NMU Wildcats to Offer Early Season Test to SCSU Huskies

Drew LeBlanc faces off against the Wildcats in the last meeting between these two schools (Photo Prout)

St. Cloud, MN – It’s been awhile – almost six years since the SCSU Huskies faced off against the Northern Michigan University Wildcats in a regular season matchup. A lot of things have changed since that early January 2013 series. The blow-up of college hockey after the 2012-13 season caused the Huskies to depart the WCHA for the newly formed NCHC and the Wildcats were forced to find a home in the WCHA after the dismantling of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA). After an up and down season, the Huskies made a post-season run to the Frozen Four ultimately losing to Quinnipiac in Pittsburgh in the NCAA semi-finals. Northern Michigan, on the other hand, finished with a unremarkable 15-19-4 record having their season end in the first round of the CCHA playoffs to Michigan. However, the Wildcats led by non-household names like Thurber, Seckel, Macauley, Ludwig and Coreau swept a Huskies squad led by Captain Ben Hanowski, Hobey Baker winner Drew LeBlanc, Hobey finalist Ethan Prow and future NHLers Dowd, Brodzinski, Gravel, Kossila and Jensen. In that “locks of love” season, the Wildcats upended the Huskies by a 6-2 score on Friday and returned to complete the sweep with a 2-1 margin the next night. This weekend, the Huskies and Wildcats return to face each other in a throwback non-conference matchup at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center.

#4 St. Cloud State University Huskies (2-0-0 | 0-0-0 NCHC) vs #NR  Northern Michigan University Wildcats (1-1-0 | 0-0-0 WCHA)


TV: (Fri.) Fox Sports North Plus | (Sat.) SCSU Sports Network (Charter 426 | 823)  
Live Stats: SCSU Athletics
Live Stream: NCHC.TV($)
Live Audio Stream: TUNEIN RADIO 
Radio: 96.7 FM (St. Cloud)
Tickets: SCSU  Athletics
Where: Herb Brooks National Hockey Center – St. Cloud, MN
When: Friday, Oct.  –  7:07 PM CT | Saturday, Oct. – 6:07 PM CT 

Last Time Out:

The Huskies opened their season with a trip to Fairbanks, Alaska for a non-conference series with the Nanooks of the WCHA. The #3/5 ranked Huskies traveled 2900 miles to get some work on their special teams in a 3-2 road win over the University of Alaska Nanooks on Friday, October 12. With the flow of the game dictated by the officials, the Huskies blanked the Nanooks man-advantage seven times and scored once in seven opportunities on their own man-advantage in the season opening victory. Senior Patrick Newell showed the advantage a skilled senior has in an early season game netting two goals and assisting on another to reward new head coach Brett Larson with his first win as the Huskies skipper. Patrick Newell (2-1-3) and first-year player Sam Hentges (0-2-2) each had a multiple point game for SCSU. On Saturday, the Huskies scored three times in period three to break open a one goal game and cruised to a 6-2 final vs the Alaska Nanooks of the WCHA. At times they made it look awfully easy as Robby Jackson scored twice to lead the Huskies on this night. The Huskies outshot the Nanooks 36-22 for the contest with Jeff Smith (1-0-0) turning aside 20 of 22 Alaska shots on goal. Robby Jackson (2-0-0), Ryan Poehling (0-2-2) and Patrick Newall (1-1-2) all had a multi-point game for the Huskies. Newell had 3 goals and 5 points in the weekend series.

Assistant coach Nick Oliver remarked “Our trip to Fairbanks allowed us to continue working on our game and gave us a great opportunity for some early season team building. As a staff, we felt there was some early season rust that we needed to work through but our game steadily came to form a the weekend progressed. It was great to see a lot of different players contribute offensively.”

The Wildcats also were on a road trip facing former CCHA opponent, the Michigan State University Spartans. After a 4-2 loss in East Lansing on Friday, the Wildcats rebounded with a 4-3 win on Saturday to earn the split. NMU relied on three special teams goals on Saturday to capture the win. Goaltender Atte Tolvanen had 67 saves over the weekend series and Joseph Nardi (1-1-2), Darian Craighead (2-1-3) and Adam Rockwood (1-2-3) led the squad offensively in the split.

Head to Head

SCSU leads the all-time series 21-19-1. The Wildcats have won four consecutive games going back to October of 2011. Northern Michigan has also won six out of the last 10 games.

Scouting the NMU Wildcats:

Second year head coach Grant Potulny directed the team to a 25-15-3 record in 2017-18, their first 25 win season in 16 years. Picked to finish 7th, they finished 2nd in the conference and advanced to the conference championship game falling to upper Michigan rival Michigan Tech 2-0. This season, the Wildcats return extensive experience and were the preseason coaches pick to finish second and media’s pick to finish third in the WCHA. in 2018-19, the team will be led by senior captain Denver Pierce and alternate captains Adam Rockwood and Philip Beaulieu.

On offense, the Wildcats return plenty of firepower including their top four scorers and 75 percent of their offense from 2017-18. They did lose 24 goalscorer Robbie Payne to pro hockey so they’ll look to points leader Adam Rockwell (48 points), Troy Loggins, 23 goals and 47 points and Darian Craighead (34 points) to lead the charge on offense.

Likewise on defense, they return experience and depth led by junior alternate captain and 2nd team west All-American, Philip Beaulieu who led all NCAA Division I defensemen in points (42) and assists (31) last season. He’ll be supported by returnees Ryan Black, James Vermeulen, Conor Frantti and Notre Dame transfer, Tony Bretzman.

Perhaps their most strength is in goal with senior Atte Tolvanen, the WCHA Goaltender of the Year, 1st Team All-WCHA and All-American pick. Tolvanen set an NCAA record for most consecutive shutouts (5) in 2017-18. Tolvanen is athletic with remarkably quick reflexes and finished 2017-18 with a 2.22 GAA and .908 SV%.

The Wildcats are relying on their first-year players to contribute as well and skated 6 rookies in last weekends series with Michigan State.

Nationally, the Wildcats statistics are as follows:

Offense:   3.00 (22nd)
Defense:   3.50 (35th)
Power Play: 20.00 PCT (23rd) 
Penalty Kill:  66.67 PCT (48th)
Penalties:  10.00 APG (35th)

Scouting the SCSU Huskies:

Experience, depth and strong goaltending should lead the Huskies to success in 2018-19. The Huskies were picked to finish 2nd in the tough NCHC conference in the preseason coaches poll.

With a great deal of depth and experience at defense this will be a position of strength for the Huskies and one of the top units in college hockey. Led by All-American Senior and Captain, Jimmy Schuldt, a preseason NCHC All-Conference team pick and 2017-18 Hobey Baker Finalist, the Huskies will have three seasoned veterans and five others that will be battling for positions 4 through six. Jon Lizotte, a four- year player, has that rare combination of sneaky offensive ability and strong defensive play and compiled 17 points  while finishing +20 on the season. He has a blue-collar approach to the game that will be invaluable as an alternate captain and leader. Junior Jack Ahcan was named to the Frozen Faceoff All-Tournament team last season and posted 22 points. The 5’8″ 180 pound Ahcan will be surrounded by seven teammates at defense measuring six feet or more and the coaching staff will give this talented defender free rein to carry the puck up ice and be more involved with the offense. Sophomore Luke Jaycox played in 39 games last season and gained valuable playing experience and will garner regular playing time once again. Sophomore Tyler Anderson sustained an upper body injury in the exhibition game with Mount Royal and is out for a number of weeks. Mika Ilvonen was a forward in Finland then converted to defense and will start the season at forward for the Huskies. Senior Clark Kuster will be battling for playing time as well. A talented group of newcomers – Brendan Bushy, NHL draft choice Nick Perbix and local native Spencer Meier fill out one of the most talent laden defensive units in college hockey. As a result, there will be lots of competition for playing time and all will be shuffled into the lineup to start the season. This is a deep, deep unit.

The Huskies are blessed with a lot of experience at forward and  seniors Robby Jackson, Patrick Newell and Jacob Benson have experienced loads of success during their time at SCSU. They’ve experienced a Frozen Faceoff Championship, a Penrose Cup  and been a part of two NCAA tournament squads. Pre-season all-league NCHC pick Robby Jackson, a 21 year-old senior led the Huskies in scoring in 2017-18 with 15 goals and 27 assists for 42 points and has a deadly accurate wrist shot accounting for many of these tallies. Not just an offensive player, Jackson has a solid work ethic and his defensive game has blossomed as well. Jackson will join the 100 point club this season. Senior Patrick Newell is an experienced forward being counted on to be a leader this season. Skilled and tough along the boards for his size he’s finally filling out physically which will certainly help his game this season. Senior Jacob Benson was named alternate captain and had a disappointing year from an offensive standpoint with 17 points. He has a tendency to score big goals but needs to be more consistent in his farewell season.

Finishing 4th on the team scoring chart last season, Montreal Canadiens first-rounder Ryan Poehling ( 13-17-30) is primed for a break out season. Despite being just 19 years old, the 6’2″ 200 pound forward is entering his third season of college hockey and is mature beyond his years as a collegiate player. The Poehling twins, Jack and Nick are a coaches dream with a work ethic through the roof. Junior Jake Wahlin is another that scores big goals but much like Jacob Benson needs to have a more consistent offensive game.  The talent is there and as a Junior it’s hoped he’ll at least double his 11 points from last

Sophomore Blake Lizotte made the NCHC All-Rookie team last season and is quickly becoming one of the most exciting forwards in college hockey. Another player with tons of talent and a motor that won’t quit he’ll be a scoring leader for the Huskies this season. Easton Brodzinski is another member of the  2017-18 NCHC All-Rookie team and it was well-deserved. A natural goal scorer with a wicked wrist shot he netted 14 goals his rookie season. He’s another primed for a huge offensive year. Sophomore Kevin Fitzgerald was a surprise as a rookie earning 38 games of playing time and added 5 goals and 14 assists. He has a combination of skill and grinder and makes every line he’s placed on more productive. St. Cloud native Will Hammer had limited playing time his rookie season but looks to increase his playing time this season.

First-year players Micah Miller, Minnesota Wild draft choice Sam Hentges and Nolan Walker will all be difficult to keep out of the lineup. All three are extremely talented and will be contributors as freshman. Both Hentges and Walker have added points after only their first weekend of play.

With  senior Jeff Smith and sophomore David Hrenak, the Huskies have one of the top one-two punches at goaltender in college hockey. David Hrenak, from Slovakia arrived at SCSU as a heralded freshman from the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL and ended the season as a member of the NCHC All-Rookie team and an All-NCHC Honorable Mention honoree. Validating his success, following the season, he was drafted in the fifth round by the LA Kings. Highly competitive on the ice but with a perpetual smile on his face off the ice, he took hold of the #1 position as the season wore on and finished with a 13-7-2 record, a 2.03 GAA and .922 SV% including three shutouts. With a tremendous upside, he’s an athletic and positionally sound goaltender with a good glove. Hrenak will once again be one of the top goaltenders in the NCHC. Jeff Smith,  played in 19 games last season losing only twice and proving to be worthy of splitting time in goal with Hrenak. Smith finished with a 11-2-4 record, 2.57 GAA and .910 SV%. The 6’2″ 190 pound native of Maple Ridge, BC improved his agility and quickness and he’ll be ready to compete for playing time this season.

Nationally, the Huskies statistics are as follows:

Offense:  4.59 GPG (T 7th) 
Defense:   2.00 (T 14th)
Power Play:  10.00 PCT (41st)
Penalty Kill:  100 PCT (T 1st)
Penalties:  15.00 APG (T 12th)

Game Prospectus:

This will be a significant early season test for the Huskies in a team that should be in the thick of things come NCAA tournament time. They will be facing three of the top players at their position in college hockey in goaltender Atte Tolvanen, defenseman, Philip Beaulieu and forward Adam Rockwell. They also possess a very effective player in speedy forward Joseph Nardi who should excel on the larger ice surface of the Brooks Center. This is a team that plays hard and possesses good skill and unless the Huskies pay attention to detail will have difficulties containing them. The SCSU forwards can take their pick –  either throw a lot of rubber at Tolvanen or be deadly accurate with their shots as this is one of the top goaltenders in college hockey. the Huskies gained good momentum as last weekends series with Alaska progressed and it’s hoped that progression continues this weekend vs the Wildcats.

In preparation for this series NMU coach Grant Potulny commented “I think St. Cloud is the most talented team in college hockey.You might argue that other teams are better, but talent-wise, their high-end is very high-end. When you look at their lineup, their forward group, it’s like they have two first lines, a second line and a three-plus line. There’s no fourth liners on their team. Their (defensive) corps is really deep and they have guys that are extra defensemen, who are not even playing that would be the top pair on a lot of teams in college hockey. They have a very good team and their goaltending has depth. It is going to be a very good challenge for us and this team I believe will be in the conversation at the end of the year for the national championship…. It’s a great measuring stick for us to find out where we really are in back-to-back games. For us to find out where we really are, we’ve got to make sure we have two good performances.”

SCSU assistance coach Nick Oliver certainly has respect for the Wildcats as well. “Everybody is excited to open up the home portion of our schedule this weekend against a strong Northern Michigan team. This will be one of the better teams they’ve had in recent history. They play an up tempo game so it should be an exciting brand of hockey”.

This should be an entertaining series for the fans. Enjoy the games!



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