Top Ranked Huskies and Bulldogs Face-off This Weekend

(Photo Prout)

St. Cloud, MN –  This series exemplifies what is great about college hockey. This may not be the most critical series in the NCHC this weekend but numerous story lines exist. The defending Penrose Cup Champion faces the defending National Champion. The #1 ranked team in college hockey faces #5. The former UMD assistant coach returns to Duluth as the SCSU head coach to try to derail his mentor. Teammates from the recent World Junior Tournament suddenly become adversaries on the ice. Both teams have positioned themselves to be near locks for the NCAA tourney assuming the wheels don’t suddenly fall off on each. It should be a large and lively crowd with an abundance of visitors in cardinal and black in the house.  This pairing has set itself up for a tremendous weekend of competitive hockey and I wouldn’t want to miss it.  Read on.

#1 SCSU Huskies (14-2-2 | 6-0-2 NCHC) vs #5 UMD Bulldogs (11-5-2 | 4-3-1 NCHC)  

TV: MY9 TV (Duluth)
Live Stats: UMD Bulldogs
Live Stream: NCHC.TV $
Live Audio Stream: TUNEIN RADIO
Radio: 96.7 FM (St. Cloud)
Tickets: UMD Bulldogs
Where: Amsoil Arena – Duluth, MN
When: Friday, January 11 – 7:05 PM CT | Saturday, January 12 – 7:05 PM CT

Series notes – SCSU

Series Notes – UMD

Road Trip Ranking #2 for  2018-19

Last Time Out:

The Huskies participated in the Three Rivers Classic College Hockey Tournament in Pittsburgh, PA last weekend and had mixed results. On Friday, at the Lemieux Sports Complex the Huskies suffered a 7-2 loss to Union College. With the atmosphere more like a scrimmage than a regular season game, the Huskies fell behind early, could never gain any scoring traction and lost only their second game of the 2018-19 season. Despite being on the short-end of every statistical category in this game Union dominated in the only category that counted – number of goals. Kevin Fitzgerald scored both goals for the Huskies.

On Saturday, the venue was changed to PPG Paints Arena to face tournament host Robert Morris in the consolation match-up. In a game that saw the 100 career milestone reached by both Jimmy Schuldt and Robby Jackson the Huskies scored three times in period three to gain a 5-2 win. Jackson played an energetic and determined third period and scored two key third period goals to lead the Huskies. With the game tied 2-2 early in period three Jackson went to work and scored two consecutive goals – his 99th and 100th points but most importantly leading the Huskies to their 14th win of the season. Schuldt picked up an assist on Saturday to attain his 100 career points as well. Jeff Smith captured the win in goal for the Huskies.

The Bulldogs had an exhibition date with the USA U18 NTDP on Saturday, January 5th and were upended 4-2.  Team USA outshot the Bulldogs 39-28, never trailed and earned their 7th win vs Division One competition this season. Hunter Sheppard and Nick Deery shared time in goal and Tanner Laderoute and Justin Richards netted the goals for UMD.

Head to Head:

In all-time competition that goes back to the year 1946, the Huskies carry a 67-50-9 advantage. During the Division One era, SCSU again holds a 64-46-8 advantage. In the last five, SCSU is 3-2-0 and in the last ten, the teams are knotted at 5-5-0. The Huskies are 8-6-2 at Amsoil Arena going back to February of 2011. The games have historically been very tight at Amsoil with eight of the contests decided by two or less goals and four games going to an overtime session.

Scouting the UMD Bulldogs

UMD surprised many with their post-season run culminating in their National Championship in 2018. Picked to win the NCHC this season, the Bulldogs continued their winning ways into the 2018-19 season with a 10-2-1 start . However, they hit a rough patch in December with a 1-3-1 record and every contest a close one. Their only win was a 4-2 overtime victory vs MSU-Mankato in the Desert Classic in Arizona. Currently, ranked #5 in the recent polls and #6 in the Pairwise they look to be a participant once again in NCAA post-season play. Heading into the season, UMD’s strength was from the goaltender out with junior Hunter Sheppard anchoring the defense and convincing the media that the defending champs would be the team to beat in the NCHC. Sheppard and the defense have lived up to expectations thus far with the 4th ranked defense in college hockey yielding 2 goals per game and a penalty kill that is tops in the country with a crazy 92.65% kill percentage. Add to that solid numbers by Sheppard, 6th in GAA at 1.85 and a .917 SV%  and it’s obvious you won’t score a lot of goals on this team.

Defensively, the Bulldogs are led by three of the top defensemen in college hockey in Scott Perunovich, Mikey Anderson and Dylan Samberg. Throw the rough and tumble Nick Wolfe into the mix and it’s simply a tough unit to play against. Sophomore Perunovich does it all for the Bulldogs logging lots of minutes and is a key player on special teams. And, by the way, he leads the squad in points with 18 points in 18 games. Anderson, named captain of the USA World Junior team is a hybrid defenseman and can play solid defense but contribute offensively as well. He has seven points in 16 games and is +4. Samberg is a rugged defenseman with skill and complements the play of linemate Mikey Anderson much like Wolfe complements the play of Perunovich.

This is not an offense that will blow you away like some past UMD teams but is solid and consistent in their play and has good leadership in players like Parker McKay and Peter Krieger. McKay is having a solid season with 8-7-15 and 2 game-winning goals and third on the squad in points. He leads the team in goals scored. Sophomore Justin Richards has been a key offensive player as well – second in team points with 16 and two game-winning goals. Minnesota Wild draft choice Nick Swaney  missed a few games due to injury but can be a reliable scorer and has five goals in 16 games. First-year player Noah Cates was also a member of the USA World Junior team  and looks to play more of a role the second half of the season. Disappointing thus far is the production of Dallas Stars draft first-round choice Riley Tufte who was expected to have a more prominent role in the offense this year. With seven points and +1 they need to get Tufte in gear the second half of the season. It’s interesting that he has 4 power play goals but not a single five on five goal. Another interesting offensive statistic is that forward Kobe Roth has five goals with four of them on the man-advantage.

National Statistics

Team Offense: 3.06 GPG (20th)
Team Defense: 2.00 GAPG (4th)
Power Play: 20.29% (20th)
Penalty Kill: 92.65% (1st)
Penalties (Average Min. Per Game): 14.11 (9th)

Scouting the SCSU Huskies:

The #1 ranked Huskies enter the second half of the season with the fewest losses in college hockey. They had college hockey’s longest undefeated streak at 10 games until they were blown out 7-2 by Union in the Three Rivers Classic last weekend. However, it wasn’t that it was a poor effort or performance by the Huskies. They played hard and dominated statistically but had marginal goaltending and it was simply a game that got out of hand on the score sheet. They’ve been excelling on both ends of the ice  ranked second in the nation in offense and eighth in defense. Special teams have been strong –  fourth nationally on the penalty kill and sixth on the power play. Seniors are providing tremendous leadership, there is balanced scoring, the first-year class is contributing and despite some inconsistently, both goaltenders are getting the job done. Most importantly, and this is a key, they get their two best centermen back for the UMD series. Junior forward Ryan Poehling was off earning the tournament MVP in the World Junior tournament and Blake Lizotte missed several games due to injury. Both bring talent and consistent play back to this important position.

Both senior forward Robby Jackson and senior defenseman, Jimmy Schuldt reached the 100 point career milepost last weekend in Pittsburgh and have performed as well as expected all season. They’ll go down in Husky Hockey history as two of the very best at their respective positions. They’ll both be integral to the SCSU success the second half of the season.

Currently, the Huskies are the eighth-ranked defense in the nation allowing only 2.11 goals per game.  Led by All-American, Hobey Baker finalist, pre-season All-NCHC pick and captain, Jimmy Schuldt (5-12-17 +3), alternate captain and senior Jon Lizotte (1-3-4 +6), and talented puck mover Jack Ahcan (2-14-16 +16), this diverse unit of defenders is one of the top threesome in college hockey. Ahcan’s numbers are very similar to UMD’s dynamic defenseman, Scott Perunovich. Add to the group, sophomore, Luke Jaycox (1-1-2 +5) and a talented group of newcomers – Brendan Bushy (+3) , NHL draft choice Nick Perbix (1-9-10 +14) and local native Spencer Meier (0-5-5 +3) and you have one of the most talent-laden defensive units in college hockey. Tyler Anderson, another solid contributor sustained an upper body injury vs Mount Royal and is back in the lineup as well. The entire unit is plus 48 and not a single regular is in the minus.

The Huskies are currently ranked second in the nation on offense 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, led the Huskies in scoring in 2017-18 and currently is second in team points with 19 and is +9. Jackson has joine 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 currently leads the forwards with 11 goals and 21 points. Senior Jacob Benson was named alternate captain and he has 2 goals and four points in 18 games.

Montreal Canadiens first-rounder, Ryan Poehling has 17 points in 16 games and returned this week after playing for Team USA in the World Junior Championships.  He was named MVP of the tournament, led Team USA in scoring and named the tourney’s top forward.  The Poehling twins, Jack and Nick along with Kevin Fitzgerald are preferably matched against the opponents top line. They’ve combined for 29 points and are plus 16. Sophomore Blake Lizotte made the NCHC All-Rookie team last season and is one of the most exciting forwards in college hockey. He is the Huskies top face-off player and currently has 15 points in 16 games and is +11. 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 has 8 goals and three game-winning goals and 4 power pay goals. Sophomore Kevin Fitzgerald was a surprise as a rookie earning 38 games of playing time and skating with the Poehling twins contributes to a relentless forecheck. He has 10 goals including one game-winner.

Minnesota Wild draft choice Sam Hentges and Nolan Walker are already prominent contributors to the lineup. Walker has an outstanding shooting percentage of 26% and Hentges 23%. Hentges and Walker have combined for 10 goals and 26 points and both are making a serious case to make the NCHC all-rookie team. Micah Miller is finally getting his sea legs and has worked his way into a regular role in the lineup. Extremely hard to knock off his skates, he controls the puck down low and it’ll only be a matter of time before the puck starts going into the net for him.

With senior Jeff Smith and sophomore David Hrenak, the Huskies have a solid one-two punch at goaltender. Hrenak has lost one game,  is 10-1-1 and has a 2.22 GAA and a .903 SV% and two shutouts. Smith has split time with Hrenak and is 4-1-1 with two shutouts and outstanding 1.89 GAA and .922 SV%.

National Statistics:

Offense: 4.06 (2nd)
Defense: 2.11 (8th)
Power Play:  21.09% (6th) 
Penalty Kill: 88.89% (4th) 
Penalties (Average Min. Per Game): 10.78 (36th) 

Game Prospectus:

SCSU coach Brett Larson returns to Duluth where he was a part of the national championship team last season. The media attention has been intense and probably a little distracting as he attempts to prepare his #1 Huskies to face top rival UMD and his mentor, Scott Sandelin. Larson calls this “a big league series” and that “it’s going to be exciting and fun but once the puck drops it’s just a game. I have to put some of that stuff (all the media attention) out of my mind. There is a lot of mutual respect between the teams and we’ll want to beat each other. We won’t surprise them and they won’t surprise us. It’s going to be fast, hard and good hockey. We know they’ll come hard on the forecheck and try to disrupt our defensemen. We need to take the right angle on them and make them move the puck before they want to.”

There’s no reason not to expect both games to be close if not low-scoring contests. That’s been the history of these teams when they meet. Obviously goaltending will be a key and the Huskies need to have a big night from David Hrenak who is exected to be Friday’s starter. If he falters Jeff Smith has proven he can step right in and lead the Huskies to success. The Bulldogs do tend to spend some time in the penalty box but they can afford to – their penalty kill is tops in college hockey. It’ll be an interesting matchup on special teams with two of the top units in the nation both on the man-advantage and penalty kill.

There will be four players back from the World Junior Championships – three for UMD and one SCSU. It’s be interesting to see how much energy these players have after a grueling world tourney. The Huskies line combinations will be back to normal with the return of Ryan Poehling and Blake Lizotte.

After last weekend, the Huskies need to tighten up a bit on defense. UMD will certainly do their best to pressure the Huskies defense and try to force turnovers. I expect the teams to test each other early and it should turn out to be a high energy series.

This should be an outstanding college hockey matchup this weekend. .

All the links for this weekends games can be found HERE

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