St. Cloud, MN – During the Brett Larson Radio Show on Monday I made the comment to coach Larson about the brutally cold weather in the forecast for Grand Forks this weekend. Weather reports now project high temperatures to be -8 degrees on Friday. He grinned and responded simply that “we play the game indoors”. Actually, the temperatures may be just the opposite in Engelstad Arena as the Huskies should expect a “heated” series with North Dakota, a team struggling through another sub-par season and currently on the outside looking in from a Pairwise standpoint. Currently situated at #21 in the Pairwise and 5th in the NCHC standings, every game becomes a must win for the Fighting Hawks who have 12 regular season games remaining and are the host of the NCAA West Regional in March in Fargo, ND. Currently 12 points behind the Huskies in the NCHC standings, the Penrose Cup is probably out of reach but with only a 4 point separation with second place UMD and 2 points with Denver and Western Michigan hosting a NCHC playoff series is attainable. However, after the weekend with SCSU, the Fighting Hawks have consecutive road series at Denver and Western Michigan and then return home to face UMD so their playoff status could be sealed by the end of February. Bottom line – North Dakota needs to consider every game a playoff series for the balance of the season. For the Huskies, they need to continue the momentum they attained after their sweep of then #10 Western Michigan this past weekend. As coach Larson told College Hockey News recently “You want to be happy, but all of a sudden it hits you you’re going into North Dakota, one of the toughest places to play in college hockey, We know if we don’t bring our best game, there’s a good chance we’ll get beat. So you don’t have a lot of time to rest on your laurels.”
#2 SCSU Huskies (17-3-2 | 9-1-2 NCHC) vs UND Fighting Hawks (12-10-1 |6-6-0 NCHC)
TV: CBS Sports Net (Fri) – Channel Finder | Midco SportsNet / Fox College Sports – Pacific / TSN2 (Canada) (Sat)
Live Stats: UND Athletics
Live Stream: NCHC.TV $ (Sat only)
Live Audio Stream: TUNEIN RADIO
Radio: 96.7 FM (St. Cloud)
Tickets: UND Athletics
Where: Ralph Engelstad Arena – Grand Forks, ND
When: Friday, January 25 – 7:37 PM CT | Saturday, January 26 – 7:07 PM CT
Last Time Out:
The Huskies completed a highly successful weekend vs then #10 ranked Western Michigan shutting out the Broncos 3-0 on Friday and following up with a 5-3 win on Saturday. On Friday, goaltending was superb, defense was solid and players not typically on the score sheet made their presence in an impressive team win. David Hrenak stepped forward for another outstanding performance in goal and Nick Poehling scored the game-winner and Micah Miller his first collegiate goal in this key win.In the series finale, Following up a superb performance by David Hrenak and mates on Friday, the Huskies duplicated their dominance of the Broncos in a 5-3 win at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center on Saturday, January 19th. Once again, two of the latest “usual” suspects led the squad as Micah Miller netted his second goal in as many games and Jack Poehling completed a five-point weekend with another empty net goal. The weekend sweep of college hockey’s hottest team improved SCSU’s conference record to 9-1-2 and overall mark to 17-3-2.
The Fighting Hawks were on the road to Omaha and split the weekend series winning by a 4-3 score on Friday and seeing the score reversed in a 4-3 loss on Saturday. On Friday, UND forged to a 3-1 lead only to see Omaha rally to tie the game at 3-3 in the third period. UND’s Jackson Keene scored the game-winner at 18:10 in the 4-3 victory. Adam Scheel stopped 17 of 20 shots on goal. On Saturday, UND once again rang up a 3-1 lead only to see Omaha rally for two third period goals in the 4-3 reversal. Gabe Bast scored twice in the loss for UND.
Head to Head:
UND leads the all-time series 71-43-14. SCSU is 3-0-2 in the last five games and 4-4-2 in the last 10 games including a 3-2 OT win on March 16, 2018. The Huskies are 10-17-5 at Ralph Engelstad Arena. Six of the last eight games have gone to overtime between these two squads. SCSU is 2-2-2 in those overtime contests.
Scouting the UND Fighting Hawks
The recent non-conference road series vs Atlantic Conference opponent Canisius on January 4/5 pretty much characterizes the type of season UND is having thus far. Outshooting the Griffins 33-14 on Friday, UND lost 3-1. On Saturday, the margin was even greater outshooting Canisius 49-16 yet still losing 2-1. A scoring percentage of 2% against the #52 Pairwise Griffins highlights one of the prominent issues for UND. Currently ranked 42nd in college hockey in offense, the Fighting Hawks don’t have a single scorer in the top 120 nationally. Sophomore Jordan Kawaguchi leads the squad in points with 17 but the team has no one in double digits in goal scoring and only senior Rhett Gardner is close with 8. Otherwise, they have six players in double digit points with three of them defenseman. Granted, you can’t rely on first-year players to lead the offense but they’ve had little production out of Gavin Hain (1-1-2), Jackson Keane (2-3-5), Mark Senden (3-3-6) and last years BCHL scoring leader (74 points) Jasper Weatherby (2-2-4). Additionally, you have to consider it disappointing to see highly touted sophomore Grant Mishmash with 9 points and junior Ludvig Hoff with 7. With a scoring margin nearly zero therein lies the problem. There just hasn’t been enough scoring punch to support a defense that has been relatively good.
The defense features the always reliable junior, Colton Poolman (4-6-10) +5 and senior, Hayden Shaw (1-4-5) +5 and several underclassmen that have been performing well. Sophomore Gabe Bast was named NCHC Defenseman of the Week after his two-goal series with Omaha and he has contributed 4-5-9 +1 this season. Likewise, first-year defenseman, Jacob Bernard-Docker was named NCHC Defensive Player of the Week the previous week after a 2 assist +3 weekend vs Colorado College. Sophomore Matt Kierstad leads the defensive unit in points with 5-7-12. As a unit, they’ve certainly been the strength of this seasons UND team and have contributed 37% of the teams points. .
First-year goaltender Adam Scheel has been the workhorse in goal logging 20 of 23 games and compiling a respectable 2.14 GAA and has posted a .899 SV%. Backup Peter Thome is out “long-term” with an undisclosed injury requiring the Fighting Hawks to add goaltender Harrison Feeney from the NAHL’s Lone Star Brahmas mid-season. The third goaltender, senior, Ryan Anderson is a walk-on from Roseau, MN who has yet to see any game action in his four years at UND.
Team Offense: 2.61 (42nd)
Team Defense: 2.57 (21st)
Power Play: 16.84% (39th)
Penalty Kill: 79.31% (36th)
Penalties (Average Min. Per Game): 13.26 (8th)
Scouting the SCSU Huskies:
The Huskies moved back to #1 in the USCHO Poll after an outstanding weekend sweep of then #10 Western Michigan University. Additionally, and more importantly, they have improved to #1 in the Pairwise. David Hrenak returned to form in the 3-0 shut out win on Friday and completed a two-win weekend as the Huskies prevailed 5-3 on Saturday. With 12 conference games remaining, they’ll be facing teams currently in the lower half of the conference standings until they face Western Michigan again on March 1st. Of course facing those teams doesn’t guarantee wins in the always competitive National Collegiate Hockey Conference.
Several bright spots lately are the addition of senior forward Robby Jackson and senior defenseman, Jimmy Schuldt to the 100 point career milepost. Schuldt was also recently named as a nominee for the Hobey Baker Award. They’ll both be integral to the SCSU success the second half of the season. The recent return of Blake Lizotte yielded positive results with a goal on Saturday and 7 shots on goal over the weekend. First-year forward Micah Miller notched goals each game and Jack Poehling was productive all weekend with two goals and five points. Ryan Poehling also had a strong weekend with two points. Despite the loss of Kevin Fitzgerald the addition of the two centermen has really solidified the lineup. The Huskies power play also got back on track with two man-advantage goals on Saturday.
The shut out on Friday helped elevate the Huskies defense to seventh in the nation allowing only 2.09 goals per game. Led by All-American, Hobey Baker finalist, pre-season All-NCHC pick and captain, Jimmy Schuldt (6-13-19 +7), alternate captain and senior Jon Lizotte (1-3-4 +8), and talented puck mover Jack Ahcan (2-18-2o +15), 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 +4) and a talented group of newcomers – Brendan Bushy (+2) , NHL draft choice Nick Perbix (1-9-10 +15) 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 a lower body injury in practice recently and will be out of the lineup indefinately. The entire unit is plus 54 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 and Patrick Newell 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.. He has not been penalized all season.
Montreal Canadiens first-rounder, Ryan Poehling has 19 points in 20 games and returned two weekends ago 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.The three combined for 9 points vs WMU. 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 winning 63% of his faceoffs and currently has 18 points in 20 games and is +13. 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 10 goals and four game-winning goals and 5 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 25% and Hentges 19%. Hentges and Walker have combined for 11 goals and 31 points and both are making a serious case to make the NCHC all-rookie team. Micah Miller finally got untracked last weekend scoring a goal each night. He’s aso +5.
David Hrenak is 12-2-1 and has a 2.17 GAA and a .905 SV% and three shutouts. Smith has split time with Hrenak and is 3-1-1 with two shutouts and outstanding 1.89 GAA and .922 SV%.
The Huskies are 7-2-2 on the road and undefeated on home ice at 10-0-0 and are 9-1-2 when they score first in a contest. They are also 13-1-2 when they score on the power play. First-year forward Sam Hentges currently leads the team with a four-game point streak.
Offense: 3.91 (2nd)
Defense: 2.09 (7th)
Power Play: 24.71% (7th)
Penalty Kill: 88.89% (3rd)
Penalties (Average Min. Per Game): 9.82 (46th)
This is a crucial series for the Fighting Hawks who need to have success against their next three opponents (SCSU, DU and WMU) if they are to improve their standing in the Pairwise. The biggest issue is their offense and I’m not sure that is a correctable situation at this point of the season. The key this weekend is for the Fighting Hawks to try to slow down the nations #2 ranked offense. However, if slowing down the Huskies offense results in penalties this could be quite punitive as well with the Huskies 7th ranked power play (25%) vs the UND penalty kill currently ranked 36th and under 80%. That’s not a good matchup.
It’s elementary that both teams need strong play out of their goaltenders. Scheel has been good but most likely will face more shots than he’s used to with SCSU averaging 33 shots per game. And, if the Fighting Hawks hit the scoreboard they best do it in period one as the Huskies have outscored their opponents 63 to 27 in the final two periods of the game.
It could be an interesting matchup to see two of the top faceoff performers in the NCHC square off. Rhett Gardner of UND and Blake Lizotte of SCSU both have faceoff winning percentages in excess of 60%. And, Grand Forks native Jon Lizotte returns to Grand Forks for his final regular series as a Husky. That extra motivation always seems to keep Lizotte on top of his game vs UND as he’s compiled 3 goals and 6 assists for 9 points in 13 games vs the Fighting Hawks. The other Grand Forks native on the team, Jacob Benson is not expected to be in the lineup this weekend.
Of course, you can’t dismiss the environment the Huskies will be facing at REA. In fact, the Huskies are 10-17-5 all-time at REA and 1-3-1 in their last five. It’s been a tough place to win games at for SCSU lately. “We are going into a tough environment ” said Brett Larson.”It’s a fun atmosphere. We look forward to weekends like this. It’s a big rival so there’s no extra motivation needed for UND. There would be nothing better than quieting that crowd.”
It doesn’t look like the weather will cooperate this weekend. However, once you’re in the building things should heat up.
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