Michael Brodzinski (8-13-21) who signed pro contracts.

The Gophers return loads of offense from the 2015-16 season with eight of the top ten scorers back for the 2016-17 season. Minnesota returns 220 points including 80 goals and 151 assists. In addition to Justin Kloos, the Gophers return top scorers Leon Bristedt (Jr) 7-11-18, Tyler Sheehy (So) 15-17-32, Vinnie Lettieri (Sr) 11-9-20 and Brent Gates 9-3-12.Unfortunately, another top forward, Tommy Novak was shelved for the season with an injury.  Senior Jake Bischoff leads a large corps of returning defenseman and he has contributed 2 goals and 16 assists to the offense. In addition to five returning defenseman, the Gophers have brought in two NHL drafted blueliners, Ryan Lindgren and Ryan Zuhlsdorf to solidify the position even further. The Gophers have  recruited with size in mind with all rostered defensemen at 6′ or taller.

In addition to the veterans returning at forward, the Gophers have added three forwards including Northeastern University transfer Mike Szmatula who is eligible after sitting out last season. He has been a welcome surprise with 9-12-21. Rem Pitlick is a third round pick of the Nashville Predators and has contributed 3-11-14. Forward/Defenseman, Luke Notermann is the son of former SCSU player Mike Notermann.

The Gophers will be relying on veteran Eric Schierhorn to carry the load in goal. He’s the defending Big Ten goaltender of the year and played in 37 games and won 20 of those contests. Schierhorn is having his struggles this season with a .893 SV% and 2.76 GAA. However, he does have three shutouts this season.

The Gophers are currently ranked #7 in the Pairwise with a strength of schedule 23rd in college hockey.

 ST. CLOUD STATE UNIVERSITY HUSKIES

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.

Nationally, the Huskies are #22 in scoring at 3.04 goals per game but allowing 3.08 goals per game placing them #41 in that category. The power play is ranked 17th converting 20.21% and the penalty kill 27th at 83.9%.  As always, the Huskies spend little time in the penalty box and are currently ranked 59th out of 60 teams.

The Huskies are currently ranked 18th in the Pairwise with the 5th toughest schedule in college hockey.

GAME PROSPECTUS

The Huskies have a 3-3-0 record vs the teams in this years North Star Cup. They have yet to play Bemidji in the 2016-17 season. They are 1-3-0 vs UMD and 2-0-0 vs the U of MN.This will be an interesting match-up with the Beavers who bring a relentless forecheck and strong defensive game to the table. With offense not their forte, the Beavers will clog up the neutral zone and do their best to capitalize on turnovers. Should the Huskies get penetration in the Bemidji defensive zone the Beavers will  let one of college hockey’s top goaltenders do his thing. The Huskies score over 30% of the goals on the power play but that looks to be a challenge as well vs college hockey’s top penalty kill unit.

The Huskies Jeff Smith has been solid three of the last four games and was nearly 93% vs a skilled Denver team last weekend. The Huskies will need another strong effort out of Smith this weekend. Even strength scoring and solving Bemidji’s Bitzer early and getting an early lead in the contest would be in the Huskies best interest. Trying to play catch-up against the Bemidji defense may be a challenge. This may very well be a low scoring contest.

Any of these teams in this years tournament is capable of winning the title. I’d give an edge to UMD in Friday’s nightcap due to stronger goaltending and overall, stronger team defense. UMD has had the Gophers number as of late winning the last six contests. Bemidji plays well vs the Bulldogs and all four games between UMD and SCSU have been close contests. SCSU has defeated the Gophers four straight games. However, the last two were both one goal games.

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

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