Early Season Showdown Features #2 SCSU vs #5 North Dakota

(Photo Prout)

#2 St. Cloud State University Huskies (11-2-0 | 6-2-0 NCHC) vs  #5 North Dakota Fighting Hawks  (10-4-4 | 5-2-1 NCHC)

TV: FSN | Fox College Sports
Live Stats: SCSU
Live Stream: NCHC.TV($)
Radio: 96.7 FM (St. Cloud)  | 88.1 KVSC (St. Cloud)
Tickets: SCSU Athletics
Where: Herb Brooks National Hockey Center – St. Cloud, MN
When: Friday, December 8– 7:37 PM CT | Saturday, December 9 – 7:07 PM CT

The #2 ranked St. Cloud State University Huskies wrap up 2017 conference play hosting the #5 University of North Dakota. The weekend series will pit the two current front-runners in the conference in a battle for first place. SCSU currently leads the Fighting Hawks by a single point in the league standings.

Last Time Out:

After a frustrating non-conference home series with Union College with a loss and a tie, the Fighting Hawks turned things around last weekend with a sweep of a very tough Western Michigan squad by scores of 4-3 and 4-1. In a back and forth game on Friday there were five goals scored in period one with UND taking a 3-2 lead. The Fighting Hawks held on for an eventual  5-3 win with the GWG scored by Collin Adams. Cam Johnson returned in goal for UND and stopped 18 of 21 SOG for the win. On Saturday, after falling behind 1-0, UND rallied for four straight goals in the 4-1 win. Cole Smith had the game-winning goal and Cam Johnson stopped 19 of 20 SOG for his second consecutive win.

The Huskies traveled to Omaha and completed a sweep of the Mavericks by 7-4 and 5-0 scores. On Friday, after charging out to a 5-2 second period lead, the Huskies left the door open and yielded two early third period goals requiring a rally by SCSU to capture the win. Mikey Eyssimont and Jake Wahlin scored twice and Ryan Poehling scored the game-winning goal as the Huskies won their 10th game of the season. First-year forwards Kevin Fitzgerald and Easton Brodzinski added the other goals in the victory. Jeff Smith stopped 40 of 44 shots on goal to capture the win. In the rematch, Jake Wahlin scored his third goal of the weekend including the game-winner and David Hrenak earned a shutout stopping 40 shots on goal as the Huskies defeated Omaha 5-0 for a sweep of the weekend series. Four players had a multi-point game for SCSU including Mikey Eyssimont (0-2-2) Jimmy Schuldt (0-2-2) Jon Lizotte (1-1-2) and Jake Wahlin (1-1-2).

Last Time They Met:

UND ended the Huskies 2016-17 season with 5-2 and 6-5 (ot) losses in Grand Forks in the NCHC playoffs. In all, the Huskies lost five of six contests vs UND during the 2016-17 season. On November 18/19 the Fighting Hawks did not allow a goal by SCSU in two consecutive shutouts by scores of 4-0 and 3-0 at the HBNHC. In February, in North Dakota, the Huskies earned their only win by a 3-1 score only to lose the rematch in overtime 2-1.

North Dakota leads the all-time series at the Division I level 71-40-12. Bob Motzko has a 18-30-6 record vs the Fighting Hawks. SCSU is 1-4-0 in the last 5, 3-7-0 in the last 10 and 8-11-1 in the last 20 games vs UND. SCSU is 4-6 in the last 10 games vs UND at the Hern Brooks National Hockey Center.

Scouting the North Dakota Fighting Hawks:

The resilient Fighting Hawks lost 200 points following the 2015-16 season and another 100 points due to departures of Tyson Jost, Brock Boeser and Tucker Poolman from last years squad. Despite the losses, the Fighting Hawks are in the thick of the battle in the NCHC and currently ranked #5 nationally. Coach Brad Berry commented “Obviously, losing good players that we have, we have very good players in our group here that have gotten a year older, we’ve got some good young players that have come in for their first year here, and I think it’s an opportunity for them to showcase that they can be that guy.”

The Fighting Hawks have several players they are counting on to lead the squad from an offensive standpoint and from a team leadership standpoint. Four-year regular and senior Austin Poganski, a St. Cloud native put up 25 points in 2016-17 and was named captain of this years team. Junior, Shane Gersich led last years squad in scoring with 21 goals and 16 assists and has 5-6-11 so far this season. Joel Janatuinen is another junior forward being counted on for some offense this season. Probably the biggest surprise so far is the offense that junior defenseman Christian Wolanin has provided being tied for the lead in team scoring with 5 goals and 9 assists for 14 points. Ohio State transfer Nick Jones has been a good contributor as well  with 6-7-13.

North Dakota brought in seven freshman in 2017-18  and several have made an immediate impact. Grant Mishmash is a second round NHL draft choice and currently is tied for the team lead in scoring with five goals and nine assists for 14 points. First-year forward Collin Adams has five goals as well including 2 game-winning goals.

At goaltender, Cam Johnson returns for his senior season after winning 20 games in 2016-17. After missing several games due to injury, he returned last weekend to post two wins and improve his record to 7-2-1. His goaltender statistics are equally outstanding with a 1.71 GAA (5th nationally) and .921 SV% (13th nationally). Backup Peter Thome was inserted for 8 games and was an adequate replacement  with a 3-2-3 record and 2.56 GAA and .907 SV%.

This years squad, out of necessity, has been forced into a greater team mentality with scoring throughout the lineup as opposed to potent scoring from several individual players. That is evidenced by the fact that they don’t have a single scorer in the top 40 nationally currently.

Nationally, the Fighting Hawks  team statistics are as follows:

Offense: 2.94 GPG (23rd)  
Defense: 2.17 (5th)
Power Play: 20.51% (23rd)
Penalty Kill: 87% (8th)
Penalty Minutes per Game: 12 (32nd)

Scouting the SCSU Huskies:

The Huskies well-balanced scoring attack with 19 of the 22 rostered players (excluding goaltenders) having scored at least one goal has them perched on top of the national chart for offense.  It’s this depth that makes the Huskies interchangeable offense (28 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 27 to 12 in the third period and having a perfect 7-0-0 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 is having a Will Butcher type season and continues to lead the Huskies offense with 19 points and seven multi-point games. He also has 2 GWG and 3 PPG. Schuldt currently ranks tied for 14th in national scoring.  At the forward position, Robby Jackson continues his productive ways and has moved into second in team scoring with 6 goals and 10 assists for 16 points including 2 power play goals. Ryan Poehling is third in team scoring with 4-11-15 and he has a +8 rating. Jackson is tied for the team lead in goal scoring with Jack Poehling with 6 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 adding another goal last weekend vs Omaha. First-year forward Kevin Fitzgerald has been outstanding both offensively and defensively and leads the rookies in scoring with 4-5-9 and a +6 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 impressive +22 while the unit as a whole is +48. Will Borgen has certainly ratcheted up his game with 8 points and a +6 rating and provides a physical element that causes the opponent to lose focus on the game. First-year defenseman Luke Jaycox is fully entrenched in the defensive unit and has been one of their most consistent and reliable players.

Outstanding play by junior goaltender Jeff Smith continues. Both his physical and mental preparedness this season is paying off with outstanding numbers. He is currently ranked 9th nationally in save percentage at 92.7% and 14th in goals against at 2.13. Smith is currently 7-1-0.  However, Smith is being pushed by first-year goaltender, David Hrenak who has been a competitive back up with a 4-1-0 record, .959 SV% (1st nationally) and a 1.50 GAA (3rd nationally). He also has two shutouts in his four wins including a 40 save effort last weekend vs Omaha.  There is no lack of confidence by the team in inserting him into the lineup.

Nationally, the Huskies statistics are as follows:

Offense: 4.54 GPG (1st)
Defense: 2.15 GPG (5th)
Power Play: 27.42% (3rd)
Penalty Kill: 81.1% (32nd)
Penalty Minutes: 12.08 (T 28th) 

Game Prospectus:

This should be another outstanding conference series. Both teams are playing their last league contests until January. It will probably be the largest crowds of the season and ample legions of green to rival the noise of the Huskies faithful. The Huskies are looking to rebound from a poor showing vs the Fighting Hawks in 2016-17 losing five of six games. North Dakota has not found the HBNHC an intimidating place to play as they’ve won six of the last ten games at this venue. The Huskies enter this series with a much more potent offense statistically and an outstanding scoring margin of 2.39 vs North Dakota’s margin of  less than a goal. Both teams defense has been equally responsible only allowing close to 2 goals per game.

Both teams have excellent depth and according to coach Motzko “They play to their strength which is their depth and strong defense. They play a strong team game. They knocked us out of the playoffs last year and let’s find out how much we’ve closed the gap. It sets up for a great conference series.”

This should be a strong north/south skating series if UND allows the Huskies to play their usual style of game. It’ll be interesting to see the matchups in depth and whether the Huskies can wear down the Fighting Hawks by period three as they’ve done to most opponents this season. Having Cam Johnson back is a big plus for North Dakota as he shut out the Huskies in the two meetings at the HBNHC last season. Austin Poganski will be returning to St. Cloud for his last regular season games vs the Huskies. Look to Poganski to have a strong weekend vs SCSU. On the flip side of the coin, Jon Lizotte and Jacob Benson are from Grand Forks have been very effective vs the Fighting Hawks. Expect both of these players to have an impact in this series.

The Huskies need to play with confidence and win the battle of special teams. This is a series where the upperclassmen need to be leaders and be on top of their game. It should be an exciting series for the fans and a fitting conclusion to the first half of the conference season.


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