St. Cloud, MN- The newly crowned 2018-19 Penrose Cup Champion St. Cloud State University hockey team jumps back into the fire this weekend with a trip to Kalamazoo, MI to face the #10 ranked Western Michigan University Broncos. Don’t expect this to be a hospitable welcome for two reasons: First, the Huskies swept the Broncos in St. Cloud in mid-January and second, the Broncos are looking to get back on track after an embarrassing 8-2 pounding at the hands of Colorado College last Saturday. Obviously, the odds were not great that WMU would overtake the Huskies in the battle for the Penrose but getting dismantled so badly in a crucial game had to hurt. Believe me, the Broncos and their “lunatics” would like nothing better than to inflict a little humility on the Huskies in this battle of top-ten teams bound for the NCAA tourney.
The Huskies on the other hand need to stay hungry. The next two series will be against NCAA tournament participants and every game from here on out will have a playoff atmosphere. Momentum is everything heading into the NCHC playoffs and as mentioned in a previous post, much like an endurance athlete, they need to peaking at the right time not only physically but mentally.From here on out, the battles become more intense until it’s a one and out in the NCAA tournament. There needs to be that fine balance of preparedness, focus and stamina as each game becomes that much more crucial as they compete for success in the post-season. .
As captain Jimmy Schuldt told Minnesota Score Radio in his interview this past week “For us, the past three years haven’t ended the way we wanted it to. It’s mostly about playing in the moment and realizing what got you there in the first place. It’s about sticking with our game plan realizing what gave us success in the regular season. Right now, we have to finish off a real good regular season and worry about the playoffs when we get there”.
It begins this weekend in Kalamazoo. And, as coach Larson told me “we have a lot of work left to do.”
#1 SCSU Huskies (23-4-3 | 15-2-3 NCHC) vs #10 WMU Broncos (18-11-1 | 11-8-1 NCHC)
Live Stats:WMU Broncos
Live Stream: NCHC.TV $
Live Audio Stream: TUNEIN RADIO
Radio: 96.7 FM (St. Cloud) 88.1 FM (St. Cloud)
Tickets: WMU Broncos
Where: Lawson Arena | Kalamazoo, MI
When: Fri, Mar 1 6:07 PM CT | Sat, Mar 2 6:07 PM CT
Last Time Out:
The Huskies captured the Penrose Cup following a 4-1 / 5-0 sweep of the Omaha Mavericks on the road. The Huskies continued their mastery of the Omaha Mavericks with a convincing 4-1 win at Baxter Arena in Omaha on Friday, February 22. SCSU junior forward Ryan Poehling had a big night scoring twice including the game-winning goal to lead the Huskies attack. Sam Hentges scored the lead-off goal for SCSU in the first period and Nick Poehling added another in period two as the Huskies won their 7th straight game in Omaha. In the Saturday rematch, despite winning by a five-goal margin 5-0, the Huskies only had a one shot advantage 31-30. David Hrenak stopped all 30 shots on goal to register his fourth shutout of the season and saw his record improve to 18-3-2. Robby Jackson (1-1-2), Jimmy Schuldt (0-2-2), Blake Lizotte (1-1-2) and Patrick Newell (1-1-2) all had a multiple point game for SCSU. Jack Poehling scored the game-winning goal in period one.
The Broncos had their hands full with the Colorado College Tigers in a tough road series. Things were looking bleak for the Broncos as the Tigers scored in the first two minutes of period three of Friday’s game to take a 4-2 lead. But, WMU rallied with two goals to knot the game and send it to overtime. Hugh McGing made quick work of the final result with an overtime goal eighteen seconds into the session for a 5-4 Bronco victory. Saturday appeared to be a repeat of Friday with CC again scoring in the first two minutes of the third period to gain a 4-2 lead. But, this time they rattled off four straight even straight goals in a 8-2 pummeling of the Broncos. WMU goaltender Trevor Gorsuch allowed seven goals on 34 shots in a forgettable game.
Head to Head:
SCSU leads the all-time series 14-4-4 going back to December 29, 2011. The teams have participated in six overtime contests with three of them ending in a 5-5 draw. The series between the teams was knotted at 3-3-2 until January 24, 2015. After that, SCSU has carried a 11-1-1 record vs the Broncos. This includes an 11-1 win at Lawson Arena on 11/14/2015. The Huskies have never lost at Lawson Arena and carry a 5-0-3 record in Kalamazoo.
The teams met at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center on January 18-19 with SCSU sweeping the series 3-0 and 5-3.
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 (16-12-28), junior Hugh McGing (16-14-30), junior Colt Conrad (8-20-28) and sophomore Ethan Frank (14-11-25). 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 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 9-13-22 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 16 games this season with 3 goals and 4 assists for 7 points. He’s obviously still not 100%.
At defense, junior Cam Lee is a mobile offensive defenseman and has seven goals and sixteen assists and is +6. 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 World Junior Championships. The 6’4″ 214 Samuelsson is the son of former NHL defenseman Kjell Sanuelsson and is a smooth skating blueliner 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 14 points and is +4.
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 the primary netminder for most of the season.He has a record of 11-2-1 and a .910 SV% and 2.73 GAA.
The Broncos are an enigma on special teams with a power play that is struggling at 18.6% despite the amount of firepower that they possess at forward. Likewise the penalty kill has not performed well either with a 79% kill percentage..
Team Offense: 3.47 GPG (6th)
Team Defense: 3.10 GAPG (41st)
Power Play: 18.60% (30th)
Penalty Kill: 79.43% (37th)
Penalties (Average Min. Per Game): 14.77 (4th)
Scouting the SCSU Huskies:
The banner season continues for the Huskies #1 in the Pairwise, Krach, USCHO and they have captured the Penrose Cup as the regular season Champion in the NCHC. They’ve now won the Penrose Cup 50% of the time the league has been in existence. For the most part, they are excelling on both ends of the ice and ranked second in the nation in offense and 7th in defense. Special teams have been strong – fourth nationally on the penalty kill and 12th 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 and are a lock for the NCAA tournament and most likely a #1 seed.
Currently, the Huskies are the 7th ranked defense in the nation allowing 2.03 goals per game. Led by All-American, Hobey Baker finalist, pre-season All-NCHC pick and captain, Jimmy Schuldt (8-19-27 +13), alternate captain and senior Jon Lizotte (1-4-5 +8), and talented puck mover Jack Ahcan (3-22-25 +23), this diverse unit of defenders is one of the top threesome in college hockey. Schuldt has played in 147 consecutive games, and surpassed Kelly Hultgren for career points by a defenseman with 110 and a school record 19 power play goals. Add to the group, sophomore, Luke Jaycox (1-2-3 +6) and a talented group of newcomers – Brendan Bushy (+6), NHL draft choice Nick Perbix (+19) and local native Spencer Meier (+5) 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.
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 29. 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 16-19-35 and leads the nation in game-winning goals with six. He’s also joined the career 100 point club. Montreal Canadiens first-rounder, Ryan Poehling has 27 points in 28 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 28 points and are +23.. 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 28 points in 28 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 may be back in the lineup for the UMD series next week..
Minnesota Wild draft choice Sam Hentges and Nolan Walker are already prominent contributors to the lineup. Hentges and Walker have combined for 13 goals and 36 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 3-2-5.
With senior Jeff Smith and sophomore David Hrenak, the Huskies have a solid one-two punch at goaltender. Hrenak is 18-3-2 and has a 2.06 GAA and a .909 SV% and four 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%.
Offense: 3.87 (2nd)
Defense: 2.03 (7th)
Power Play: 22.88% (12th)
Penalty Kill: 87.63% (4th)
Penalties (Average Min. Per Game): 10.20 (41st)
This series will feature two NCAA tournament bound teams. The Broncos have never beaten St. Cloud State at Lawson Arena. That accomplishment will be put to a test as the Broncos have an outstanding record of 11-3-1 At Lawson Arena this season. On paper, the Huskies have an advantage in every statistical category. Although the Broncos have no issues putting the puck in the net, the concern is their ability to defend both at even strength and on the penalty kill. With a goal for to goal against differential of less than half a goal they leave little margin for error if they aren’t scoring at least three goals per game. Part of it has been goaltending as of late but the overall team defense has to take ownership as well. They also compound the issue being the fourth most penalized team in the country. With a penalty kill at less than 80% they simply can’t afford to allow the Huskies 12th ranked power play to go to work.
In the previous series this season the Huskies placed 37 shots on goal each game. The Huskies have had a high level of success this season when getting at least 33 shots per game. Unless the Broncos can tighten up defensively that’s simply too many opportunities to allow college hockey’s second-ranked offense. As home team, the Broncos will get last change. That will at east allow them to get the matchups they’d like to see.
The Huskies have a fairly healthy lineup with the exception of Kevin Fitzgerald who is close to returning to the ice. In terms of game strategy, there’s not much for the Huskies to change. This is one of the quickest teams the Huskies will face all season and short of getting the line matchups they prefer, the Huskies should be able to roll their lines as they normally do. SCSU goaltending needs to be up to task. No doubt the Broncos will come out of the gates hard on Friday and Hrenak will have to be ready fir an early assault.
The home crowd will be an intangible advantage for the Broncos and they’ll be keyed up to perform well this weekend. Games at Lawson are always a great atmosphere. As mentioned, it’ll be playoff style hockey.
All the links for this weekends games can be found HERE
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