Frozen Faceoff Preview 2018

(Photos Prout)

2018 Frozen Faceoff – March 16-17, 2018 | Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul, MN

Friday, March 16 – 4:08 PM CT: #1 St. Cloud State University Huskies vs #4 University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks

Friday, March 16 – 7:37 PM CT: #2 Denver University Pioneers vs #3 University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs

Saturday, March 17 – 3:08 PM CT (Third Place) | 7:38 PM CT (Championship)

TV: All games are on CBS Sports Network with the exception of the third place game which will be streamed on NCHC.tv

NCHC Quarterfinals – How They Got Here:

  • #1 St. Cloud State won 2 of 3 vs Miami (5-2 | 2-3 ot | 4-3 ot)
  • #2 Denver won 2 of 3 vs Colorado College (0-2 | 3-2 | 6-1)
  • #3 University of MN – Duluth swept Western Michigan (5-0 | 2-0)
  • #4 North Dakota swept Omaha (4-0 | 4-3 ot)

Team Profiles

Denver University Pioneers (20-9-8 | 12-6-6 NCHC) Pairwise: #5

Perhaps one of the most balanced teams in college hockey, the Pioneers enter the tournament with some inconsistency in their play. Last season they entered the Frozen Faceoff with a 13 game unbeaten streak. They’ve had a target on their back all season and the road has not been quite as smooth. In their last 13 games, their record is 6-3-4 and prior to the NCHC quarterfinal series with Colorado College they were 1-3-2 in the prior six games. They are making their 5th consecutive appearance in the Frozen Faceoff. This team can beat you with their offense and they can shut you down with their defense allowing only 2.11 goals per game.

Team Statistics (National Stats):

  • Defense #6 – 2.11 GPGA
  • Offense #9 – 3.30 GPG
  • Power Play #14 – 22.%
  • Penalty Kill #20 – 84.6%
  • Penalties #59 – 8.05

The Pioneers present several of the most explosive forwards in the NCHC in Florida Panther’s 1st round draft choice Henrik Borgstrom (21-28-49), 2nd round San Jose Sharks draftee Dylan Gambrell (12-29-41) and 5th round Anaheim Ducks draft choice Troy Terry (13-30-43). As if that wasn’t enough, the Pioneers then throw a second wave of productive offensive players in Jarid Lukosevicius (19-13-32), Logan O’Connor (7-11-18) and Colin Staub (6-15-21). First-year player, Borgstrom simply makes defenders look silly at times and is deadly on the power play with seven power play goals. Terry leads the team in assists with 30 and is +19. Lucosevicius has 3 game-winning goals and 10 power play goals.

Defensively, the Pioneers are college hockey’s sixth ranked defensive team accomplished with one of college hockey’s top goaltenders in Tanner Jaillet and a dedication to strong team defensive play. Jaillet has an outstanding record of 19-8-7 and has only been beaten in back to back games once all season. His goals against is currently a stingy 1.90 ranking him 4th in college hockey and his save percentage is .927 good for 8th. Ian Mitchell (2-22-24 +12), Adam Plant (5-4-9 +11), Michael Davies (1-7-8 +16) and Blake Hillman (3-9-12 +7) lead a defense that is tops in the conference.

Individual Honors  

  • Henrik Borgstrom – NCHC  All-Conference 1st Team, NCHC regular season scoring leader, Finalist NCHC Player of the Year, NCHC Forward of the Year Finalist
  • Dylan Gambrell –  NCHC All-Conference 2nd Team, NCHC Three Stars Award Finalist
  • Tanner Jaillet – NCHC All-Conference 1st Team, Mike Richter Award Semi Finalist, NCHC Goaltender of the Year Finalist
  • Troy Terry – NCHC All-Conference 2nd Team
  • Ian Mitchell – NCHC Rookie of the Year Finalist, NCHC All-Rookie Team

Coach | Player Quotes

Jim Montgomery – “It’s great to be back in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff. It’s always a terrific event. We need to find desperation – hopefully we play inspired hockey and have more success than the last three years. This team (UMD) scares us. They are so good that we prepare at a high level for them. They scare us to play the right way. It’s nice as a coach to have players that are difference makers. Gambrell, Borgstrom and Terry are special people and care about the team and their teammates. These three are also trying to pull their teammates in the right direction.”

Tariq Hammond – “We’ve had a target on our back all year. It inspires us to play our best. It’s a different mind set once you get in the tournament. We need to make sure our young players are prepared.”

University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs (23-6-7 | 15-5-4 NCHC) Pairwise #8

This team is the polar opposite of last years squad that won the Frozen Faceoff and advanced to the finals of the Frozen Four. Last years roster included 13 upperclassmen that brought depth and experience and it paid off in an outstanding season. This season the team is relying on ten first-year players and 18 underclassmen to lead their charge. With an outstanding group of youngsters including five that were on the World Junior team, they’ve gotten stronger as the season has progressed. Since January 1st the team is 12-5-0 and have won 7 of their last 8 games.This is the Bulldogs third straight Frozen Faceoff appearance and they are looking to defend their 2017 Frozen Faceoff Championship.

Team Statistics (National Stats):

  • Defense #6 – 2.11 GPGA
  • Offense #13 – 3.18 GPG
  • Power Play #6 – 24.7%
  • Penalty Kill #9 – 84.7%
  • Penalties #36 – 11.29

With only two players in the top 20 conference scoring, the Bulldogs rely on a balanced scoring attack with 12 players scoring 5 or more goals. Additionally, six of the top ten scorers on the team are underclassmen. Leading the pack is first-year defenseman, Scott Perunovich, who is having an outstanding year. He leads the team in points with 10-24-34.  Alaska transfer Peter Krieger improved from 4-16-20 in his last year with the Nanooks to 11-19-30 thus far this season and is second in points on the squad. Sophomore and first-round drat choice Riley Tufte leads the Bulldogs in goal scoring with 16 and has added 12 assists. Joey Anderson and Karson Kuhlman are both in double digits in goals with 10 and 11 respectively. The Bulldogs offense is ranked 13th in the country and the power play #6.

Defensively, the Bulldogs have gone from one of the most experienced units in college hockey in 2016-17 with five seniors on the blue line to one of the youngest in the NCHC with 5 first-year players and 3 sophomores. However, they’ve hardly taken a step backwards with the 6th ranked defense in college hockey allowing only 2.11 goals per game.Again, first-year defenseman, Scott Perunovich not only leads the units in points but also leads the team in plus/minus with a +19. Joining him on this quality defensive unit are fellow World Junior team members Dylan Samberg (1-9-10 +3) and Mikey Anderson (4-16-20 +9). Sophomore Nick Wolff brings both toughness and offense at the blue line and is 6-6-12 and +7.

In what appeared to be a huge question mark at the start of the season in goal has resolved itself quite nicely for the Bulldogs. Sophomore netminder Hunter Shepard went from playing in two games last season to 35 games this season and he has emerged as one of the top goaltenders in the conference making the NCHC All-Conference second team. His 1.92 GAA and .927 SV% rank him third in the NCHC in both categories.

Individual Honors     

  • Scott Perunovich – NCHC All-Conference 1st Team, NCHC Rookie of the Year Finalist, NCHC Offensive Defenseman of the Year Finalist, NCHC All-Rookie Team
  • Hunter Shepard – NCHC All-Conference 2nd Team, Mike Richter Award Semi-Finalist
  • Scott Sandelin – NCHC Coach of the Year Finalist
  • Nick Wolff – NCHC Defensive Defenseman of the Year Finalist
  • Karson Kuhlman – NCHC Defensive Forward of the Year Finalist, NCHC Sportsmanship Finalist

Coach | Player Quotes

Scott Sandelin – “It’s nice we have an opportunity to go down there and defend the championship. This is another opportunity to win a trophy and that’s important. Obviously they (Denver) are a great team. They have difference makers and are a good puck possession team with good defenders. It’s a good challenge for us.You have to find ways to elevate your game playing good teams. I expect another tight game.”

Karson Kuhlman  – “Last year taught us a lot. We got the train rolling after the guys came back from the World Junior Tournament. We’re going in confident and playing good hockey right now. They (Denver) are a great team with a lot of high end skill. We need to focus on what we are doing and playing our system and structure and things will go our way.”

St. Cloud State University Huskies (22-10-5 | 13-9-2 NCHC) Pairwise #1

The number one ranked and Pairwise Huskies are making their third appearance in the Frozen Faceoff having won the tournament in 2015-16. They enter the tournament as the regular season conference Penrose champions and are a lock as a number #1 seed in the NCAA tournament. A young team with only three seniors, the Huskies have a very experienced junior class, a productive sophomore class and a highly touted freshman class that includes three players on the NCHC All-Rookie team. After losing 4 of 7 games in January, the Huskies have rebounded nicely with an 8-1-3 record. Their only blemish being an overtime loss to Miami in the NCHC quarterfinals last weekend. With college hockey’s second ranked offense scoring nearly 4 goals per game and the top scoring margin in the conference the Huskies will be one of the favorites entering the tournament.

Team Statistics (National Stats)

  • Defense #14 – 2.46 GPGA
  • Offense #2 – 3.76 GPG
  • Power Play #9 – 23.5%
  • Penalty Kill #36 – 80.33%
  • Penalties #55 – 9.04

With a well-balanced scoring attack, mobile defensemen, strong goaltending and great depth, the Huskies appear to be built for a successful run in tournament play this season. Team leader, Jimmy Schuldt is having a season rivaling and exceeding what Denver’s outstanding defenseman Will Butcher compiled last season. Schuldt’s numbers exceed Butcher’s in points, power play goals and game-winning goals. Schuldt is currently third in team points only 4 points back of team leader Robby Jackson. Jackson (15-27-42) leads the team in points but NCHC All-Second team  selection Mikey Eyssimont currently has the scoring lead with 17 goals. Both have significantly stepped up their play the second half of the season. Others that have made major contributions the second half of the season are Ryan Poehling with 11 points in his last 12 games, Blake Lizotte, 15 points in the last 18 games and Easton Brodzinski with 9 points in the last 13 games. Brodzinski leads the rookies with 13 goals.

Defensively, the Huskies have good depth but rely primarily on their top four defenseman, Schuldt, Borgen, Ahcan and Jon Lizotte to log the majority of minutes. All bring different attributes to the table with Schuldt a highly offensive defenseman, Borgen, who brings toughness and physicality at the blue line, Lizotte who brings a blue-collar approach to his game and excels both offensively and defensively and Ahcan, a puck moving defenseman that brings offensive skill from the back end. Combined the unit as a whole has a +68 rating led by Lizotte at +22 and Schuldt at +21.

First-year netminder and NCHC Rookie of the Year finalist, David Hrenak has emerged as the #1 goaltender and has started the last 8 games after being platooned with Junior Jeff Smith for much of the season. He’s currently 2nd in GAA in the NCHC at 1.94 and 1st in save percentage at .929. Jeff Smith has a 11-2-4 overall record and is 5th in the conference in GAA at 2.84 and 4th in save percentage at .901.

Individual Honors   

  • Jimmy Schuldt – All-Conference 1st Team, NCHC Player of the Year Finalist, NCHC Offensive Defenseman of the Year Finalist
  • Mikey Eyssimont – All Conference 2nd Team
  • Will Borgen – Honorable Mention All-Conference, NCHC Defensive Defenseman of the Year Finalist
  • Robby Jackson – Honorable Mention All-Conference
  • David Hrenak – Honorable Mention All-Conference, NCHC Rookie of the Year Finalist, NCHC All-Rookie Team, Mike Richter Award Semi-Finalist
  • Bob Motzko – NCHC Coach of the Year Finalist
  • Judd Peterson – NCHC Sportsmanship Award Finalist
  • Blake Lizotte – NCHC All-Rookie Team
  • Easton Brodzinski – NCHC All-Rookie Team

Coach | Player Quote

Bob Motzko – “We’re very excited to be back in the Frozen Faceoff at the Xcel Energy Center. With UND and UMD it has a midwest feel like the old days. The rivalry (with UND) is strong – we know exactly what type of game we get from them. Intensity – you’ll see it this weekend.  There’s excitement with the fans. We’re all excited to get down there.

Jimmy Schuldt –  “We know each game is going to be a battle. We just want to focus on one game at a time. It’s special for me (being from the twin cities) to play in the Frozen Faceoff.”

UNIVERSITY OF NORTH DAKOTA FIGHTING HAWKS (20-14-3 | 11-12-1 NCHC) Pairwise #14

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. As the season has worn on the loss of talent has seemed to take a toll on the Fighting Hawks winning only six games since January first. But, North Dakota always seems to find a way to get things done near tournament time getting a key tie at home vs SCSU in the final game of the regular season and two wins vs Omaha in the NCHC quarterfinals. Still on the bubble for an NCAA berth, it appears they need two wins in the Frozen Faceoff. North Dakota has made it to the Frozen Faceoff all five years of its existence.

Team Statistics (National Stats)

  • Defense #12 – 2.39 GPGA
  • Offense #27 – 2.92 GPG
  • Power Play #20 -21%
  • Penalty Kill #23 – 82.2%
  • Penalties #28 – 11.76

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 12-16-28 so far this season. Joel Janatuinen is another junior forward being counted on for some offense this season but has disappointed thus far with 5-7-12.  Probably the biggest surprise so far is the offense that junior defenseman Christian Wolanin has provided leading the team in points with 12 goals and 22 assists for 34 points. Ohio State transfer Nick Jones has been an outstanding addition as well  with 14-13-27.

North Dakota brought in seven freshman in 2017-18  and several have made an immediate impact. NCHC All-Rookie team selection Grant Mishmash is a second round NHL draft choice and currently has 9 goals and 13 assists for 22 points.

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 to record a 11-8-7 record and has split time with first-year goaltender Peter Thome (5-4-3). Johnson has been adequate in goal with a 2.16 GAA and .907 SV% but not up to his usual standards. Thome has a 2.31 GAA and .910 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 50 nationally currently.

 

Individual Honors

  • Christian Wolanin – NCHC All-Conference 2nd Team, NCHC Offensive Defenseman of the Year Finalist
  • Colton Poolman – Honorable Mention All-Conference, NCHC Defensive Defenseman of the Year Finalist
  • Johnny Simonson – NCHC Senior Scholarship Award Finalist
  • Rhett Gardner – NCHC Defensive Forward of the Year Finalist
  • Austin Poganski – NCHC Sportsmanship Award Finalist
  • Grant Mismash – NCHC All-Rookie Team

Coach | Player Quotes

Brad Berry – “Our guys like the challenge that our feet are to the fire. We know that to keep our season alive we have to have success at the Frozen Faceoff. SCSU is definitely a gifted team. It has to be all five guys to not give them time and space. When it’s a one game shot anything can happen. We look for a good game on Friday afternoon.”

Austin Poganski – “Obviously there is pressure to win but here at UND its expected we make the NCAA tourney. I’m extremely excited to be at the Xcel Energy Center with so much tradition. We had a very good week of practice and hopefully we are prepared for SCSU.”

The Games

#1 St. Cloud State University Huskies  vs #4 University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks 

There are no secrets between these two rivals. Former playing partners in the WCHA, these teams have developed a healthy rivalry that has continued into the National Collegiate Hockey Conference. There might be a slight revenge factor on the part of the Huskies as North Dakota ended the Huskies season last year in the NCHC quarterfinals. These two squads played four games this season with the Huskies having a 2-0-2 advantage. In December, in St. Cloud, the teams skated to a 2-2 tie and SCSU prevailed in the rematch 3-1.  Two weeks ago in Grand Forks, the teams battled to two overtime games with the Huskies winning the Friday game 4-3 and skating to a 3-3 tie on Saturday. North Dakota is in a precarious position with a #14 Pairwise ranking and could be on the outside looking in with a loss on Friday. As a result, we’ll see a desperate team in the Fighting Hawks facing a team that already has secured a #1 seed for the NCAA tournament. The Fighting Hawks are the lowest scoring team in the tourney with the lowest scoring margin of just a half a goal. However, their defense has been solid as has their special teams. The Huskies can’t fall behind early as they have in three of their last four games or they could be in trouble in this one. With a sea of green in the Xcel Energy Center stands momentum could certainly carry UND with an early lead. North Dakota’s offense may not be what is has been the past few years but you can count on them firing a lot of rubber at the SCSU goaltender. A times, the Huskies tend to play loose back on defense. Adhering to good defensive play and limiting turnovers will go a long way in securing success for SCSU. It’ll also be especially important to not turn this into a special teams battle. That takes the Huskies away from their strength – rolling all four lines and wearing teams down by the third period.

#2 University of Denver Pioneers  vs #3 University of Minnesota – Duluth Bulldogs

Here’s another matchup that should be a very competitive contest. And, oh by the way it just happens to be a rematch of the 2017 Frozen Four Championship game.The two squads played four games this season with Denver winning all four game by a one-goal margin. However, Denver has been inconsistent towards the end of this season and the Bulldogs have been one of the hottest teams in the country winning seven of their last eight games. Nearly every aspect of the Bulldogs game has been performing well and much of it has to do with the maturation process of all the talented youngsters on the Bulldog’s squad. Their offense is balanced and defense and goaltending is solid. On paper these two squads are very similar. They are tied for #6 in the country in goals against at 2.11 and their scoring margin is very close. Specials teams are productive on both teams. As such, it makes sense that they skated to four one-goal games this season. Although they have shuffled the lines the Pioneers rely heavily  on their top two lines that include Gambrell, Borgstrom, Terry and Lucosevisius for offense. If the Bulldogs are to prevail they must contain these four players as they log a lot of ice time for the Pioneers. I consider this game a toss-up and it may just come down to special teams or simply a lucky bounce by ether team. Or, it may just come down to the hungrier team. Denver is already assured of a spot in the NCAA tournament. The Bulldogs on the other hand have several scenarios that could bounce them from the tournament. As such, this game is more meaningful to the Bulldogs.

Enjoy the games!

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