Huskies to Face Another Challenge in North Dakota this Weekend

(Photo Prout)

(Photo Prout)

SCSU HUSKIES  VS  #13 UND FIGHTING HAWKS

The St. Cloud State University Huskies (12-13-1 | 6-9-1) travel to Grand Forks, ND to face #13 University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks (14-10-3 | 7-8-1) in a key NCHC series Friday, February 3 and Saturday, February 4 at the Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, ND. Game times are 7:37 PM CT Friday and 7:07 PM CT Saturday.

Tickets: Limited tickets are currently available for this game through the UND/REA Box Office. Single game tickets are also available online through UND’s ticket partner Ticketmaster here

TV: (Friday) CBS Sports Network Direct TV 221 Dish TV 152 | (Saturday) Midco Sports Network, Fox College Sports Direct TV 623, SCSU Sports Network- Charter 823

Video Stream:  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:  Live Stats  | CenterIceView Twitter  | CenterIceView Web Site 

HEAD TO HEAD

North Dakota leads the all-time series at the Division I level 68-39-12. Bob Motzko has a 17-27-6 record vs the Fighting Hawks. SCSU is 1-4-0 in the last 5 and 3-7-0 in the last 10. The Huskies last faced the Fighting Hawks on November 18-19 2016 in St. Cloud with the Huskies getting swept by scores of 4-0 and 3-0. St. Cloud State last won in North Dakota on 11/21/14 by a score of 3-1.

North Dakota is currently #9 in the Pairwise and SCSU is #16.

LAST SERIES

North Dakota split a road series at Colorado College last weekend winning 5-2 on Friday and getting shutout on Saturday 3-0. In the series opener, Colorado jumped out to a 2-0 lead after the first period only to see UND rally for the next five goals (EN) to capture a 5-2 win. Dixon Bowen scored the game winning goal and Shane Gersich added his 18th goal of the season in the win. After allowing two goals, Matej Tomek was relieved by Matt Hrynkiw who stopped all 15 shots he faced in earning the win. On Saturday, despite outshooting the Tigers 45-20, first-year goaltender Alex Leclerc stopped all 45 SOG to blank North Dakota 3-0. Colorado College scored two empty net goals in the win.

The Huskies participated in the North Star College Cup at the Xcel Energy Center defeating WCHA league leading Bemidji State 2-1 on Friday and dropping a 2-1 overtime thriller to league rival UMD on Saturday.  On Friday, Jacob Benson and Blake Winiecki gave the Huskies a 2-0 lead after two periods and SCSU held on for a 2-1 win. Jeff Smith stopped 26 of 27 shots on goal for the win. On Saturday, Will Borgen gave SCSU the early lead 1-0 only to see the game knotted at 1-1 early in the third period on a goal by Alex Iaffalo. The game proceeded to overtime with the Bulldogs capturing the title game on a goal by Kyle Osterberg six minutes into the session. In another solid effort, Jeff Smith turned aside 32 of 34 shots on goal.

 

UNIVERSITY OF NORTH DAKOTA FIGHTING HAWKS

UND lost nine players from last years National Championship squad including four seniors and five underclassmen and they are missing 217 points of offense from that group. Key losses included top scorers Drake Caggiula (25-26-51) one of the most dynamic players in college hockey and Nick Schmaltz, a terrific set-up man on their top line who had 11 goals and 35 assists. Along with Brock Boesser, it was probably the most feared line in college hockey and directly contributed to the demise of Quinnipiac in the Frozen Four championship game. Early departures of Schmaltz, and Luke Johnson at forward and veteran defenseman, Troy Stecher, Paul LaDue and Keaton Thompson have placed a big dent in the Fighting Hawks lineup.

As a result, the Fighting Hawks are reeling somewhat with a 4-4 record since the start of the calendar year. In their last six games, they are 2-4 and this includes losing three of their last four games on home ice. Currently in fourth place, the Fighting Hawks have a one-point lead over fifth-place Omaha, two points over Miami and four points on the Huskies.

Goal scorers Shane Gersich (18-14-32), Brock Boesser (11-11-22), and Austin Poganski (8-11-19) provide the offensive spark needed from their veteran players with Boesser one of the top forwards in college hockey. The defense is led by Tucker Poolman (4-17-21), Christian Wolanin and Gage Ausmus and all are solid players in their own right. In goal, Cam Johnson was one of the top netminders in college hockey last season with a .833 winning percentage with a 1.65 GAA and .935 SV%. Johnson has logged most of the minutes this season this season for UND. His current .907 SV% and 2.31 GAA do not rival last years numbers but again, this team is continuing to be a work in progress as they head towards tournament time.

Before we start feeling sorry for the ‘Hawks, they’ve done a nice job loading the team with some top-notch players that have had an impact in 2016-17:

  • Tyson Jost  Forward –  Pencil this outstanding player in for the All NCHC Rookie Team – it’s guaranteed. Drafted #10 in the first round by the Colorado Avalanche in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, Jost is a dynamic playmaker and scorer highly coveted by the NHL. In addition to a great shot and excellent playmaking skills, Jost is competitive and wins battles for the puck. The top forward in the BCHL last season, Jost amassed 42 goals and 62 assists for 104 points in 48 games for Penticton. Jost has been paired on a line with North Dakota’s outstanding sophomore Brock Boesser and currently is second in team scoring with 11-13-24. Most likely a two-year player for the Fighting Hawks, keep an eye on Jost as he’ll be a future NHLer. He’ll is one of the most exciting players in the NCHC in just his first year.
  • Ludvig Hoff Forward – The Norwegian-born Hoff culminated his two plus years in the USHL with 21 goals and 39 points for 60 points with the Lincoln Stars last season. He also had an extensive amateur career in Norway playing for both Norway’s World Junior U18 and U20 teams. A tenacious player with excellent skating skills and good puck control, he’s already seeing some time on the power play for North Dakota. At 5’10” and 196 pounds Hoff is strong on the puck and not afraid to plant himself in front of the opponent’s goal. A good fit for North Dakota’s run and gun style of play, Hoff is the second leading first-year scorer on the team with 2-8-10. Hoff’s father Geir played hockey for the Michigan State Spartans.

Statistically, UND is 12th in the country in offense at 3.26 goals per game and #15 in defense allowing 2.48 goals per game. The power play has improved at 18.85% good for 23rd in college hockey. The penalty kill is ranked #28 out of 60 teams at 83.5%. UND averages 12.63 penalty minutes a game placing them 35th in that category

 ST. CLOUD STATE UNIVERSITY HUSKIES

The seventh-place Huskies have been playing well as of late and despite having a record of 3-3 over their last six games, this includes wins over #1 UMD, #2 Denver and the WCHA’s league leading Bemidji State Beavers. One of the main reasons for their success is the play of sophomore goaltender Jeff Smith. Suddenly he has hit his groove and in the last six games has a .932 SV% and only allowed an average of 2 goals per game. These are outstanding numbers considering the opponents in those six games.

At forward, the most consistent forwards have been Blake Winiecki who has moved into second in team scoring with 11-11-22 (1 GWG; 3 PPG) and team leader Mikey Eyssimont 10-13-23. Eysimont has 3 GWG and 4 PPG. Patrick Newell has been consistent and a good distributor leading the team with 16 assists and is +4. First year defenseman, Jack Ahcan has been outstanding with 5 goals and 13 assists for 18 points. The Huskies need more production out of sophomore Robby Jackson and Junior Judd Peterson who have combined for just 10 points in the last 14 games. Peterson has disappeared from the score sheet in the last 10 games and is without a single point in that stretch of games. The first-year Poehling brothers bring energy and gritty play to the forward position and are beginning to chip in on the offense.

The coaching staff has used 30 plus different forward line combinations this season and 13 different defensive pairings. The most productive forward line combination has been the Eyssimont, Winiecki, Benson and the most productive defensive pairing has been Ahcan and Borgen who are a +6. Jimmy Schuldt has been steady at 3-9-12 and +2.

Statistically, the Huskies have been allowing as many goals per game (2.96) as they’ve been scoring (2.92). That’s the root of their problem and indicative of their .500 record. Nationally, they are 30th in offense, 35th in defense, 15th on the power play (20.2%) and 19th on the penalty kill (84.8%). They are the least penalized eam in college hockey averaging 9.15 minutes per game. However, untimely penalties late in the game have hurt the squad this season.

Probably the biggest issue for the Huskies right now is finding some scoring to support the improved goaltending and defensive play they have been getting. Over 30% of the Huskies scoring has come on the man-advantage. They need to improve their 5 X 5 offense.

 

GAME PROSPECTUS

There are a lot of similarities between these squads entering this crucial series. Both lost loads of talent from their 2015-16 squads and it’s taking a toll on the teams in getting consistent results. And while both teams have reloaded with some great recruits they are still underclassmen that are getting acclimated to the stronger and quicker NCHC.  Both teams have had their difficulty holding leads vs top opponents and again, that’s a reflection of the “growth” process both teams are experiencing with a roster full of youngsters.

This weekends series features a number of interesting storylines:

  • Jack Ahcan vs Brock Boesser – Ahcan and Boesser grew up playing hockey together in Burnsville and last played together in the 2013-14 season. Boesser left for his senior season to play for Waterloo of the USHL while Ahcan opted to play his senior season at Burnsville where he led the team in scoring. Both are currently near the top of their teams scoring charts. With Boesser being such a prolific scorer, it’s imperative to contain him defensively. Ahcan was placed on the ice to defend Boesser in the last series in November. If anyone knows Boesser’s tendencies it would be Ahcan.
  • Austin Poganski vs Jacob Benson – Poganski is a St. Cloud native and was a St. Cloud State recruit but opted to sign with North Dakota a team he was always interested in. Benson is a Grand Forks native who opted to play for the Huskies. Both are gritty forwards with skill and while neither player will lead their team in scoring, both are tough physically to play against. Currently, Benson is 7-7-14 while Poganski is 8-11-19. Both will have that extra incentive this weekend competing against their home town collegiate teams. Poganski, a junior has had some success vs the Huskies with 3 assists in 6 games while Benson has a goal in two games vs UND.
  • Jon Lizzotte – Lizzotte is another Grand Forks native that grew up watching the Fighting Hawks but wasn’t recruited by them and was a late recruit by the Huskies. The sophomore defenseman admits he was never a UND fanatic but attended Fighting Hawks games. Lizzotte is another player that should be pumped to compete against his home town team. Lizotte played both games vs UND in St. Cloud earlier this season but went scoreless.
  • Dennis Cholowski vs Tyson Jost – The trio of Dennis Cholowski, Tyson Jost and Dante Fabbro (Boston University) made quite an impact in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. All three were drafted in the first round making this the best showing ever by products of the British Columbia Junior Hockey League. Flashback to 2013 and all three were selected in the first-round of the Western Hockey League Bantam Draft. Cholowski, the 20th pick of the Detroit Red Wings and Jost the 10th pick of the Colorado Avalanche continued their climb through the junior ranks both playing and competing against each other for two years in the BCHL – Cholowski for Chilliwack and Jost for Penticton. Both also competed in the World Junior Challenge this past season for Team Canada. Now, both will be competitors once again in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference for at least two years. Obviously, both know each others tendencies and it’ll be an interesting weekend to see these two players compete against each other. Both are pegged as future NHLers and this is a great opportunity for fans to see both early in their hockey careers.
  • Jeff Smith vs Tyson Jost –  Jeff Smith is also a product of the BCHL and faced Jost during the 2015-16 season while with Powell River. So, who wins these battles – shooter or defender? We’ll find out this weekend.
  • Joel Janatuinen vs Niklas Nevalainen – Finnish imports Janatuinen and Nevalainen should cross paths this weekend with a foward vs defenseman matchup. Janatuinen, a sophomore is 7-8-15 this season and Nevalainen is 1-5-6. Neither player had points in the ast series between the two squads.

As always this will be an entertaining series with North Dakota having the upper hand on the Huskies in Grand Forks as of late. There will be some high level young talent on the ice and some entertaining matchups. Give the Huskies the slight edge right now in special teams and UND in overall offense and defensive play. With the way Smith has been playing, this could be a toss-up in goaltending. Tyson Jost did not play in the Colorado College series. There has been no word yet as to his status for this weekend.The crowds will be lively and loud and this should be an exciting weekend of hockey for the fans on both ends of the ice.

2/2/2017 Update: Tyson Jost, Joel Janatuinen, Gage Ausmus and Cam Johnson all on the ice at practice this week. However, their status for the weekend has not been announced yet.

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

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