NCHC Showcases Huskies and Bulldogs for Frozen Faceoff Championship

(Photo Prout)

St. Paul, MN – What a feather in the cap for the National Collegiate Hockey Conference. The #1 Pairwise Huskies  faceoff against the #3 Pairwise UMD Bulldogs in what most certainly could be a national championship matchup. The teams finished first and second in the regular season conference standings and will be carrying the NCHC flag into the NCAA tournament as #1 seeds next weekend along with the Denver Pioneers who will most likely be a #2 or #3 seed. Tonight, in addition to school pride, the two squads will be vying for the Frozen Faceoff Trophy last won by the Bulldogs in 2017 and by the Huskies in 2016. The Huskies also made it to the championship game in 2018 losing to the Denver Pioneers by a 4-1 score. So, sit back and enjoy two of college hockey’s finest teams battle it out on the ice at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, MN.

#1 Pairwise SCSU Huskies (30-4-3 | 19-2-3 NCHC) vs #3 Pairwise UMD Bulldogs (24-11-2 | 14-9-1 NCHC)  

TV: CBS Sports Network
Live Stream: NCHC.TV $ (none)
Live Audio Stream: TUNEIN RADIO
Radio: 96.7 FM (St. Cloud)
Where: Xcel Energy Center – St. Paul, MN
When: Sat, March 23 – 7:38 PM CT

Last Time Out:

The Huskies defeated the Colorado College Tigers 5-2 in the Frozen Faceoff semi-finals on Friday while the Bulldogs shutout the Denver Pioneers by a 3-0 score.

Head to Head:

In all-time competition that goes back to the year 1946, the Huskies carry a 70-51-9 advantage. During the Division One era, SCSU again holds a 67-47-8 advantage. In the last five, SCSU is 4-1-0 and in the last ten SCSU has a 6-4-0 advantage. In the last 20 games, UMD leads 10-9–1. The teams last met on March 8-9, 2019 with SCSU winning both games by 4-3 (ot) / 4-3 scores.

Scouting the UMD Bulldogs

UMD surprised many with their post-season run culminating in their National Championship in 2018. Picked to win the NCHC this season, the Bulldogs continued their winning ways into the 2018-19 season with a 10-2-1 start . However, they hit a rough patch in December with a 1-3-1 record and every contest a close one. Their only win was a 4-2 overtime victory vs MSU-Mankato in the Desert Classic in Arizona. Since then, they’ve gone 10-5-0 and are currently ranked #3 in the recent polls and #3 in the Pairwise and a lock for NCAA post-season play.

Heading into the season, UMD’s strength was from the goaltender out with junior Hunter Shepard anchoring the defense and convincing the media that the defending champs would be the team to beat in the NCHC. Shepard and the defense have lived up to expectations with the 7th ranked defense in college hockey yielding 2 goals per game and a penalty kill that is 11th in the country with a 86.15% kill percentage. Add to that solid numbers by Shepard, with a 1.89 GAA and a .916 SV%  and it’s obvious you won’t score a lot of goals on this team.

Defensively, the Bulldogs are led by three of the top defensemen in college hockey in Scott Perunovich, Mikey Anderson and Dylan Samberg. Throw the rough and tumble Nick Wolfe into the mix and it’s simply a tough unit to play against. Sophomore Perunovich does it all for the Bulldogs logging lots of minutes and is a key player on special teams.  Anderson, named captain of the USA World Junior team is a hybrid defenseman and can play solid defense but contribute offensively as well.  Samberg is a rugged defenseman with skill and complements the play of linemate Mikey Anderson much like Wolfe complements the play of Perunovich.

This is not an offense that will blow you away like some past UMD teams but is solid and consistent in their play and has good leadership in players like Parker McKay and Peter Krieger. McKay is having a solid season with 12-14-26 and 2 game-winning goals and third on the squad in points. Sophomore Justin Richards has been a key offensive player as well – first in team points with 28 and three game-winning goals. Minnesota Wild draft choice Nick Swaney  missed a few games due to injury but is a reliable scorer and leads the quad in goals with 14. First-year player Noah Cates was also a member of the USA World Junior team  and has had a larger role the second half of the season with 9-13-22.  Dallas Stars draft first-round choice Riley Tufte who was expected to have a more prominent role in the offense this year has 18 points. It’s interesting that he has 7 power play goals and just two five on five goals. Another interesting offensive statistic is that forward Kobe Roth has seven goals with five of them on the man-advantage. Peter Krieger gets key goals with three power play goals and three game-winning goals.

National Statistics

Team Offense: 3.19 GPG (11th)
Team Defense: 2.00 GAPG (7th)
Power Play: 23.91% (10th)
Penalty Kill: 86.15% (11th)
Penalties (Average Min. Per Game): 11.32 (24th)

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. They are excelling on both ends of the ice and ranked second in the nation in offense and 11th on defense. Special teams have been strong –  10th nationally on the penalty kill and seventh 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 will be a #1 seed for the NCAA tournament and most likely will be placed in the West Regional in Fargo. Since January 1, SCSU is 18-3-1 and are undefeated since February 1st with a 13-0-1 record.

Currently, the Huskies are the 11th ranked defense in the nation allowing 2.16 goals per game.  Led by All-American, two-time Hobey Baker finalist, 2018-19 All-NCHC 1st team pick and NCHC Player of the Year, Jimmy Schuldt (10-24-34 +25), alternate captain and senior Jon Lizotte (1-8-9 +14), and talented puck mover and 2018-19 second team All- NCHC Jack Ahcan (6-27-32 +33 +32), this diverse unit of defenders is one of the top three-some in college hockey. Schuldt has played in 155 consecutive games, and surpassed Kelly Hultgren for career points by a defenseman with 117 and a school record 19 power play goals.  Add to the group, sophomore, Luke Jaycox (2-3-5 +8) and a talented group of newcomers – Brendan Bushy (+4), NHL draft choice and All NCHC Rookie Team Nick Perbix (5-15-20 +25) and local native Spencer Meier (+4) and you have one of the top defensive units in college hockey.

The Huskies are currently ranked second in the nation on offense with a lot of depth at forward. Senior Patrick Newell, NCHC Forward of the Year is the teams offensive leader this season and was just named to the 2018-19 All-NCHC First team and is a Hobey Baker Top Ten Finalist. Newell is leading the team in points and goals with 20-25-45 and has six game-winning goals. He’s also joined the career 100 point club. Pre-season all-league NCHC pick Robby Jackson, led the Huskies in scoring in 2017-18 and currently is second in team points with 18 goals and 39 points. He also leads the team with 112 shots on goal. Jackson has joined the 100 point club this season along with Jimmy Schuldt.  Montreal Canadiens first-rounder, Ryan Poehling also was named to the 2018-19 All-NCHC First team has 31 points in 35 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 35 points and are +23. 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 39 points in 35 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 15 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 10-8-18 in 24 games.

Minnesota Wild draft choice Sam Hentges and Nolan Walker are already prominent contributors to the lineup. Hentges has 10 goals and 10 assists including two game-winning goals. Walker was just named to the 2018-19 NCHC All-Rookie team and has contributed 8 goals and 19 assists for 27 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.

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 22-3-2 and has a 2.19 GAA and a .908 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: 4.14 (2nd)
Defense: 2.16 (11th)
Power Play:  24.29% (7th) 
Penalty Kill: 86.18% (10th) 

Game Prospectus:

The is a high-level matchup between two of the top teams in the country. UMD’s exemplary defensive play will look to neutralize the high-octane SCSU offense. In the last series between the two teams the Huskies solved the otherwise solid UMD penalty kill scoring 5 times on 7 man-advantage opportunities – a crazy 71% success rate. With two closely matched teams any mistakes can dictate the outcome of the game and UMD needs to tighten up better on the penalty kill. UMD’s Hunter Shepard is a highly consistent  goaltender and he’ll be a key for the UMD Bulldogs in this game. SCSU’s David Hrenak is on top of his game right now and needs to be extremely sharp against the opportunistic Bulldogs.

The Huskies offense continues to be buoyed by Patrick Newell, Robby Jackson, Easton Brodzinski and Blake Lizotte. Secondary scoring by the Poehlings and first-year players Nolan Walker and Sam Hentges make the Huskies offense difficult to control.

Riley Tufte always seems to step up his game against SCSU. They’ll need him to do so against this matchup. Ryan Poehling was injured in last nights game against the Tigers. The outlook is much better than first thought but I question whether he would be available for tonights contest. That’s a big dent in the SCSU lineup and shuffles the lines.

As home team, SCSU gets last line change. That’s a good thing if the lineup is indeed shuffled.

This game will be of national playoff caliber and the top game in college hockey today. What a warm-up for the national tourney!All the links for this weekends games can be found HERE

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