#1 Huskies Return to Action With Road Trip to Omaha

(Photo Prout)

St. Cloud, MN – I’ve just  returned from an extended vacation so I’m going to have to keep this weekends update brief. After two weeks off, the #1 Huskies should be well-rested and ready for the final six-game push to end the regular season schedule. With the team  a ‘lock” for the NCAA tourney, goals to finish the regular season should include winning enough games to remain a number one seed,  outlasting UMD and Western Michigan for the Penrose Cup and getting consistent play from the team heading into playoff and tournament play. The NCAA Division One hockey season is perhaps the most lengthy and grueling of all collegiate sports and like any endurance athlete, the team needs to be peaking from a physiological standpoint at the right time. Certainly the two week rest should have allowed the team to recharge and get ready for the final push. This week they start with the Omaha Mavericks, a team the Huskies have  dominated in their all-time series. However, the team can’t afford to look ahead of anyone. Despite their struggles, the Mavericks are capable of performing very well on home ice and giving the Huskies a competitive weekend.  

#1/1 St. Cloud State University Huskies (21-4-3 |13-2-3 NCHC) vs #NR Omaha Mavericks (9-17-2 | 5-12-1 NCHC) 

TV: None
Live Stats: Omaha Athletics
Live Stream: NCHC.tv ($) | Stream can also be found on: Apple TV and Roku,
Live Audio Stream: TUNEIN RADIO
Radio: 96.7 FM (St. Cloud)
Tickets: Omaha Athletics
Where: Baxter Arena – Omaha NE
When: Fri Feb 22 –  7:07 PM CT | Sat Feb 23 – 7:07 PM CT

Series notes – Omaha | Series notes – SCSU

Last Time Out:

The Huskies faced Colorado College on home ice on February 8-9 and earned 5 of 6 conference points. However, the Huskies had to rally in both games to earn these important points. On Friday, all three Poehlings were instrumental in the game success. The Huskies had to rally just as they did in Colorado Springs in November to avoid losing to the sixth place Tigers. And, it was the Poehlings that did all the damage on the scoreboard for SCSU. Nick scored the lead off goal, Jack the game-tying goal and Ryan the second overtime goal for the extra league point in the 2-2 overtime tie. A spirited rally in the last five minutes of the Saturday rematch with the Colorado College Tigers completed a three goal comeback to finish off the Tigers and capture five out of six conference points on the weekend. Senior forward Patrick Newell had a hand in all three comeback goals including scoring the game-tying goal with 2:55 remaining in regulation and the game winner 3:53 into the overtime session. He left the ice Saturday with a four point game – two goals and two assists as the Huskies refused to yield their first loss on home ice this season.

Like the Huskies, Omaha last played on February 8-9 facing the Miami RedHawks on the road. The Mavericks earned a weekend split winning 3-0 in the weekend opener and dropping the rematch 4-2. In the Friday game, a power play goal by Teemu Pulkkinen 6:10 into the contest was all that was needed for in the 3-0 win. Evan Weninger stopped all 38 shots he faced in posting the shut out. In the rematch, Omaha fell behind early 3-0 and could never recover in a 4-2 loss. Chayse Primeau and Jalen Schulz had the goals for Omaha.

Head to Head:

The Huskies are 22-10-2 all-time vs Omaha going back to 1998. SCSU has dominated this opponent going 5-0-0 in the last 5, 9-1-0 in the last 10 and 15-5-0 in the last 20. The last meeting between the two squads was on November 7-8 with the Huskies prevailing by 2-0 and 7-1 scores for the weekend sweep. SCSU has won six straight games in Omaha.

Scouting the Omaha Mavericks:

With head coach Dean  Blais and household names like Snuggerud, Ortega, Vesel, Pope, Randolph and Guentzel now at least two years in the rear view mirror just who is the current version of the Mavericks? First, let’s start with the coach. Edmonton native Mike Gabinet is a former defender for the Mavericks through the 2003-04 season and then spent six season in the ECHL and AHL before returning to Omaha as an Associate Head Coach with Dean Blais. Hired to replace Blais starting with the 2017-18 season, Gabinet is trying to put his own stamp on the Mavericks program and is 26-34-4 since taking over the reigns. Despite having 17 upperclassmen to work with, the team lost 45% of its goal scoring and 42.5% of it’s points from last season with the departure of standouts David Pope, Tyler Vesel, Jake Randolph and Luke Messner.

Offense
There are some experienced forwards in seniors Fredrik Olofsson (10-2-30), currently leading the squad in points along with Mason Morelli (18-12-30) and junior Zach Jordan (7-16-23). Seniors Riley Alfed (4-2-6), Ryan Galt (4-4-8) and Steven Spinner (2-2-4) arel relied upon to lead. First-year forward Taylor Ward, a 6’2″ 200 pound forward has had a nice start to his career with 7-16-23 and Sauk Rapids, MN native Travis Kothenbeutal (2-3-5) will be a couple of other players to keep an eye on this weekend.

Defense
On defense, again, there is experience with Ryan Jones, Dean Stewart and Lucas Buchta. John Schuldt, the brother of SCSU captain Jimmy Schuldt is a 6″4″ 212 defender and another interesting sideline for the weekend. Cambridge, MN native and senior Jalen Schulz is another player with local ties.

Goaltending
The Mavericks return an experienced goaltender in Evan Weninger who has logged 107 career games. After a banner season in 2015-16 where he posted a 2.46 GAA and .923 SV% his numbers dipped to 3.36 and .899 last season and 3.47 and .903 currently. He’s backed by North Dakota transfer and Slovakia native, Matej Tomak, a 3rd round draft choice of the Philadelphia Flyers who has struggled to earn playing time since the 2015-16 season logging only five games this season and currently possessing a 4.73 GAA and .845 SV%. The other back-up Alex Blankenburg has not been the answer either with a 6.09 GAA and .750 SV% in his only start.

The Mavericks are having a tough time defending regardless if it’s at even strength or on the penalty kill. They are 56th in the country on defense allowing 3.68 goals per game – a pretty tough stat considering they are scoring 2.79 goals per game. The penalty kill is 44th allowing the opponent to score nearly 25% of the time they are on the man advantage. Discipline has been an issue as well averaging 15 minutes of penalties per game. A bright spot has been the power play ranked 8th nationally at 24.59%. Fredrik Olofsson and Mason Morelli have been extremely productive on the man-advantage with Olofsson’s 5 goals and Morelli’s 7 goals.

Omaha’s national statistics are as follows:

Team Offense: 2.79 GPG (32nd)
Team Defense: 3.68 GAPG (56th)
Power Play: 24.59% (8th)
Penalty Kill: 78.15% (44th)
Penalties (Average Min. Per Game): 15.04 (4th)

Scouting the SCSU Huskies:

The banner season continues for the Huskies #1 in the Pairwise, Krach, USCHO and in first place in the NCHC. For the most part, they are excelling on both ends of the ice and ranked second in the nation in offense and 9th in defense. Special teams have been strong –  sixth nationally on the penalty kill and 11th on the power play. Seniors are providing tremendous leadership, there is balanced scoring, the first-year class is contributing and both goaltenders are usually getting the job done. They are undeniably one of the top collegiate teams in the country right now and are a lock for the NCAA tournament. Earning splits in their next two series with Western Michigan and UMd will award them the Penrose Cup for the second straight year.

Defense
Currently, the Huskies are the ninth-ranked defense in the nation allowing 2.14 goals per game.  Led by All-American, Hobey Baker finalist, pre-season All-NCHC pick and captain, Jimmy Schuldt (8-17-25 +8), alternate captain and senior Jon Lizotte (1-4-5 +6), and talented puck mover Jack Ahcan (3-22-25 +22), this diverse unit of defenders is one of the top threesome in college hockey. Schuldt has played in 145 consecutive games, and surpassed Kelly Hultgren for career points by a defenseman with 108 and a school record 19 power play goals.  Add to the group, sophomore, Luke Jaycox (1-2-3 +5) and a talented group of newcomers – Brendan Bushy (+4), NHL draft choice Nick Perbix (+19) and local native Spencer Meier (+2) and you have one of the top defensive units in college hockey. Unfortunately, sophomore, Tyler Anderson, sustained an upper body injury vs Mount Royal and subsequently a knee injury in practice and he’ll be shelved for the balance of the season. The entire unit is plus 65 and not a single regular is in the minus.

Offense
The Huskies are currently ranked second in the nation on offense with a lot of depth at forward. Pre-season all-league NCHC pick Robby Jackson, led the Huskies in scoring in 2017-18 and currently is second in team points with 27. Jackson has joined the 100 point club this season along with Jimmy Schuldt. Senior Patrick Newell is an experienced forward and is the teams offensive leader this season  leading the team in points and goals with 15-17-32. He’s also joined the career 100 point club. He’s tops in college hockey with 6 GWG. Montreal Canadiens first-rounder, Ryan Poehling has 25 points in 26 games, is a 200 foot player and is integral to both the power play and penalty kill. The Poehling twins, Jack and Nick are preferably matched against the opponents top line and are beginning to add offense as well. They’ve combined for 25 points. Sophomore Blake Lizotte made the NCHC All-Rookie team last season and is one of the most exciting forwards in college hockey. He’s another player with tons of talent and a motor that won’t quit. He currently has 25 points in 26 games and is the top face-off player.  Easton Brodzinski is another member of the 2017-18 NCHC All-Rookie team and netted 14 goals his rookie season. and tends to score in bunches. He has 10 goals and four game-winning goals and five power play goals. Sophomore Kevin Fitzgerald was having an impact season until he was injured in the recent UMD series. He is expected to be out until March.

Minnesota Wild draft choice Sam Hentges and Nolan Walker are already prominent contributors to the lineup. Hentges and Walker have combined for 12 goals and 34 points and both are making a serious case to make the NCHC all-rookie team.  Micah Miller is another talented newcomer that has finally found the back of the net and has 4 points in his last nine games.

Goaltending
With senior Jeff Smith and sophomore David Hrenak, the Huskies have a solid one-two punch at goaltender. Hrenak is 16-3-2 and has a 2.21 GAA and a .900 SV% and three shutouts. He needs to be consistent down the stretch. Smith has split time with Hrenak and is 5-1-1 with two shutouts and 1.88 GAA and .923 SV%.

National Statistics

Offense: 3.82 (2nd)
Defense: 2.14 (9th)
Power Play: 23.21% (11th) 
Penalty Kill: 86.96% (6th) 
Penalties (Average Min. Per Game): 10.43 (38th) 

Game Prospectus:
The Huskies have dominated play between these two teams over the last 20 games and the Huskies have won the last six games at Baxter Arena. Omaha’s defense has been porous and although goaltender David Weninger has the ability to have a great game is not getting enough support overall from the team defensively. Poor defensive play has led to increased time in the penalty box for Omaha and they are falling short there allowing their opponents to score 25% of the time they are on the advantage. They need to show more discipline this weekend as the Huskies were 30% on the power play in their last meeting in November.

SCSU will have the added boost of the return to the lineup of Nolan Walker who is having an outstanding rookie year for the Huskies. You’ll see David Hrenak in goal on Friday and they’ll need more consistent play of of him down the stretch. His save percentage is teetering on falling below 90% and the Huskies will need him to be better as they near playoff time. Goaltending is perhaps the only position that is raising some concerns for the Huskies right now.

The Mavericks have the offense and that combined with a strong effort by Evan Weninger could allow for some success for Omaha this weekend. However, if Omaha allows 35 or more shots on goal per game this weekend it will be difficult to slow down the SCSU offense.

All the links for this weekends games can be found HERE

Also, if surfing by mobile device please consider checking out huskiesillustrated.com 

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