Showdown as #1 SCSU Hosts #3 Denver in Marquee Matchup

(Photo Prout)

St. Cloud, MN – In the marquee series of the weekend in college hockey, the #1 ranked Huskies host #3 Denver University at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in St. Cloud. The Huskies currently hold a five-point lead over Denver in the NCHC standings with four games remaining. A win and a tie this weekend could earn the Huskies another Penrose Trophy, their second since the inception of the league. In any case, this will be a good measuring stick for the Huskies who were swept in Denver earlier this season. It all becomes playoff hockey this time of year and this should be an extremely competitive series with two of the top teams in the country competing for a league title. 

#1 St. Cloud State University Huskies (20-6-4 | 14-4-2 NCHC) vs #3 Denver University Pioneers (17-7-6 | 11-5-4 NCHC)

TV: Fri: CBS Sports Network

TV: Sat: Fox Sports North | Fox College Sports

Live Stats: SCSU Athletics

Live Stream: NCHC.TV($)

Radio: 96.7 FM  | KVSC 88.1 FM

Tickets: SCSU Athletics

Where: Herb Brooks National Hockey Center – St. Cloud, MN

When: Friday, February 23 – 7:37 PM CT | Saturday, February 24 – 7:07 PM CT

Last Time Out:

The Pioneers faced in-state rival Colorado College splitting the weekend series with each squad winning on the opponent’s home ice. On Friday, Denver outshot the Tigers 40-20 and rang up  three goals in period two en route to a 5-1 win. Five different players scored for the Pioneers. In the Saturday rematch at Magness Arena, the Pioneers were shut out by a tremendous effort by CC goaltender Alex Leclerc who stopped all 40 shots in capturing the win.

The Huskies were on the road to Kalamazoo, MI to face Western Michigan in a venue never easy to play in. On Friday, Mika Ilvonen scored twice including the game-tying goal with 49 seconds remaining in regulation and Jimmy Schuldt added two goals including the second overtime winner to earn the extra league point as SCSU and WMU skated to a 5-5 overtime tie in Kalamazoo, MI. Their third period dominance shined again in the Saturday rematch rallying with three goals in a crucial 4-2 road win over the Western Michigan Broncos. All three Poehling brothers combined for the game tying goal and Mikey Eyssimont finished things off with two goals to improve SCSU’s overall record to 20-6-4 and NCHC record to 14-4-2

Last Time They Met:

The Huskies and Pioneers met earlier this season on November 10/11 in Denver with the Pioneers sweeping the weekend series by  scores of 4-2 and 5-1. In the Friday game, Jared Lukosevicius scored two consecutive goals to break open a 1-1 game as the Pioneers went on to a 4-2 (Empty Net Goal) win. The Saturday game was riddled with penalties – 12 on SCSU and 9 on Denver in a highly dysfunctional game due to the number of penalties. The lack of flow in the game certainly affected the Huskies as did the lack of success on the power play going 5-0 in the contest. Denver on the other hand was 3 for 8 on the man-advantage and that was the difference in the 5-1 outcome.

SCSU is 5-5-0 in the last 10 games vs Denver and 9-10-1 in the last 20. The Huskies are 7-2-1 vs Denver in the last 10 games on home ice.  Coach Motzko is 19-19-1 all-time vs the Pioneers.

Scouting the Denver Pioneers:

With a strong returning class of 10 upperclassmen, a high-octane offense and outstanding goaltending, the Denver Pioneers have been a favorite all season to make a serious run at their 9th national title in 2017-18. Certainly the Pioneers who had a 33-7-4 record last season had a target on their back in every series they played this season. A repeat national title hasn’t been accomplished since the 2004-05 season and despite all the talent on this Denver squad it’ll still be difficult to pull off. The Pioneers return 70% of their points from last season and 75% of their goals. Top offensive returnees Troy Terry (11-21-32), Henrik Borgstrom (18-21-39) and Dylan Gambrell (11-25-36) had an impressive 57 goals and 73 assists for 130 points in 2016-17. And, returning netminder Tanner Jaillet, a senior returns after an outstanding 2016-17 compiling 28 wins, a 1.84 GAA and .929 SV%. His current numbers are 1.99 GAA and .928 SV%.

A second tier of forwards including, Colin Staub (5-13-18), Jarid Lukosevicius (14-10-24), Liam Finlay (4-8-12), Logan O’Connor (6-10-16) and first-year player Jaako Heikkinen (7-4-11) add additional depth to supplement the scoring of Gambrell, Terry and Borgstrom.

Obviously, the departure of senior and Hobey winner Will Butcher was a huge loss to the defensive unit. However, the defense is still  rich with depth with senior, Tariq Hammond, senior Adam Plant, Michael Davies and Blake Hillman and newcomer Ian Mitchell and it’s a well-rounded  defense that can play both ends of the rink. The Defense is currently ranked #3 in the country and penalty kill #9.

The Pioneers schedule has been an ambitious one with college hockey’s 7th toughest schedule including road games at Notre Dame, Boston University and Boston College. Since January 1, they are 6-2-2 with losses to Miami on the road and Colorado College at home.

Current National Statistics:

Offense:   3.37 GPG (8th)
Defense:   2.07 GAPG (3rd)
Power Play:  22.14% (14th)
Penalty Kill:  84.54% (9th)
Penalties:  7.67(59th)

Scouting the SCSU Huskies:

The #1 ranked Huskies seem to have gotten over their hiccup in early January and have things back on track with a current undefeated streak of seven games. Most impressive is earning 11 of 12 league points in their consecutive road trips to Miami and Western Michigan. Nationally, the team statistics are pretty impressive with the offense ranked 2nd at 3.90 and the power play ranked 9th at 23.02%.

This team continues to spread its offense with 19 of 22 rostered players (excluding goaltenders) having at least one goal. Junior forward Robby Jackson has emerged as the team leader on the scoring chart with 14 goals and 20 assists for 34 points edging Mikey Essiymont with 14-18-32. Jackson has been one of the most consistent players as of late with eight points in the last six games. Mikey Eyssimont has stepped up his game as well with 8 points in the last six games.  Jimmy Schuldt continues to lead the defense in scoring with 31 points. Ryan Poehling has also been consistent offensively with 25 points. Easton Brodzinski continues to lead the rookies in goals with 12 goals and 7 assists for 19 points.Blake Lizotte has taken over the rookie scoring lead with 5-16-21.

Defensively, again, the Huskies are led by team captain Jimmy Schuldt and his play on both ends of the rink. Schuldt has propped up the defensive units plus/minus with his +22 while the unit as a whole is +62. However, the defense may have to survive the loss of Will Borgen to the Olympic games. Borgen is a key component to the penalty kill, logs a ton of minutes and is perhaps the Huskies best defensive player. His physical presence on the ice can be disruptive and /or intimidating to the opponent and his absence will be sorely missed. This will probably require Jon Lizotte to log additional minutes on defense. Borgen’s possible absence provides opportunity for additional ice time for Tyler Anderson, Mika Ilvonen and Clark Kuster. MIka Ilvonen has certainly responded to the challenge of additional ice time with 2 goals vs Western Michigan and being named NCHC defenseman of the week.

The Huskies are getting quality ice-time out of both goaltenders. David Hrenak returned with a 4-2 win in his last outing vs Western MIchigan stopping 20 of 22 shots on goal. His numbers are currently an outstanding 1.96 GAA and .927 SV%. Likewise, Jeff Smith has an outstanding record of 11-2-4 with the team finding a way to win while he is in goal. He’s currently .910 SV% and 2.62 GAA.

Current National Statistics

Offense:   3.90 GPG (2nd)
Defense:   2.50 GAPG (16th)
Power Play:  23.02% (9th)
Penalty Kill:  80.77% (34th)
Penalties:  9.83 (51st)

Game Prospectus:

As Coach Motzko related to me this week, this weekends series with Denver will be a good gauge as to where the Huskies stand among the elite teams in college hockey. The Huskies have lost five straight games to Denver and the Huskies need to reverse that trend. However, they are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games vs the Pioneers on home ice. There will be no deviation in strategy as they face Denver with the coaching staff just rolling lines and not looking to match lines. Coach Motzko would like to see Will Borgen back in the lineup. It’ll all be a matter of when he returns from South Korea. The Huskies will  need to find a way to stop Henrik Borgstrom who  has 5 goals and 3 assists for 8 points in 6 career games vs SCSU. Troy Terry, who may be a game time decision is another player who has had offensive success vs the Huskies. He has 9 points in seven career games vs the Huskies.

And then there is the issue of trying to solve DU netminder Tanner Jaillet who stopped 53/56 shots on goal for nearly a .95 SV% vs SCSU in November.

Both teams don’t take a lot of penalties and their last outing vs Denver with 21 combined penalties whistled is not the type of game either team would like to see. With a 7-3-4 road record, the Pioneers have been successful on the road this season. Likewise the Huskies have been very good on home ice with a 13-2-1 home record.

Keys for the weekend are as follows:

  • Limit the penalties. The last game with Denver had 21 penalties whistled. The Huskies don’t want to get in a special teams battle with Denver.
  • With players like Gambrell, Terry and Borgstrom, the Huskies need to tend to business on the back side and reign in their tendency to take chances at defense. In other words, a more conservative game back at defense.
  • Limiting penalties will allow the team to roll all four lines and take advantage of their ability to play on the big ice.
  • The offense has to attack the net and put pressure on Jaillet. He can be beat but not if the Huskies restrict their play to a perimeter game.

The Huskies can wrap up the league title with a win and tie this weekend. Denver will be primed for this rematch and will be brimming with confidence following their dominance in the last series in Denver in November. This will be an exciting series for the fans.

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