#2 SCSU Huskies Return Home to Face #5 Denver Pioneers

Easton Brodzinski and Ryan Poehling battle the Pioneers in the NCHC Championship game last March (Photo Prout)

St. Cloud, MN – After having played six of their first eight games on the road, the #2 ranked Huskies finally return home to face the #5 ranked and undefeated Denver Pioneers at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center. The Pioneers saw some wholesale changes to their team after the 2017-18 season but have responded nicely entering this weekends series with a 5-0-1 overall record and 2-0-0 conference record which includes a home sweep of Western Michigan last weekend. This series represents a return matchup between the two teams in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff Championship game last March . The Pioneers defeated the Huskies 4-1 in that contest. St. Cloud State enters this key conference series with a 7-1-0 record and a 2-0-0 conference record. Please note that Friday’s game will be at 7:07 Pm CT with the series finale at 6:07 PM CT on Saturday. Both games will be televised.

#2 St. Cloud State University Huskies (7-1-0 | 2-0-0 NCHC) vs #5 Denver University Pioneers (5-0-1 | 2-0-0 NCHC) 

TV: (Friday) SCSU Sports Network – Charter CH 426/823 and  Comcast 999 | (Saturday) Fox Sports North Plus Channel Finder
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, November 9 – 7:07 PM CT | Saturday, November 10 – 6:07 PM CT

Last Time Out:

The Huskies earned a hard-fought conference sweep of the CC Tigers in Colorado Springs, CO last weekend. Except for a portion of the first period, the #2 ranked Huskies put forth a dominating effort but it took a four-goal third period to finally dispose of the Tigers at the World Arena last Friday. SCSU fell behind 2-0 in the first period and it was  beginning to look like the Tigers would get their first win vs the Huskies on home ice since 2013. But, a dominating second period and rally in the third period erased the Tigers thoughts of an upset as the Huskies prevailed 5-3 for their first conference win. The Huskies scored four times in period three including the game-winner by Patrick Newell and an open-net goal by Ryan Poehling. On Saturday, the Tigers gave the #2 ranked Huskies everything they could handle in SCSU’s 2-1 win. Again, battling from behind, it took a game-tying goal by Jack Poehling and the game-winner by Easton Brodzinski in period three to complete the sweep.

The Denver Pioneers initiated their conference schedule with a sweep of the Western Michigan Broncos. On Friday, they broke open a 2-2 tie midway through the second period with three straight goals in the 5-2 win. Senior forward Jarid Lukosevicius netted a hat trick and the game-winner in the victory. On Saturday, a three-goal third period by the Broncos erased an early 2-0 lead and they needed a late third period goal on the power play by Emilio Pettersen to tie the game and an overtime goal by Jarid Lukosevicius to capture the win and sweep.

Head to Head 

The last meeting between these two teams was on March 17, 2018 in the championship game of the NCHC Frozen Faceoff. The Pioneers scored twice in the first period and that was all that was needed in the 4-1 win. Ryan Poehling scored the lone goal of the game for SCSU. During the 2017-18 regular season, Denver had a 2-1-1 record vs the Huskies. The Huskies are 1-3-1 in the last five, 3-6-1 in the last ten and 8-10-2 in the last twenty games. The all-time series is to the advantage of Denver 50-43-6.

2018 NCHC Frozen Faceoff Game Summary

Scouting the Denver University Pioneers:

This is the 70th season of collegiate hockey at Denver University.

The Pioneers sustained heavy losses from last years squad that was 23-10-3, won the NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship and qualified for their 11th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance. Following the season, in addition to four graduating players, the team also saw four players with eligibility sign NHL contracts including top forwards Henrik Borgstrom (Florida), Troy Terry (Anaheim), Dylan Gambrell (San Jose) and defensemen Blake Hillman (Chicago). Combined, these players accounted for 40% of the team’s goal scoring, 44% of the assists and 42% of the teams points. As if that wasn’t enough, they also had to fill the void of graduates Adam Plant (defense) who signed with Montreal, Tariq Hammond, a captain and key defenseman and goaltender Tanner Jaillet who had a long list of awards over his final two seasons including all-NCHC, NCAA all-American and the 2017 Mike Richter Award winner and leading Denver to the 2017 NCAA title. To top things off, they also lost their head coach, Jim  Montgomery who opted to move on to the NHL as head coach of the Dallas Stars. In his six years at the helm, Montgomery racked up 125 wins, never had a losing season and won a national title.

So, when all washed out, the Pioneers needed to find their next head coach, some offense to replace the above-mentioned forwards and shore up both their defensive unit and goaltending position. They didn’t go far in choosing their next head coach selecting Denver assistant David Carle as the 9th coach in their 70 year history. The 28 year-old Alaska native suddenly was Division I college hockey’s youngest head coach with the task of continuing the successful run of the DU program.

In terms of help on offense and defense, the team ushered in nine first-year players to supplement the top returnees on offense, Jarid Lukosevicius, Colin Stab, and Liam Finlay and on defense Ian Mitchell, Michael Davies and Griffin Mendel. First-year players being counted on to fill the void are Emilio Pettersen, Cole Guttman and Brett Stapely at forward and Slava Demin on defense.

The team seems to have hit the jackpot with Pettersen as the first-year forward from Norway is currently Denver’s point leader with 3-8-11. Former SCSU recruit, Cole Guttman, who flipped to Denver has also started off well with 2-4-6.

However, the core of the team will be led by senior Lukosevicius who already has seven goals and Liam Finlay with six. On defense, they’ve got quite an offensive player in Ian Mitchell who has already accumulated eight points and plays the defensive side of the game solidly as well. Three-year player Michael Davies is experienced and provides offensive punch from the blue line as well. Finally, sophomore Griffin Mendel is not going to be counted on for offense but he is sound defensively and finished last season +13.

Replacing one of the all-time best goaltenders in DU history will be nearly impossible. The Pioneers have turned the reigns over to the only returning goaltender, sophomore Devin Cooley, a California native who saw action in three games last season. So far, so good as Cooley has played in all six games, has one shut out and statistics including a 1.64 GAA and .930 SV%. Should he falter, they can turn to two rookies, Filip Larsson, a 2016 6th round draft choice of the Detroit Red Wings or BCHL product Michael Corson.

Arguably, the schedule has not been that demanding with all their wins of the “home-cooking” variety with the exception of a 4-1 win over Air Force located just an hour and a half down  highway 25. This will be the first real road trip of the year for Denver before returning back home to face UMD and Providence. They then have nine of their next twelve games on the road.

The Pioneers were picked to finish 5th in the NCHC.

Team Offense: 4.33 (t 2nd)
Team Defense: 1.67 (4th)
Power Play: 24.24 (15th) 8/33
Penalty Kill: 80.77 (33rd) 21/26
Penalties (Average Min. Per Game): 13.00 (26th) 32 for 78

Scouting the SCSU Huskies:

Experience, depth and strong goaltending is leading to the Huskies strong start to the 2018-19 season. The Huskies were picked to finish 2nd in the tough NCHC conference in the preseason coaches poll. Their battle continues this weekend in conference play vs #5 Denver University.

With a great deal of depth and experience at defense they’ve proven thus far that this is a position of strength and one of the top units in college hockey. Currently, the Huskies are the third-ranked defense in the nation allowing only 1.50 goals per game.  Led by All-American, Hobey Baker finalist, pre-season All-NCHC pick and captain, Jimmy Schuldt, Jon Lizotte, a four-year player and alternate captain and talented puck mover Jack Ahcan, currently leading the team in points and tied for 9th on the national scoring charts, this diverse unit of defenders is one of the top three-somes in college hockey. Add to the group, sophomore, Luke Jaycox and a talented group of newcomers – Brendan Bushy (+3) , NHL draft choice Nick Perbix (+7) and local native Spencer Meier (+2) and you have one of the most talent-laden defensive units in college hockey. Unfortunately, sophomore, Tyler Anderson, another solid contributor sustained an upper body injury vs Mount Royal and may be out for another six weeks. There will be lots of competition for playing time and all will be shuffled into the lineup. This is a deep, deep unit and the envy of coaches around the league.

The Huskies are blessed with a lot of depth 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 have 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 and currently is 3rd in team points with 2-7-9 in 7 games. 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. He currently leads the forwards with 6 goals and 11 points. Senior Jacob Benson was named alternate captain and he too has 2 goals and four points in eight games.

Finishing 4th on the team scoring chart last season, Montreal Canadiens first-rounder Ryan Poehling is primed for a break out season. He has 8 points in 8 games and a shooting percentage of 30%. The Poehling twins, Jack and Nick are a coaches dream with a work ethic through the roof. 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. He currently has six points in eight games. 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 and tends to score in bunches. He did so last weekend with two goals including one game-winner. 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 has a combination of skill and grinder and skating with the Poehling twins are relentless in their forecheck.

Minnesota Wild draft choice Sam Hentges and Nolan Walker are already prominent contributors to the lineup. Walker has an outstanding shooting percentage of 43% and Hentges 31%. Hentges and Walker have combined for 7 goals and 14 points. Micah Miller is another talented newcomer that will be battling for ice time along with senior Mika Ilvonen and sophomore Will Hammer. Miller gave a glimpse of his speed and ability to control the puck vs Colorado College last weekend.

With senior Jeff Smith and sophomore David Hrenak, the Huskies have one of the top one-two punches at goaltender in college hockey. Hrenak has yet to lose a game, is 5-0-0 and has an outstanding 1.40 GAA and a .940 SV% and one shutout. He is currently top-ten in the country in both categories. Smith has split time with Hrenak and is 2-1-0 with one shutout, 1.68 GAA and .922 SV%.

Nationally, the Huskies statistics are as follows:

Offense: 4.25 (8th)
Defense: 1.50 (3rd)
Power Play:  27.59 (8th) 8/29
Penalty Kill: 91.89 (1st) 34/37
Penalties (Average Min. Per Game): 12.50 (32nd) 43 for 100

Game Prospectus:

This weekend will be a huge test for both squads. The teams have had diametrically different schedules to start the season with Denver having an overloaded home schedule and the Huskies schedule primarily on the road. It’ll be interesting to see how the Denver team responds in their first major road test of the season. Several questions for the Pioneers include:  How will their scoring hold up as the season progresses without players like Borgstrom, Terry and Gambrell? Will their goaltending hold up with a relatively untested Devin Cooley? Picked to finish 5th in the NCHC how much credibility can we place on their 5-0-1 record that has not included a single top twenty ranked team?

The Huskies have a balanced scoring attack and are relentless in the pressure it applies on the opposition. For example, they outshot a good offensive team in Colorado College 18-1 in the second period last Friday. The defense is strong and will continue to improve with three rookies seeing substantial ice time. The final line of defense in goal can be relied upon to make the big save.

Both Jarid Lukosevicius and Liam Finlay have had strong offensive games vs the Huskies. Denver has done a nice job of mixing youth and experience on their forward lines. Being the home team, the Huskies will have last change and will be able to get the line matchups they desire. The Huskies are still taking too many needless penalties. It can be argued that the officials are trigger happy early in the season. Nevertheless, it hurt the Huskies last weekend in Colorado and the team needs to be diligent in keeping their composure. There were too many holding infractions whistled against SCSU last weekend. Denver’s power play is near 25% but should be countered well by the Huskies top-ranked penalty kill unit.

It should be another north/south skating series and entertaining for the fans. A successful weekend for either squad positions themselves well early in the conference season.

Coaches Comments: “This should be great hockey this weekend” said SCSU Assistant coach Nick Oliver. “We are happy to back home playing in front of our fans. (Due to or road schedule) We haven’t  had much practice time to work on things so we can get back to a normal routine. (Denver) lost some horses up front but have more on the way. It just creates expanded roles for others.”

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