Huskies Hit the Road to Face League Leader and #1 Denver

(Photo Prout)

(Photo Prout)

#18 SCSU HUSKIES  VS  #1 DENVER UNIVERSITY PIONEERS

The St. Cloud State University Huskies (15-14-1 | 9-10-1 ) travel to Denver, CO to face the Denver University Pioneers (22-6-4 | 14-3-3) in a challenging NCHC conference series Friday, Feb. 24 and Saturday, Feb. 25 at Magness Arena in Denver, CO.

Tickets: Tickets are available online or in person at through the Denver University Ticket Office Here

TV: Fri: CBS Sports Network | Sat: ALT 2 Sports

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

SCSU Weekly Release (PDF)

Other Links: CenterIceView Twitter | CenterIceView Website 

HEAD TO HEAD

The Huskies are 42-46-5 all-time vs the Pioneers dating back to 1988. They are 4-1-0 in the last five games and 6-4-0 in the last 10 games vs Denver. SCSU head coach Bob Motzko is 19-15-1 all-time against DU. SCSU split their last series with the Pioneers in St. Cloud on January 20/21 winning 3-2 in overtime on Friday and dropping the Saturday rematch 3-1. SCSU has a 5-5-0 record vs the Pioneers at Magness Arena in the last 10 games.

LAST SERIES

The Pioneers swept Miami University by identical 5-2 scores last weekend on the road in Oxford, OH. On Friday, the Pioneers outshot Miami 32 to 20 and were 2 for 3 on the man-advantage in the win. Will Butcher scored the game-winning goal at 13:56 of the third period and Tanner Jaillet stopped 18 of 20 Miami shots in the win. On Saturday, the Pioneers again used a strong third period scoring twice to defeat Miami 5-2. Troy Terry scored twice for the Pioneers including the game-winning goal at 6:30 of period two. Tanner Jaillet turned aside 23 of 25 shots on goal in earning the win and DU sweep of the weekend series.

The Huskies had a bye last weekend after sweeping the Miami RedHawks on home ice the previous weekend. SCSU won Friday 4-2 with Mikey Eyssimont getting the game-winner at 2:35 of period two. Ryan Poehling and Robby Jackson also added even strength goals and Jimmy Schuldt an empty netter in the win. Jeff Smith stopped 30 of 32 shots on goal in the win. In the rematch, SCSU fell behind early but tied the game on a power play goal by Jimmy Schuldt at 7:09 of period one. Jake Wahlin added an even strength goal and Jacob Benson an empty netter in the third to seal the win. Jeff Smith stopped 19 of 20 shots in picking up his 6th win since January 1.

UNIVERSITY OF DENVER PIONEERS

The #1 ranked Denver Pioneers have been one of college hockey’s top teams all season and are currently 14-3-3 in the NCHC two points ahead of UMD for the battle for the Penrose Cup with four games remaining. Most importantly, the Pioneers are ranked #1 in the Pairwise locking up a spot in the NCAA tourney and hosting the first round of the NCHC playoffs. They’ve accomplished this with a good mix of stingy defense, productive offense, strong goaltending and solid special teams numbers. Tanner Jaillet has been a significant key to their success currently ranked 3rd in college hockey in GAA at 1.83 and 11th in save percentage at .930 SV%.

The Pioneers have some elite offensive players in  first-year phenom Henrik Borgstron (15-14-29; 2 GWG, 7 PPG), Troy Terry (14-11-25; 4 GWG, 3 PPG), Dylan Gambrell (9-20-29; 1 GWG, 4 PPG) and Jarid Lukosevicius (11-11-22; 6 GWG, 5 PPG).

On defense, senior Will Butcher is a workhorse and has contributed 6-24-30 and is +24. He leads the squad in points. First-year player, Michael Davies is +14 and has added 3-7-10 and junior Adam Plant is +14 with 2-7-9.

Nationally, the Pioneers are ranked 17th in offense at 3.22 GPG and 2nd in defense allowing only 1.94 GPG. Special teams have been productive at 10th on the power play with a 21.5% success ratio and penalty kill 30th at 82.7%. The Pioneers tend to stay out of the penalty box averaging 10.56 minutes per game good for 53rd out of 60 teams.

ST. CLOUD STATE UNIVERSITY HUSKIES

The #18 ranked Huskies are beginning to make some noise the second half of the season. Currently ranked #12 in the Pairwise, they’ve accomplished that rise with wins over #1 Denver, #2 UMD, #16 UND, WCHA league champion Bemidji State and their first conference home sweep of the season vs Miami.

Unquestionably, the turnaround can be attributed to goaltending and team defense. Prior to the UMD series on January 13th, the Huskies allowed 3.55 goals per game. Since that time, they’ve allowed 1.90 goals per game despite allowing about three more shots per game (30.4 vs 27.6). The remarkable numbers appear when you consider the goaltending statistics. Since January 13th, the efforts of Jeff Smith and Zach Driscoll produced a combined save percentage of 93.7%. Compare that to the combined save percentage of 85.3% for the 18 games prior to that. Smith, who has played nearly all the games since the UMD series had a 81.5% save percentage for his first 12 games but an outstanding 93.7% in the 10 games since. With tutoring by former SCSU standout and goaltender coach, Mike Lee, it’s obvious his technique including positioning and angles has improved as has his conditioning and confidence. A “blocker” style goalie, he’s utilizing his 6’2″ frame much better in cutting the angles and yielding less of the goal to the shooters. The defensive unit has to be given credit for their improvement as well. A diverse group, they skate and move the puck well and do a nice job blocking shots. But, when called upon can play the physical game as well. Five of the seven defenseman are even or better in plus/minus with only Cholowski and Widman in the negative. The unit has also done their part contributing to the offense scoring 16 of the teams 87 goals (18%).

Challenges still remain on offense with the Huskies relying on their sophomore class to do most of the scoring. The sophomore class currently has 114 points consisting of 41 goals and 73 assists. Next is the Freshman class with 22 goals and 44 assists for 66 points. They are followed by the Junior class with 21 goals and 22 assists for 43 points and the senior class with 2 goals and 15 assists for 17 points. However, they’ve taken a step back since the first 18 games of the season scoring 2.30 goals per game vs 3.38 goals per game – obviously the strength of schedule has contributed to that.

Statistically, the Huskies have improved their goal differential allowing 2.78 GPG while scoring 2.90 GPG. Nationally, they are 29th in offense, 27th in defense, 15th on the power play (20%) and 27th on the penalty kill (83.3%). They are the least penalized team in college hockey incurring 8.73 minutes a game.

GAME PROSPECTUS

This is an extremely crucial series for the Huskies in terms of earning home ice for the first-round NCHC playoffs and their all important Pairwise rankings. A split with the Pioneers could move them as high as #9 in the PWR rankings with one weekend remaining in the regular season. Although theoretically they could still finish as high as third and as low as 7th in the NCHC standings it would require a total collapse by the Western Michigan Broncos in their final four games to finish third. Most likely, the Huskies will be battling Omaha and North Dakota (currently 2 points back) for the 4th and final home playoff position for the league playoffs.

Denver is a highly balanced squad with the ability to put up some offense and play stingy defense. The Huskies will need another strong performance out of Jeff Smith who stopped 59 out of 64 shots on goal (92%) in the Huskies last series with Denver. However, the Pioneers Tanner Jaillet was equally up to the task stopping 65 of 68 shots (95.5%) in the weekend split. Special teams may not be a major factor in this series as both squads tend to stay out of the penalty box. In the last series, Denver was 1 for 4 on the power play while the Huskies were 1 for 5.  In terms of game metrics, shot attempts and face-offs were fairly even in the last series.

With a sweep of the Huskies, the Pioneers could wrap up the Penrose Cup in front of their home crowd. On the other hand, the Huskies need a successful weekend in order to control their post-season destiny. The Pioneers Jaillet has not suffered back to back losses in a series all season. The Huskies need to solve Jaillet and need a strong game on Friday to get their weekend off right and not be playing with desperation on Saturday. Also, top forward Troy Terry was out of the lineup in the January series and he’ll be a player for the Huskies to contain. Since January 13th, the Huskies have played in five one-goal games and have averaged 2.30 goals per game. During that same period, Denver has averaged close to four goals per game. The Huskies are going to have to find a way to get the puck past Jaillet if they are to have success in this series. SCSU netminder, Jeff Smith needs to continue to perform as he has and the Huskies need to have success on special teams when given the opportunity.

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

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