#10 WMU Broncos to Battle #2 SCSU for NCHC Lead

(Photo Prout)

St. Cloud, MN – First place in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference is on the line when the #10 Western Michigan Broncos visit St. Cloud this weekend to face the #2 ranked SCSU Huskies. The Broncos are currently the hottest team in college hockey riding a 10 game unbeaten streak. They have not lost a game since November 10 when they were upended on home ice by Omaha 4-2. The only blemish in their last 10 games is a tie to the UMD Bulldogs on home ice. The Huskies saw their own 10 game undefeated streak end on January 4th in a 7-2 loss to Union College. They’ve gone 2-2-0 in their past 4 games including a 3-1 loss to UMD this past weekend. This weekend begins a stretch of 14 conference games to finish the 2018-19 regular season with eight home games and six road games.

#2 SCSU Huskies (15-3-2 | 7-1-2 NCHC) vs #10 WMU Broncos (13-6-1 | 6-3-1 NCHC)  

TV: Fox Sports North Plus | Channel Finder
Live Stats: SCSU Huskies
Live Stream: NCHC.TV $
Live Audio Stream: TUNEIN RADIO
Radio: 96.7 FM (St. Cloud) 88.1 FM (St. Cloud)
Tickets: SCSU Huskies
Where: Herb Brooks National Hockey Center | St. Cloud, MN
When: Friday, January 18 – 7:05 PM CT | Saturday, January 19 – 6:05 PM CT

Series notes – SCSU

Series Notes – WMU

Last Time Out:

The Huskies engaged in a classic NCHC battle in Duluth last weekend vs #5 ranked UMD. In a traditionally close battle between these two squads in Duluth, the Huskies earned a split dropping Friday’s contest 3-1 and winning on Saturday 4-2. Hunter Shepard  stopped 30 of 31 shots on goal and the Bulldogs capitalized on three SCSU turnovers to defeat the SCSU Huskies 3-1 at Amsoil Arena in Duluth on Friday, January 11.  SCSU outshot the Bulldogs 31 to 18 in the contest and in a tremendous outing, Hunter Shepard turned aside 30 of 31 shots on goal to earn his 12th win of the season. SCSU starter David Hrenak faced 18 shots on goal stopping 15 in the loss. One of the key statistics in the game was the Huskies inability to score on the man-advantage going 0 for 5 in the contest. SCSU had a total of 66 shot attempts in the game vs 39 for the Bulldogs. The lone goal for the Huskies was scored by Robby Jackson. On Saturday, finding themselves down by two goals late in the first period, the Huskies put things in gear and scored twice late in the period and rallied for an important 4-2 win and split of the weekend road series with UMD. UMD outshot the Huskies 32-22 for the contest with David Hrenak responding with a big game turning aside 30 of 32 shots on goal. UMD’s Shepard finally looked human after the Friday performance allowing four goals on 22 shots. SCSU goals were by Spencer Meier, Jimmy Schuldt, Easton Brodzinski (GWG) and Robby Jackson.

The Broncos earned a series sweep vs Miami in Kalamazoo but it wasn’t easy winning two one-goal contests by 4-3 and 3-2 scores. On Friday, WMU outshot Miami 34-24 and a power play goal by Josh Passolt in period three was enough in the 4-3 win. The Broncos were 2 for 6 on the man-advantage and Trevor Gorsuch stopped 21 of 24 Miami SOG in the win. On Saturday, Western edged the RedHawks again by a 3-2 score for a sweep of the weekend. Mattius Samuelsson scored the game-winner in period three and Josh Passolt added two more goals – his 13th and 14th of the season in the win. Trevor Gorsuch notched another win stopping 26 of 28 shots on goal.

Head to Head:

SCSU leads the all-time series 12-4-4 going back to December 29, 2011. The teams have participated in six overtime contests with three of them ending in a 5-5 draw. At the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center, the Huskies have a 7-4-1 edge. The teams are 2-1-2 in the last five games and SCSU carries a 7-1-2 advantage in the last 10.

Scouting the WMU Broncos

With some skilled and talented upperclassmen and a solid sophomore class, the Broncos were picked by the media to finish fourth in the NCHC in 2018-19. With 17 upperclassmen and returning their top seven scorers, there was no doubt WMU would be able to put the puck in the net and they have. Ranked fourth in the country in offense, they boast four players in the top 20 of the NCHC in overall points including sophomore Josh Passolt (14-9-23), junior Hugh McGing (11-10-21), junior Colt Conrad (7-14-21) and sophomore  (9-8-17). Ethen Frank. Passolt is tied with the Huskies Patrick Newell for first in overall points and leads the squad in goal scoring with 14. McGing, a feisty St. Louis Blues draftee and Conrad are both experienced forwards and center two of the Broncos top lines. Passolt, the nephew of former SCSU player Jeff Passolt is outright dangerous and is in an offensive zone right now with 10 points in the last six games including 7 goals. He has a deadly and quick release and if given space to shoot he’ll take advantage. Passolt played for SCSU assistant Nick Oliver for Sioux Falls in the USHL.  Rueschoff centers the line with Passolt and is a monstrous 6′ 7″ 228 pounds, uses his size to his advantage and has 6-10-16 for the season. The line of Washe, Courtnall and McMullen does not garner a lot of points but have speed and will be matched against the opponents top line. There is great depth at forward and the Broncos can rely on all four lines to be productive.

Noticeably absent in the statistics this season is junior and assistant captain, Wade Allison, a 6’2″ 205 pound power forward who was the 52nd overall pick in the 2016 draft by Philadelphia of the NHL. Allison sustained an ACL injury last season and missed the tail end of the season but still amassed 30 points in 22 games. He’s only appeared in eight games this season with 2 goals and 2 assists for 4 points. He missed both games of the recent series with Miami.

At defense, junior Cam Lee is a mobile offensive defenseman and has five goals and eleven assists and is +8.  You’ll see him anchoring a post on the power play. First-year defenseman, Mattius Samuelsson is an extremely talented youngster who was drafted 32nd overall by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2018 draft. He was a teammate of Ryan Poehling in the recent World Junior Championships. The 6’4″ 214 Samuelsson is the son of former NHL defenseman Kjell Sanuelsson and is a smooth skating bueliner that moves the puck well and can supply some offense. Finally, senior Corey Schueneman is the team captain and the glue that holds the defensive unit together with his experience. A solid and reliable player, he has 11 points and is +8.

Goaltending is an interesting story. The Broncos had relied heavily on Ben Blacker the past two seasons logging 59 games. However, it appeared the coaching staff was convinced sophomore Austin Cain was ready to take over the reigns starting the first four games of the season. However, his .826 SV% and 4.17 GAA numbers yielded a change to Blacker who played both games at Denver in November. Blacker yielded nine goals in two games and his .870 SV% and 4.40 GAA caused another change at goaltending to senior Trevor Gorsuch who has been in the lineup since and has strung together an outstanding record of 11-2-1 and a .928 SV% and 2.02 GAA.

The Broncos are an enigma on special teams with a power play that is struggling at 17% despite the amount of firepower that they possess at forward. Likewise the penalty kill has not performed well either with a 79% kill percentage..

National Statistics

Team Offense: 3.70 GPG (4th)
Team Defense: 2.75 GAPG (30th)
Power Play: 17.02% (34th)
Penalty Kill: 78.95% (39th)
Penalties (Average Min. Per Game): 14.00 (8th)

Scouting the SCSU Huskies:

The #2 ranked Huskies have not found the skating quite as smooth entering calendar year 2019 with a 2-2-0  record and some uneven performances. However, they are #3 in the all important Pairwise and still sit atop the NCHC standings by a four-point margin over upcoming opponent Western Michigan University. A successful weekend vs WMU would place them in a very advantageous position in terms of defending their status as reigning Penrose Cup champions. It was an intense and emotional series vs the #5 ranked UMD Bulldogs last weekend and despite a strong effort on Friday, they ran into a very hot goaltender in Hunter Shepard and an elite penalty kill unit. Possibly the most devastating result of this highly physical series was the lost of one of their leading scorers, Kevin Fitzgerald, possibly until March and another injury to assistant captain Jacob Benson for at least another week. Overall, despite some issues with turnovers last Friday, they have been playing well on both ends of the ice ranked second in the nation in offense and eleventh in defense. Special teams have been strong –  fourth nationally on the penalty kill and seventh 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, they had their two best centermen back for the UMD series and the difference was obvious. Both Ryan Poehling and Blake Lizotte were outstanding all weekend.

Both senior forward Robby Jackson and senior defenseman, Jimmy Schuldt have reached the 100 point career milepost and they continue to produce. Jackson had a goal in both games vs UMD and Schuldt picked up a tally as well. They’ll both be integral to the SCSU success the second half of the season.

Currently, the Huskies have slipped slightly and are now the eleventh-ranked defense in the nation allowing only 2.15 goals per game.  Led by All-American, Hobey Baker finalist, pre-season All-NCHC pick and captain, Jimmy Schuldt (6-12-18 +4), alternate captain and senior Jon Lizotte (1-3-4 +6), and talented puck mover Jack Ahcan (2-16-18 +14), 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 (+2) , NHL draft choice Nick Perbix (1-9-10 +14) and local native Spencer Meier (1-5-6 +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 46 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 21 and is +9. Jackson has joined the 100 point club this season. Senior Patrick Newell is an experienced forward and has stepped forward as a team leader this season. Skilled and tough along the boards for his size he currently leads the forwards with 11 goals and 23 points and is +13..

Montreal Canadiens first-rounder, Ryan Poehling has 17 points in 18 games and returned last weekend 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 are preferably matched against the opponents top line and skated with brother Ryan last weekend after Kevin Fitzgerald’s injury. They’ve combined for 14 points and are plus 9 despite being a “checking” line. 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 16 points in 18 games and is +12. 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 9 goals and four game-winning goals and 4 power play goals.

Minnesota Wild draft choice Sam Hentges and Nolan Walker are already prominent contributors to the lineup. Walker has an outstanding shooting percentage of 24% and Hentges 21%. Hentges and Walker have combined for 10 goals and 28 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 two games,  is 11-2-1 and has a 2.26 GAA and a .902 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: 3.90 (2nd)
Defense: 2.15 (11th)
Power Play:  25% (7th) 
Penalty Kill: 88.06% (4th) 
Penalties (Average Min. Per Game): 10.30 (41st) 

Game Prospectus:

The Huskies face a legitimate NCAA tournament participant in the WMU Broncos. In contrast to last weekend where the Huskies faced a strong defensive team, the Broncos strength is at forward and relying on their offense to score enough goals to win a game. The Bulldogs were ranked #1 in the country on the penalty kill and that’s been a surprising weakness for the Broncos. They’ve also had difficulty scoring on the man-advantage. The Broncos are blessed with great speed at the forward position and that will be exemplified by the larger surface of the HBNHC. The Broncos move the puck well have quick transition and are very aggressive in getting their forwards up ice and trying to spring them loose. The Huskies can’t give players like Passolt, McGing and Conrad space or they’ll take advantage. Two of the top faceoff performers in the contest will be facing each other this weekend in Colt Conrad and Blake Lizotte.

The Huskies should be able to poke some holes in the WMU defense as they seem to be susceptible to odd man rushes due to the aggressiveness of the forwards.Scoring is spread out throughout the Bronco lineup so it’ll be tough to key in on just one particular line. However, they’ve got to be on their toes when the Passolt- Rueschhoff-Gallant line is on the ice. Rueschhoff is an immoveable object and Passolt is a scorer. The Huskies need to tighten up defensively as no doubt the Broncos staff will try to use the same strategy as the Bulldogs last weekend. It’ll be a bonus if Wade Allison returns to the lineup. They haven’t lost a game this season when he’s in the lineup. Frank, McGing, Conrad and Passolt are all capable of having a big game.

WMU is not averse to taking penalties and with the marginal special teams play of the Broncos, this could be a difference maker in the series.

David Hrenak needs to continue the strong play he showed on Saturday vs the Bulldogs.

This should be another highly charged weekend.

All the links for this weekends games can be found HERE

Check out our sister site huskiesillustrated.com which is optimized for mobile.

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