Back to Work … Huskies Hit the Road to Face Omaha

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Jack Poehling battles for the puck in front of Omaha’s Evan Weninger (Photo Prout)

#2 St. Cloud State University Huskies (9-2-0 | 4-2-0 NCHC) vs  #20 Omaha Mavericks (6-5-1 | 1-3-0 NCHC)

TV: None
Live Stats: Omaha Mavericks
Live Stream: NCHC.TV($)
Radio: 96.7 FM (St. Cloud)  | 1180 AM (Omaha)
Tickets: Omaha Athletics
Where: Baxter Arena – Omaha, Nebraska
When: Friday, December 1– 7:07 PM CT | Saturday, December 2 – 7:07 PM CT

Last Time Out:

The Mavericks faced Northern Michigan University at Baxter Arena and posted a sweep of the weekend series with the Wildcats 4-3/4-1. In Friday’s contest, after falling behind 2-1,the Mavericks rattled off three straight goals in period two and then held on for the one-goal win. Four different Mavericks scored in the win with Luke Norgaard getting the game-winning goal. Evan Weninger stopped 27/30 SOG for the win. In the rematch, Omaha scored four goals to take a commanding 4-0 lead before the Wildcats could get on the board and then cruised to a 4-1 win. Zach Jordan and Frederic Olofsson both had two points on the evening to lead Omaha. Once again, Luke Norgaard had the game-winning goal and Evan Weninger stopped 25/26 SOG in the win.

After a frustrating sweep at the hands of #1 Denver University, the Huskies returned home and got back on track with a 6-1/5-1 sweep of the Colorado College Tigers.  On Friday, the Huskies mounted a dominant effort over then first-place Colorado College by a 6-1 score. The Huskies scored three times in period one, outshot the Tigers 46-22 and pretty much had their way with a CC team that had been playing some pretty good hockey thus far this season. Six different players scored for SCSU including Blake Lizotte who finally netted his first collegiate goal. Another first-year player, Easton Brodzinski had a goal and an assist in a strong effort and was named the games #1 star. Jeff Smith picked up the win in goal. The Saturday game was a much different contest as the Huskies had to rely on an explosion of four goals in the third period to put the dagger into the Tigers. Easton Brodzinski, Judd Peterson and Patrick Newell all went 1-1-2 and Jeff Smith stopped 22/23 shots on goal as the Huskies improved their record to 9-2-0 overall and 4-2-0 NCHC. Brodzinski was again named the games #1 star.

Last Time They Met:

The two squads last faced each other a year ago in St. Cloud. The teams split the series with Omaha capturing the Friday contest 3-1 and the Huskies rebounding for a 4-2 Saturday win. Teemu Pulkkinen scored the GWG for Omaha on Friday and Evan Weninger  stopped 40 of 41 SCSU SOG for the win. On Saturday Judd Peterson secured the GWG for the Huskies and Jeff Smith turned aside 22 of 24 SOG in the victory.

Going back to the 2010-11 season SCSU carries a 12-10-2 advantage over the Mavericks. The Huskies have won the last four contests in Omaha and are 3-2-0 in the last five and 8-2-0 in the last ten games.

Scouting the Omaha Mavericks:

A changing of the guard in Omaha saw long-time coach Dean Blais step aside and yield the coaching reigns to his associate head coach and UNO alumn Mike Gabinet. Although Gabinet has a reputation of placing more emphasis on the defensive end of the game consistency  will be there with 15 upperclassmen and just three freshman.  And, although the Mavs return five of their top seven scorers from 2016-17 they still lost 31 goals and 78 points from the departure of two players – prolific scorer Austin Ortega and offensive defenseman, Luc Snuggerud. Obviously, with a new coach comes a new team culture and direction but at least he can rely on a group of upperclassmen to guide this transition in 2017-18. Tyler Vesel, David Pope and Jake Randolph are all experienced and reliable forwards that have seen a lot of success over their three years including NCAA play and they should lead the team in the right direction.

Due to scheduling issues at Baxter Arena, the Mavericks have had a grueling start to the season with eight of the first ten games on the road. They’ve survived with a 3-5 record going 2-2 against ranked Notre Dame and UMass Lowell and 1-3 vs NCHC foes Colorado College and Western Michigan. Back in the friendly confines of Baxter Arena, Omaha rebounded for a nice non-conference sweep of the WCHA’s Northern Michigan last weekend and hopes that success carries over to their series with the #2 Huskies this weekend.

Thus far this season, the offense has been steered by upperclassmen including senior David Pope (7-6-13), junior Steven Spinner (4-6-10), junior Mason Morelli (3-7-10), senior Tyler Vesel (5-5-10) and junior Fredrik Olofsson (2-7-9). On defense, senior Joel Messner leads the unit with NHL draftees Ryan Jones ( Pittsburgh) and Dean Stewart (Arizona) and junior Jordan Klehr adding to the depth on the blue line.

Goaltending is a concern with both junior Evan Weninger and Kris Oldham both below a .90 SV%. Weninger has appeared in 10 games and has posted a 3.19 GAA and .895 SV%. Oldham has seen action in two games and has a 3.45 GAA and .882 SV%. Obviously the coaching staff is expecting better numbers out of their goaltenders.

Nationally,  Omaha’s offense has been productive netting 3.42 GPG. However, the defense has had its struggles allowing as many goals as it scores at 3.42 GPG ranking the Mavs 54th out of 60 teams.  Special teams are performing well with the power play a respectable 22.41% and the PK ranked 14th at 85.2%. They’ve limited their time in the penalty box ranked 44th averaging 10.33 minutes per game.

Scouting the SCSU Huskies:

Despite not having a single player on the top 20 national scoring chart the Huskies continue to be ranked #1 in offense in college hockey scoring an average of 4.27 goals per game. This is being accomplished by a well-balanced scoring attack with 18 of the 22 rostered players (excluding goaltenders) having scored at least one goal. In the last series with Colorado College SCSU had five players score their first goal of the season. It’s this depth that makes the Huskies interchangeable offense (25 different line combinations used this season) difficult to deal with particularly late in the game as the line depth tends to wear teams down. This is evidenced by SCSU outscoring their opponents 22 to 10 in the third period and having a perfect 5-0-0 record when leading after two periods. The most effective forward line combination thus far has been Ryan Poehling paired with Mikey Eyssimont and first-year forward Kevin Fitzgerald. This line has combined for 15 points.

Junior defenseman Jimmy Schuldt continues to lead the Huskies offense with 16 points and six multi-point games. Schuldt currently ranks tied for 22nd in national scoring.  At the forward position, Robby Jackson and Ryan Poehling are tied for second in team scoring with 13 points.  Jackson is tied for the team lead in goal scoring with Schuldt, Benson and Jack Poehling with 5 goals. Benson and Schuldt are tied for power play goals with three each. First-year forward Easton Brodzinski is beginning to show his scoring touch netting a goal in each game vs Colorado College and earning #1 Star of the game each night and NCHC Rookie of the Week following the series. First-year forward Kevin Fitzgerald has been outstanding both offensively and defensively and leads the rookies in scoring with 3-4-7 and a +5 rating.

Defensively, again, the Huskies are led by team captain Jimmy Schuldt and his outstanding play on both ends of the rink. Schuldt has propped up the defensive units plus/minus with his +15 while the unit as a whole is +34. Will Borgen has certainly ratcheted up his game with 8 points and a +7 rating and provides a physical element that causes the opponent to lose focus on the game.

Outstanding play by junior goaltender Jeff Smith cannot be minimized at all. Both his physical and mental preparedness this season is paying off with outstanding numbers. He is currently ranked #7 nationally in save percentage at 93.1% and #8 in goals against at 1.86. Smith is currently 6-1-0 and is methodically beginning to carry the load for the Huskies. However, first-year goaltender, David Hrenak has been a capable back up with a 3-1-0 record, .925 SV% and a 2.48 goals against. There is no lack of confidence by the team in inserting him into the lineup.

Nationally, the Huskies are #1 in offense scoring 4.27 GPG while only allowing 2.18 GPG good for 6th.The power play is ranked #5 at an eviable 27.27 % while the penalty kill lags somewhat ranked #38 at 79.5%. Uncharacteristically, the Huskies are ranked #27 in penalty minutes averaging 12.45 penalty minutes per game.

Game Prospectus:

Baxter Arena has not been an intimidating venue for SCSU with the Huskies winning the last four contests there and having posted a 8-2-0 record vs the Mavericks in the last ten games. Coming off a bye week it’ll be interesting to see how the Huskies perform early  in Fridays contest. The Mavericks have a highly experienced group of forwards with a productive offense and the Huskies will need to be sharp from the drop of the puck and not let the home crowd get involved in the contest. The Mavericks tend to score in bunches and against ranked opponents Notre Dame and UMass Lowell charged out to early leads which dictated the ultimate outcome of those games. On the flip side, UNO goaltending and team defense has been inconsistent and suspect at times as evidenced by a three goal or more loss margin four times this season. Getting to the goaltenders early and putting pressure on the Omaha defense will be a key to the Huskies success this weekend.

Despite the fact that Omaha will have the last line change I don’t see that as a factor due to the outstanding depth on all four lines of the Huskies. SCSU will need to keep themselves out of penalty trouble as the Mavericks have a productive power play and the penalty kill being one of the few areas needing improvement by SCSU. The #2 ranked Huskies have the advantage across the board in offense, defense and goaltending. However, if the experienced Mavericks can disrupt the flow of the game and turn this into a special teams battle it could work in their favor. For Omaha, the question is which team will show up? The squad that defeated Notre Dame and Lowell on the road or the team that lost to CC 4-0, Western Michigan 4-1 and tied Arizona State 4-4 on home ice.

The Huskies have the luxury of a completely healthy lineup allowing the SCSU coaching staff a lot of lineup options but creating the dilema as to who will be scratched on game day. A nice problem to have.

SCSU is 5-0-0 when Jacob Benson, Jack Poehling or Robby Jackson score. Nuff said.

No series is easy in the always tough NCHC conference. It should be no different this weekend  in Omaha. The Mavericks need some conference wins and the Huskies need to continue to their early season success which will go a long way as the Pairwise starts to become more and more relevant with the number of games played.

SCSU WEEKLY RELEASE

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