St. Cloud, MN – The sun came up this morning and the top-ranked SCSU Huskies remain as college hockey’s #1 Pairwise team. They also carry a five-point margin over the UMD Bulldogs in the battle for the Penrose Cup. This following a weekend split with North Dakota at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks. After a 3-1 win on Friday, the lineup was decimated by the flu bug leaving them with nine healthy forwards. It required the Huskies to skate essentially three lines against a desperate Fighting Hawk team that needs wins to salvage their season. The undermanned Huskies kept the game relatively close particularly after a short-handed goal by SCSU’s Hobey Candidate Jimmy Schuldt with less than three minutes to play in period two.
It was not a crisp evening for David Hrenak, Jeff Smith and the Huskies who yielded two more goals in the third period to put the game out of reach. In fact, with the lack of manpower, coach Larson admitted the team “was pretty worn down by the end of that game.” Without a piece of the Huskies key checking line (Jack Poehling) and without top-scorer Robby Jackson team game strategy was forced to change. Larson further admitted “we didn’t play smart enough – we needed to play a real smart game with the low numbers. We needed to manage the puck and we didn’t . We had three turnovers that led to goals. We knew turnovers would kill us tonight and they did.”
Yes, the Fighting Hawks entered Saturday’s battle without Grant Mismash and his well-documented Friday Injury. He entered the weekend series with 5 goals and 4 assists for 9 points (-4) – sixth on the team. He was held scoreless through the third period on Friday until he left with his lower body injury. His absence became a rallying point for the Fighting Hawks on Saturday. “I think what really fired us up was Mismash,” Berry said. “That play there, that probably ended his season, we took it to heart. We felt we got slighted there a little bit, but guys are prideful. That’s one thing at North Dakota. We’re a team-first mentality and our guys wore their hearts on their sleeves for him.”
On the flip side, it does need to be mentioned the Huskies were missing Jack Poehling (5-7-12 +9) and Robby Jackson (10-12-22 +8) two key components of the squads offense and special teams. They were also missing Kevin Fitzgerald (10-5-15 +8) who was injured in the recent UMD series on an open-ice hit by defenseman, Nick Wolfe.
Obviously in a game where you have a short bench depth becomes a factor. For the Fighting Hawks the game was won by “depth” players Hain, Senden, Smith and Bowen who combined for all five goals. Those four players entered the series with a combined seven goals.
Coach Berry further mentioned to the Grand Forks Herald “There was a message there. It was: ‘Hey, the first thing we have to do is win the game. I know we’re mad, pissed off. But we need to keep our emotions in check to get the job done at hand. And then after, we can do what we do.’ And, with the game out of reach for the Huskies “do what we do” seems to have led to an unnecessary chop to the forearm of World Junior Tourney MVP and top SCSU forward Ryan Poehling by UND defenseman Gabe Bast with 45 seconds remaining in the contest. What ensued was eight penalties called to end the game. Bast was previously given a one-game suspension by the NCHC for an illegal hit to the head of Colorado College’s Alex Berandinelli on January 11. Consistently one of the least penalized teams in college hockey, the Huskies entered the weekend series 46th in the nation averaging 9.82 penalty minutes a game. North Dakota was ranked 8th averaging 13.24 penalty minutes per game.
For North Dakota, there was reason for celebration and relief as they picked up their first win in seven tries vs the Huskies. Entering the series 21st in the Pairwise and 42nd in offense nationally, they accomplished two things. First they moved up slightly in the all-important Pairwise to #20 and second, they found some offense from a group of players that have not hit the score sheet with regularity this season. However, the road does not get any easier and unless they can have some success on the road vs Denver and Western Michigan and at home vs UMD, it may come down to success in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff for a berth in the NCAA tournament.
The Huskies can now work on getting their roster healthy for two consecutive home series vs Miami and Colorado College followed by a road trip to Omaha. They end the conference season with what should be a highly entertaining and crucial series with Minnesota-Duluth on home ice on March 8/9.
And yes, the sun came up this morning and the Huskies are still #1 in the Pairwise.