Huskies to Host #12 Western Michigan in Conference Play

(Photo Prout)

#2 St. Cloud State University Huskies (13-3-3 | 7-2-1 NCHC) vs #12 Western Michigan University Broncos (11-8-1 | 6-4-0 NCHC)

TV: SCSU Sports Network | Charter (426/823)
Live Stats: SCSU Athletics
Live Stream: NCHC.TV$
Radio: 96.7 FM The River | 88.1 KVSC
Tickets: SCSU Ticket Office
Where: Herb Brooks National Hockey Center-St. Cloud
When: Friday, Jan. 12 – 7:30 PM CT | Saturday, Jan. 13 – 7:00 PM CT
Western Michigan University Weekly Release
SCSU Hockey Weekly Release

St. Cloud, MN- The Huskies return to NCHC conference play with a two-game series with the Western Michigan University Broncos at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center this weekend. This series features the league-leading SCSU Huskies vs the fourth place WMU Broncos in what should be a very entertaining weekend matchup. The Huskies are currently in a battle with North Dakota in the NCHC standings and are tied with 22 points although the Huskies have two conference games in hand. Thus, another crucial league series for SCSU. 

 

Last Time Out:

The Broncos went 2-1 in their last three with a home split with Miami and road win vs the WCHA’s Bowling Green Falcons. The Broncos suffered a home loss to Miami on December 8th, yielding three straight goals to the Red Hawks in a 5-2 loss. Hugh McGing and Corey Schueneman picked up power play goals for the Broncos. Ben Blacker stopped 20 of 24 shots on goal in the loss. WMU outshot Miami 34-25 in the contest. In the rematch, the Broncos rallied from a 3-1 deficit to score two consecutive goals to tie the game and then the  OT winner 3:53 in the session to earn a nice comeback win over Miami. Wade Allison had the hat trick including the game-winning goal in overtime to lead the Broncos.

In non-conference play on December 28th, the Broncos rolled to a 4-0 lead in the first period and never looked back in a 5-2 win over the WCHA’s Bowling Green Falcons. First-year forward, Austin Rueschhoff scored twice in the win. Ben Blacker stopped 19 of 21 shots on goal.

The Huskies meanwhile had a home and home non-conference series with #10 ranked Minnesota.  SCSU added to the Gophers road misery on Saturday with a dominating 5-2 win at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center. The capacity crowd was treated to an outstanding offensive night by junior forward Mikey Eyssimont scoring twice and adding an assist to lead the #1 ranked Huskies to their 13th win of the season. Robby Jackson, Easton Brodzinski and Jack Ahcan added to the Gopher migraine with the other SCSU goals on the evening. Jeff Smith stopped 21 of 23 shots on goal to earn his 8th win of the season. In the Sunday rematch at Mariucci Arena, the Huskies ran into some solid goaltending as backup goaltender Mat Robson stopped all 34 shots thrown at him in a 2-0 (empty net goal) victory for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers. A goal waved off in the second period derailed a 1-0 SCSU lead as the Gophers snapped a five-game losing streak to the Huskies.

Scouting the Western Michigan Broncos:

I consider the Broncos one of my surprise teams of the 2017-18 season. This team was absolutely decimated following the 2016-17 season between early departures and graduations. In total, the offense lost 176 points (74 goals, 102 assists) including their top-three scorers from 2016-17. Underclassmen, Matheson Iacopelli, their leading scorer and Griffen Molino, their second-leading scorer and senior Sheldon Dries combined for 51 goals, 48 assists and 99 points last season. Dries was a four-year mainstay in the lineup and the heart and soul of this team during his tenure with the Broncos. Add to those losses the departure of German forward Frederik Tiffels (9 G, 12 A) to the Pittsburgh Penguins organization and it was just another dagger to the depth of the WMU team. In all, the Broncos saw the departure of 11 players making a re-load imperative for 2017-18. And re-load they did bringing in nine first-year players to try to bolster the depth on the team. And, although the first year players have not had a huge impact from a statistical standpoint, it’s required the squad place more responsibility on the junior and sophomore class at forward to lead the way. With only four seniors on this years team and three of them on defense, the team has responded surprisingly well at forward with Sophomores Wade Allison (15-13-28), Hugh McGing (6-16-22) and Dawson DiPietro (9-12-21) combining for 71 points thus far. Add in second-leading scorer, Colt Conrad (9-15-24) and the group of four is already near 100 points this season. Leading scorer, Wade Allison, a pure power forward, is having a career season thus far with 15 goals and leads the offense and has great chemistry with life-long friend Conrad.

On defense, the team retained much of their experience with a solid group of defenseman, led by senior captain Scott Moldenhauer and backed up by seniors Neal Goff and Paul Stoykewich. And, goaltending continues to be in the capable hands of sophomore Ben Blacker despite numbers clearly not where they need to be with a 2.77 GAA and .900 SV%. If there is a deficiency currently, it’s to firm up a defense ranked 30th in the country and allowing close to three goals per game.

Fortunately for the Broncos, the offense is scoring 3.5 goals per game but a scoring margin of .55 goals per game needs to be improved to have success the second half of the season. Special teams have mixed results with the power play only converting 18.69% of the time while the penalty kill has been solid at 83.19%.

One major departure this season is the emphasis placed on speed as opposed to the general notion that the Broncos recruit for size and NHL style toughness. It should be noticeable on the Olympic sized sheet of ice at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center this weekend.

With two wins over a high-quality Bowling Green team, a sweep at home of Denver, a sweep of Omaha and a 5-0 shutout of UMD this team can’t be taken lightly. They will be a factor in the NCHC the balance of the season.

Offense: 3.50 GPG (7th)
Defense: 2.95 GAPG (30th)
Power Play: 18.69% (30th)
Penalty Kill: 83.19 (18th)
Penalty Minutes: 14.20 (10th)

Scouting the SCSU Huskies:

The Huskies had a nine-game unbeaten streak snapped by the Gophers on January 7. However, the team is 2-1-3 in their last six games raising a concern about their ability lately to put teams away. Games against Princeton and the University of Minnesota found their opponents blocking a high number of shots leading one to believe the Huskies need to be stronger in the goal mouth area and pick up some dirty goals. Otherwise, most metrics show the Huskies outshooting their opponents, outscoring them in the third period and winning the face-off battles. Special teams continue to be ranked high nationally and the Huskies are converting nearly 25% of their man-advantage opportunities while turning away 84% of their opponents.

The Huskies well-balanced scoring attack with 19 of the 22 rostered players (excluding goaltenders) having scored at least one goal has them ranked third on the national chart for offense. It’s this depth that makes the Huskies interchangeable offense (32 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 in the third period by a wide margin and having a perfect 8-0-0 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 22 points and seven multi-point games. He also has 2 GWG and 4 PPG and is +20. Schuldt leads all NCAA blueliners with a scoring average of 1.15 points per game. At the forward position, Mikey Eyssimont is beginning to heat up his offensive play and has moved into second in team points and taken over the team lead in goal scoring with 8 goals has a +7 rating. Robby Jackson is close behind with 7-13-20. Jacob Benson, Jimmy Schuldt and Blake Winiecki are tied for power play goals with four each. First-year forward Easton Brodzinski is continuing to show his scoring touch with seven goalsto lead all first-year players. First-year forward Kevin Fitzgerald has been outstanding both offensively and defensively and leads the rookies in scoring with 4-8-12 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 +20 while the unit as a whole is +48. 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. Borgen was recently named to the roster of the 2018 USA Olympic hockey team. First-year defenseman Luke Jaycox is fully entrenched in the defensive unit and has been one of their most consistent and reliable players and is +5. Jon Lizotte is 2-6-8 and has an outstanding plus.minus of +15. 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 11th nationally in save percentage at 92.7% and 11th in goals against at 2.13. Smith is currently 8-1-3. However, Smith is being pushed by first-year goaltender, David Hrenak who has been a competitive back up with a 5-2-0 record, outstanding .948 SV% and a 1.71 GAA. He also has two shutouts in his five wins. There is no lack of confidence by the team in inserting him into the lineup. Hrenak was a member of Team Slovakia in the recent World Junior Tournament.

Nationally, the Huskies statistics are as follows:

Offense: 3.89 GPG (3rd)
Defense: 2.11 GPG (5th)
Power Play: 24.75% (8th)
Penalty Kill: 84.21% (14th)
Penalty Minutes: 11.53 (31st)

Game Prospectus:

This will be another rough and tumble weekend with a quality Western Michigan squad. Western Michigan has some susceptibility on defense but has outstanding offensive capabilities that can help shield some of the deficiencies on defense. WMU goaltender Ben Blacker has been a workhorse playing in 20 games thus far this season. However, his numbers are middle of the road and the Huskies offense needs to solve Blacker early and often and not let the WMU offense roll. Wade Allison is a horse and is having an outstanding season. He reminds me of former SCSU and NHLer forward Matt Hendricks in his style of play. He needs to be contained which will be a difficult task as he’s a heavy power forward and tough to contain. Again, the Huskies depth does surpass that of the Broncos which could wear them down as they’ve tended to do to teams. This Western Michigan squad is quicker than last years team and they should not have an issue with the larger ice surface in St. Cloud. They are the 10th most penalized team in the country and that could be a significant factor if they yield too many man-advantage opportunities to the Huskies. The Broncos are another team that does a nice job blocking shots and the Huskies will have to deal with that this weekend.

Most likely there will be few lineup changes for SCSU and it’s expected the goalie rotation will continue this weekend. I am not aware of any injuries to SCSU that will keep anyone out of the lineup this weekend.

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