NCHC Playoffs Begin as SCSU Battles Miami…Again

The Huskies celebrate a goal vs Miami in February (Photo Prout)

St. Cloud, MN – The National Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs commence this weekend and the top-ranked SCSU Huskies will host a team that gave them fits in last years quarterfinals. The Miami RedHawks once again travel to St. Cloud with one last opportunity to salvage a disappointing season finishing as the #8 seed for the playoffs. As many of you may recall, the Huskies earned a convincing 5-2 win in game one last year only to fall behind by a two-goal margin in game two and despite a two-goal comeback ultimately lost in overtime 3-2. Game three saw a repeat of the previous contest with Miami jumping out to a 2-0 first period lead and extending this lead to 3-1 early in period three. Once again it required a comeback effort by the Huskies with Patrick Newell getting the game-winner in overtime to send the Huskies to the NCHC Frozen Faceoff in St. Paul. Therein lies the challenge. The RedHawks  will travel 750 miles to St. Cloud with one last gasp of hope to extend their season. 

The Huskies who appear to have a #1 seed locked up for the NCAA tourney have had a magical season having gone undefeated in sixteen games on home ice. As such, the underdog RedHawks would like nothing better than to get some satisfaction out of an otherwise dismal season by knocking off the Huskies. Remember, this is the team that skated to two ties (2-2 | 4-4) with the Huskies in Oxford, OH in December.  This will be at a minimum the 5th and 6th meetings between the squads this year. 

#1 St. Cloud State University Huskies (27-4-3 | 19-2-3 NCHC) vs  Miami University RedHawks (11-21-4 | 5-17-2 NCHC) 

TV: Fri- Fox Sports North | Sat – Fox Sports North Plus | Sun (if needed) Fox Sports North
Live Stats: SCSU 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) 88.1 FM KVSC (St. Cloud)
Tickets: SCSU Athletics
Where: Herb Brooks National Hockey Center – St. Cloud, MN
When: Friday, March 15  – 7:05 PM CT | Saturday, March 16 – 6:05 PM CT | Sunday, March 17 – 6:05 PM CT (if needed)

Series notes – Miami | Series notes – SCSU

Last Time Out:

The Huskies engaged in a highly charged series to wrap up the NCHC regular season with the #3 UMD Bulldogs and swept the weekend by identical 4-3 scores. On Friday, it was classic SCSU vs UMD hockey. It was competitive, physical and emotional and a controversial call would ultimately dictate the outcome of this game. Nick Perbix was awarded the game-winning goal after an officials review determined the puck that went off his skate was not kicked in giving the Huskies a 4-3 overtime win.Nick Perbix scored twice and Patrick Newell and Micah Miller added the other two goals in this tough win. David Hrenak stopped 25 of 28 shots on goal to record his 20th win. The rematch on Saturday was no different with a 60 minute battle to determine the outcome. Sam Hentges scored the third period game-winner and Easton Brodzinski, Nolan Walker and Jack Ahcan added the others in this comeback win. Jeff Smith was given the start and he turned aside 22 of 25 shots on goal. The Huskies were 5 for 7 on the power play vs the second best penalty kill unit in the country.

Miami hosted Western Michigan and ended up dropping a pair of games by 5-1 and 6-1 scores. Despite basically trading shots on goal Friday, the Broncos jumped out to a 2-0 lead and the RedHawks never recovered in the 5-1 (EN) loss. Ryan Larkin stopped 19 of 23 shots on goal and Phil Knies scored the lone goal for Miami. In the rematch, Western posted a convincing win scoring five consecutive goals including three on the power play and cruised to a 6-1 win. Ben Lown had Miami’s only goal. Ryan Larkin allowed five goals on 25 shots and in relief, Ben Uhelski stopped 6 of 7 shots on goal.

Head to Head:

SCSU leads the all-time series going back to 1987 by a one-game margin – 18-17-4. SCSU is 13-5-2 all-time vs Miami at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center. In the last 5 games the Huskies are 3-0-2, 7-1-2 in the last 10 games and 13-5-2 in the last 20. They last met on December 1/2 with SCSU winning by identical 5-1 scores.

Scouting the Miami University RedHawks :

It’s been a tough several seasons for the RedHawks who have not had a winning conference or overall record since the 2014-15 season. Since finishing second in the conference in 2014-15, the RedHawks have gone 25-58-13 in conference and 47-79-19 overall and have advanced to the NCAA tourney just once in the past five years. This resulted in a major overhaul of the coaching staff with Brent Brekke and Nick Petraglia released and Peter Mannino (UNO) and Joel Beal (Sacred Heart) added.  It hasn’t been easy for the RedHawks since joining the NCHC and the glory years of 8 straight NCAA appearances and 2 consecutive years in the Frozen Four in 2009 and 2010 are a thing of the past when they were members of the Central Collegiate Hockey Conference.

They visit St. Cloud currently 8th in the NCHC with a 5-17-2 record and have gone 2-6-0 since they last played SCSU. They’ve been outscored 34 -18 in that span and have lost five straight.

Forwards
Two major departures from the 2017-18 squad were defenseman and team leader Louie Belpidio (10-20-30) to graduation and junior Kiefer Sherwood (9-21-30) who signed early with Anaheim of the NHL. Otherwise, the squad is essentially intact and has relied heavily on seniors Josh Melnick and Grant Hutton and juniors Gordie Green and Karch Bachman to support the offense. Melnick is a talented collegiate player, historically has been good vs the Huskies  and leads the team with 10-16-26. However, he’s been injured off and on this season and has missed six games. He is the RedHawks top offensive player and has 5 power play goals. Gordie Green (11-14-25), Derek Daschke (6-15-21) and Grant Hutton (7-13-20) are essential parts of the offense. Hutton is a defenseman but still finds away to pile up the points. Finally, Karch Bachman, a Florida Panthers draftee has blazing speed and was perhaps the RedHawks best player when the two teams met in December. The RedHawks have been waiting for Bachman to reach his offensive potential and he’s come to life with eight goals. Sophomores Casey Gilling and Phil Knies need to support the offense and they’ve combined for 10 goals and 21 points. Rookie Jonathan Gruden is a highly touted first-year player but has been in a slump with only one goal and two assists since the last series with SCSU.

Defense
Defense has taken a step backward from the first meeting with the Huskies. At the time, they were  ranked 8th in the country allowing 2.06 goals per game. Currently they are 25th allowing 2.65 goals per game. The aforementioned Grant Hutton is a team leader and graduate transfer from Dartmouth, River Rymsha is a welcome addition if only for one season. First-year player Derek Daschke has been an impact player already with 6-15-21 and is third in team points.

Goaltending
Goaltending did take a step backwards last season. However, the finger has to be pointed in the direction of the defensive unit as contributors as well to the lack of results. Ryan Larkin is back for his third season and they were hoping he could put last season behind him and return to his freshman form when he compiled a .910 SV% and 2.77 GAA. He was off to a great start this season with a 10-14-2 record, .939 SV% and a 1.76 GAA. But those numbers have deteriorated to the current 2.89 GAA and .910 SV%. He’s backed up by Alabama-Huntsville graduate transfer Jordan Uheliski currently 1-7-2 with a .901 SV% and 2.96 GAA.

National Statistics

Team Offense: 2.27 GPG (49th)
Team Defense: 3.08 GAPG (42nd)
Power Play: 16.2% (42nd)
Penalty Kill: 73.7% (47th)
Penalties (Average Min. Per Game): 11.08 (29th)

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 11th in defense. Special teams have been strong –  sixth nationally on the penalty kill and 8th on the power play. Seniors are providing tremendous leadership, there is balanced scoring, the first-year class is contributing and both goaltenders are 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 a #1 seed. The Huskies carry a 15-0-1 home record into this series. Since January 1, SCSU is 14-3-1 and they currently have a ten game undefeated record.

Defense
Currently, the Huskies are the 11th ranked defense in the nation allowing 2.15 goals per game.  Led by All-American, Hobey Baker finalist, 2018-19 All-NCHC 1st team pick and captain, Jimmy Schuldt (9-22-31 +20), alternate captain and senior Jon Lizotte (1-6-7 +11), and talented puck mover and 2018-19 second team All- NCHC Jack Ahcan (4-26-30 +28), this diverse unit of defenders is one of the top threesome in college hockey. Schuldt has played in 151 consecutive games, and surpassed Kelly Hultgren for career points by a defenseman with 114 and a school record 19 power play goals.  Add to the group, sophomore, Luke Jaycox (2-3-5 +7) and a talented group of newcomers – Brendan Bushy (+4), NHL draft choice and All NCHC Rookie Team Nick Perbix (5-15-20 +21) and local native Spencer Meier (+9) 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 83 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 34. 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 and was just named to the 2018-19 All-NCHC First team. Newell is leading the team in points and goals with 19-22-41 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 also was named to the 2018-19 All-NCHC First team has 30 points in 32 games and 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 30 points and are +25.. Sophomore Blake Lizotte made the NCHC All-Rookie team last season and the All-NCHC First team in 2018-19 and is one of the most exciting forwards in college hockey. He currently has 34 points in 32 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. He has 11 goals and four game-winning goals and six power play goals. Sophomore Kevin Fitzgerald is back in the lineup after missing 12 games and has 10-5-15 in 21 games.

Minnesota Wild draft choice Sam Hentges and Nolan Walker are already prominent contributors to the lineup. Hentges has 9 goals and 8 assists including two game-winning goals. Walker was just named to the 2018-19 NCHC All-Rookie team and has contributed 7 goals and 19 assists for 26 points. Micah Miller is another talented newcomer that has been a staple in the lineup the second half of the season and has 4 goals and 3 assists for 7 points.

Goaltending
With senior Jeff Smith and sophomore David Hrenak, the Huskies have a solid one-two punch at goaltender. Hrenak, named to the 2018-19 All-NCHC Second team  is 20-3-2 and has a 2.18 GAA and a .907 SV% and four shutouts. Smith has split time with Hrenak and is 7-1-1 with two shutouts and 2.01 GAA  and .923 SV%. Both can be counted on to get the job done for the Huskies.

National Statistics:

Offense: 4.03 (2nd)
Defense: 2.09 (9th)
Power Play:  22.13% (14th) 
Penalty Kill: 88.46% (3rd) 
Penalties (Average Min. Per Game): 10.06 (43rd) 

Game Prospectus:

Obviously, on paper, there is little comparison between the two teams. The Huskies are significantly better in every statistical category. However, this is Miami’s last gasp of air for the 2018-19 season and that should be motivation to put up a fight against the Huskies. This is a repeat of last years quarterfinals and the Huskies barely squeaked by the RedHawks to reach the Frozen faceoff. Despite winning the Penrose several weeks ago this SCSU team has not taken it’s foot off the gas pedal. They are legitimately ranked the #1 team in college hockey due to the impressive balance on both offense, defense, and special teams.Their ability to rally in tight games is extremely impressive.

With the return of Kevin Fitzgerald and the addition of forward Jack Poehling after being out of the lineup for the UMD series solidifies the lineup tremendously. It also supplies additional offensive pop as combined these two players have 20 goals this year. The usual suspects will have to be respected in this series for Miami and that includes Josh Melnick, Gordie Green, Grant Hutton, Derek Daschke and Karch Bachman. Keeping that stable of players off the scoreboard shuts down most of the RedHawks offense. With a penalty kill lagging at 73.7% Miami can ill afford to spend time in the penalty box.

Should Miami have man-advantage opportunities, the two players to keep an eye on are Melnick and Hutton who have combined for nine power play goals.

Miami goaltenders Larkin and Uhleski will  have to be on their toes this weekend as they were victimized for 10 goals in the last series vs the Huskies.

The RedHawks need a good game and probably a win on Friday to prevail in this series. A big win by the Huskies on Friday may be too much for Miami to overcome in this series.

Coach/Player Comments: “Our guys know Miami is capable of good hockey and everything has to be earned” commented coach Brett Larson. “Miami won’t lay down. This is their one shot to turn things around. We have to play our best and let them know things won’t be easy. We need to get the puck down low and keep it down there and make them play 200 feet. We need to play smart and not make risky plays.”

“They are dynamic in every way you describe a team” said Miami coach Rico Blasi. “For us, we have to play our A game and do everything at a high level ultimately playing good special teams and making sure we are disciplined in our systems and emotions. We need to make sure we are playing smart and simple and good with the puck and away from the puck and limit their opportunities. You have to be disciplined and can’t take foolish penalties. You can’t give them extra opportunities. Everyone needs to know their assignment and and we need good goaltending. We are the 8th place team and there is no pressure on us. We are expected to lose right? We’ll take it one shift at a time and see how it goes.”

“We are the only team that went a whole weekend without losing a game to them” said defenseman Grant Hutton. “They play on a really big ice sheet and play with a lot of speed and they want to break you down one on one so it’s important that we play together unified in the defensive zone and keep pucks to the outside and the goalie has to make some saves and we have to block some shots. We did it last year and we know how to beat this team.”

All the links for this weekends games can be found HERE

Visit our sister site huskiesillustrated.com if surfing via mobile device

 

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