SCSU to Face Surging Bulldogs in Key NCHC Series

(Photo Prout)

St. Cloud, MN – The Huskies return to conference play with a key road series with #9 ranked University of Minnesota Duluth this weekend. The Huskies maintain a four-point lead over the Bulldogs in the NCHC standings with two games in hand. Both squads were upended by MSU Mankato this past week with SCSU falling 5-2 to the Mavs and UMD edged by MSU 1-0 on Tuesday night.  SCSU looks to get back on the winning track after a 2-3-0 record since the start of the new calendar year.  

#3 /#5 St. Cloud State University Huskies (14-5-3 | 8-3-1 NCHC) vs #9/#13 UMD Bulldogs (13-10-3 | 7-7-0 NCHC)

TV: Fri: Fox Sports North | Channel Finder
TV: Sat: My9 (Duluth)

Live Stats: UMD Athletics

Video: NCHC.TV($)

Radio: 96.7 FM The River | 610 AM KDAL (Duluth)

Tickets: UMD Athletics

Where: AMSOIL Arena – Duluth, MN

When: Friday, January 26 – 7:00 PM CT | Saturday, January 27 – 7:00 PM CT

Last Time Out:

The Bulldogs faced the MSU Mavericks of the WCHA on Tuesday, January 23 and were edged 1-0 in a very close contest. In a very defensive oriented game, the Bulldogs were unable to gain any traction on offense being outshot 24-15 and getting edged 1-0 by WCHA leader Minnesota State. MSU’s Parker Tuomie scored the only goal of the game at 17:24 of period two to lead the Mavericks to their 19th win of the season.

The Huskies also faced Minnesota State last Saturday on Hockey Day Minnesota and suffered a convincing 5-2 loss to the Mavericks. MSU scored twice in period one and never yielded the lead in the win. Jon Lizotte and Robby Jackson scored for the Huskies in a losing effort. Starter in goal, Jeff Smith allowed three goals on ten shots and was relieved of duty after 26 minutes of play. David Hrenak finished the contest stopping  11 of 12 shots on goal.

Last Time They Met:

The Huskies last met the Bulldogs in a conference opening series in St. Cloud on November 3rd and 4th winning 5-3 and 5-0. On Friday, after a short week of practice following a trip to Orono, Maine UMD found themselves missing three top forwards and a defenseman yet pushed the Huskies deep into the third period before falling 5-3 at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center. After a tough battle with UMD to earn a 5-3 win Friday, the undermanned Bulldogs had little in the tank in the rematch and were unable to solve first-year goaltender David Hrenak who earned his first collegiate shutout in a 5-0 win. The banged up Bulldogs who were missing three key forwards and two defenseman lacked the horses to sustain three periods of play with the undefeated Huskies and ultimately fell victim to the relentless attack of the SCSU squad.

The two squads met five times during the 2016-17 season with the Bulldogs winning 4 of the 5 contests – two in overtime. They also met on January 28, 2017 in the championship game of the North Star Cup. The Huskies carried a 1-0 lead into the third period but the Bulldogs tied the game early in the third period on a goal by Alex Iafallo. The game proceeded to overtime and the game-winner was scored by the Bulldogs Kyle Osterberg for a 2-1 win.

The Huskies are 66-49-9 all-time vs UMD and 63-45-8 in the Division One Era. The Huskies carry a 3-2-0 advantage in the last five games and are 4-6-0 in the last 10. SCSU is 6-3-1 in the last 10 meetings in Duluth.

Scouting the University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs:

The Bulldogs are rebuilding after the loss of 10 players from last years squad. This group included 7 seniors and 3 others who signed NHL contracts.  Between graduation and signings the Bulldogs lost 234 points from last years squad including six of the top ten scorers. They also lost five starting defenseman. To compound matters, the Bulldogs also lost first-year goaltender Hunter Miska to an NHL signing. Miska had an outstanding season with a 27-5-5 record, 2.19 GAA and .920 SV%. Other key losses were the early defections of defenseman Neal Pionk and forward Adam Johnson who would have played key leadership roles for the Bulldogs this season.

These losses required the UMD coaching staff to bring in 10 first-year players, the most for the Bulldogs since the 2005-06 season. Certainly there is a lot of talent left on this Bulldog team but it has shifted from a team dominated by upperclassmen to one of a large number of underclassmen. As evidence of the young talent on this squad, they had five players on this year’s world junior team including Joey Anderson, Mikey Anderson, Dylan Samberg, Riley Tufte and  Scott Perunovich.  As opposed to last season scoring early on is dominated by underclassmen with 6 of the 10 top scorers in the freshman or sophomore class.

Top first-year players to keep an eye on are 6’4″ 215 pound defenseman Dylan Samberg (0-5-5), 5’10 170  Scott Perunovich (6-17-23) and 6’0′ 200 pound Mikey Anderson (3-11-14), the brother of top forward Joey Anderson. Samberg, a future NHLer can play physical with a nasty streak but can play the offensive game as well. Perunovich is an undersized defenseman but is highly skilled, the leading points scorer and becoming a key player on the UMD power play. Mikey Anderson also plays well on both ends of the rink and can add offense as well. First-year forward Nick Swaney is another highly touted recruit and despite being in and out of the lineup due to injuries has 3 goals and 10 assists for 13 points. Riley Tufte, the first-round pick of the Dallas Stars has had a nice start to the season with a team leading 12 goals and 7 assists for 19 points. Another sophomore, Joey Anderson is a highly talented forward who has had a fairly slow start to the season with 5 goals and 111 assists for 16 points.

In goal, the Bulldogs have had the task of replacing Hunter Miska. Thus far, Hunter Shepard has done a nice job stepping into the starting role compiling a 13-8-1 record, 2.36 GAA and .911 SV%.

Nationally, the Bulldogs statistics are as follows:

Offense:   3.04 GPG (22nd)
Defense:   2.54 GAPG (15th)
Power Play:  24.74% (7th)
Penalty Kill:  79.65% (40th)
Penalties:  11.50 (32nd)

Scouting the St. Cloud State University Huskies:

The SCSU Huskies are leaking oil and they need some repairs.  Since January 1, the #5 (USCHO) | #3 (US College Hockey/USA Today) Huskies are 2-3 including two losses on their home ice. If we go back to the Princeton series to end calendar year 2017 they are 2-3-2. They took another punch to the gut on Saturday in front of a near capacity crowd celebrating Hockey Day Minnesota in St. Cloud with a disturbing 5-2 loss to the WCHA’s MSU Mavericks.

Games against Princeton, University of Minnesota, Western Michigan and MSU Mankato found their opponents blocking a high number of shots leading one to believe the Huskies need to be grittier around 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. The offense and power play rank high nationally. The penalty kill has dipped to #39 nationally.  However, going back to the Minnesota series, the Huskies have only converted  4 of 26 for a 15.3% success ratio. Not good and that must improve. Discipline needs to be a priority as the Huskies enter the tail end of their conference schedule.

The Huskies well-balanced scoring attack with 19 of the 22 rostered players (excluding goaltenders) having scored at least one goal has them ranked first on the national chart for offense. It’s this depth that makes the Huskies interchangeable offense (33 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 (37-20)  and having a perfect 9-0-0 record when leading after two periods.

Junior defenseman Jimmy Schuldt continues to lead the Huskies defense with 23 points and eight multi-point games. He also has 2 GWG and 4 PPG and is +16. Schuldt has dropped to third in NCAA blueliners with a scoring average of 1.04 points per game. At the forward position, Mikey Eyssimont is beginning to heat up his offensive play and has moved into a tie for the team lead with Robby Jackson at 24 points. But, he has yielded the goal scoring lead to Robby Jackson with 10 goals and a +9 rating. Jacob Benson, Jimmy Schuldt, Blake Winiecki and Mikey Eyssimont are tied for power play goals with four each. First-year forward Easton Brodzinski is continuing to show his scoring touch with eight goals to lead all first-year players. In the last 13 games he has 7 goals and 6 assists for 13 points. Another first-year player, Blake Lizotte has been on a run lately with 2 goals and 5 assists for 7 points in the last five games.

Defensively, again, the Huskies are led by team captain Jimmy Schuldt and his strong play on both ends of the rink. Schuldt has propped up the defensive units plus/minus with his impressive +16 while the unit as a whole is +43. Will Borgen has certainly ratcheted up his game with 10 points and a +8 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 3-7-10 and has a plus.minus of +10. First-year goaltender, David Hrenak has quietly emerged as a key component of the goalie rotation. Hrenak is currently second nationally in save percentage at 94.9% and first in GAA at 1.54. Jeff Smith is currently ranked 27th in save percentage at 91.3% and 31st in GAA at 2.54.

Nationally, the Huskies statistics are as follows:.

Offense: 3.86 GPG (1st)
Defense: 2.50 GPG (13th)
Power Play: 23.36% (9th)
Penalty Kill: 79.76 (39th)
Penalty Minutes: 11.09 (40th)

Game Prospectus:

The importance of this series and the need for the Huskies to begin to gain momentum as they tend to the last six conference series of the season can’t be emphasized enough. It’s hard to believe that “work ethic and compete” would be an issue for this team but those were the words of Junior Robby Jackson after the loss to MSU Mankato. I can’t help but feel the Huskies need to be a grittier team and put in some of the dirty work around the opponent’s goal. A common thread since the Princeton series is the amount of success teams have had that are blocking a high number of SCSU shots on goal. Again, a stronger effort around the opponent’s goal seems to be one answer.

The Bulldogs are a completely different squad than the undermanned team the Huskies swept in early November. Since December 9th, the team is 6-1-1 with the only loss this past Tuesday vs a strong MSU Mankato team. The youngsters on the Bulldogs are no longer trying to find their footing in the competitive NCHC. The five players who competed for Team USA in the World Junior tournament have returned with confidence and a new level of resolve to compete for the NCHC title. Just six points out of first place, the Bulldogs can easily place themselves in the position of league contender with a successful weekend vs the Huskies.

The Huskies continue to be in fine shape currently ranked #3 in the Pairwise and should remain in the top 16 by seasons end with their strength of schedule. However, the issue is not whether they remain in solid Pairwise position but how they are playing as we head towards the playoffs.

Several keys for the Huskies this weekend are as follows:

  • Get back to disciplined play. If they get into penalty issues this weekend the Bulldogs will may them pay with their strong power play.
  • Improve their special teams play – both the power play and penalty kill. The penalty kill has dipped to 39th nationally and is now below 80%. The power play has converted less than 16% since the Minnesota series. Both need to improve.
  • The Huskies continue to send a lot of shot attempts at their opponent. The problem is a high number of the shots are being blocked by their opponent. Stronger play around the goal mouth is needed.
  • Judd Peterson returns to Duluth for his last regular season series. A strong effort by Peterson would be welcomed.
  • David Hrenak appears to have secured the #1 position in goal. Jeff Smith has had his struggles lately. A start by Hrenak on Friday would be my choice.

The results after this weekend will indicate a lot as to the direction both teams are heading. This should be a well-attended series and a great hockey environment at Amsoil Arena. The Bulldogs will certainly look to provide some pay back after being swept in St. Cloud in November. I expect a strong effort by a much-improved Bulldog squad this weekend. An “A” game by the Huskies will be needed in order to be successful in Duluth.

 

 

 

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