Huskies Return to UP for Weekend vs NMU Wildcats

Philip Beaulieu (Photo Prout)

St. Cloud, MN – After a six-year hiatus, the Huskies and Wildcats renewed their competition last season in St. Cloud. SCSU returns the favor in their first return to Marquette, MI since October of 2011. This season, it’ll be the unranked Huskies that are underdogs in this non-conference series vs the #16 ranked Wildcats. The competition between these teams spans over 30 years going back to the days when the Huskies were competing as an independent and first played the Wildcats at Lakeview Arena in Marquette, MI in 1987. The Huskies welcomed the Wildcats to the newly opened National Hockey Center in 1989 and the teams competed for seven season in the  WCHA until the Wildcats departed for the Central Collegiate Hockey Association in 1997. The teams have met 11 times since then with the most important game a 4-3 two-overtime win by SCSU in the NCAA West Regional at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul on 3/26/2010. It should be another intense weekend of college hockey.

St. Cloud State University Huskies (1-2-3 | 0-0-0 NCHC) vs #16 Northern Michigan University Wildcats (6-1-1 | 4-0-0 WCHA)

TV: None
Live Stats: NMU Athletics
Live Audio Stream: TUNEIN RADIO 
Radio: 96.7 FM (St. Cloud)
Tickets: NMU Athletics
Where: Berry Events Center – Marquette, MI
When: Friday, Nov 8 –  6:07 PM CT | Saturday, Nov 9 – 5:07 PM CT 



Last Time Out:
The Huskies hosted Princeton University of the ECAC losing by a 5-3 margin on Friday and salvaging a 5-5 tie in the Saturday rematch. On Friday, behind by a 4-1 score in period two, the Huskies rallied to close the gap to a goal but a late third period goal assured a win for Princeton. Sam Hentges played a part in all three SCSU goals with a goal and two assists. On Saturday, in a game marked with 16 penalties, special teams were prominent as the squads skated to a 3-3 overtime tie. Easton Brodzinski was the leader on offense for the Huskies with a goal and two assists.

The Wildcats faced Alabama-Huntsville sweeping the homestand by 5-3 and 4-2 scores.  On Friday, NMU received scoring from five different players with Darien Craighead getting the game-winner with his third goal of the season. In the rematch, Andre Ghanthous broke a 2-2 tie with his third goal of the year and game winner in the sweep of the weekend series.

Head to Head

SCSU leads the all-time series 23-19-1. They are 1-3-0 all-time at the Berry Events Center, 2-3-0 in the last five and the teams are knotted at 5-5-0 in the last 10 games.


Scouting the NMU Wildcats:

Former University of Minnesota forward, Grant Potulny is entering his third year as head coach and has compiled an impressive 52-32-6 record at NMU. He has resurrected and brought life to a hockey program that hadn’t had a winning record in five seasons prior to the hiring of Potulny. “We’re hoping to win 20 games again this year for the third season. The league (WCHA) is challenging, no doubt, but I feel like we have good depth and I feel that we have a (defensive) corps that has the ability to generate some offense.” said Potulny.

The Wildcats have a good mix of experience and two dynamic leaders in senior forward  Darien Craighead and senior defenseman, Philip Beaulieu. Both have logged over 120 games in their career and both will finish their careers as members of the 100 point club. Beaulieu, a solid 5’10” 194 pound defender from Duluth has already punctured the 100 point mark with 101 points and has a legitimate chance to surpass outstanding defenseman, Brad Werenka (1986-91) who currently sits second on the all-time list for defenseman at 128 points. Craighead, from Surrey, BC has 83 points in 124 games  including 36 goals and will most certainly surpass the 100 point plateau.

NMU will have the task of replacing the scoring of now departed players Troy Loggins, Adam Rockwood and Denver Pierce who combined for 40 goals, 55 assists and 95 points. They’ll start with Craighead and will have to rely on players like junior, Joseph Nardi and sophomore Griffin Loughram to step up. Loughram currently leads the team in points and has had a great start with 8-4-12 in eight games. Another surprise is sophomore and Californian Vincent de May who had a total of six points in 2018-19 and already has 7 goals and 2 assists for 9 points. As a result, he was named WCHA forward of the month.

In preseason comments Potulny thought his incoming class could be counted on to contribute this season. “The players up front, (Andre) Ghantous and (Jett) Jungels, are kind of different players. Ghantous had a couple years in junior hockey and Jett’s coming out of high school. But both of them, they just make a lot of plays. That’s something you can never do too much of. They’re going to have opportunities to play. They’re going to be on the power plays and they’re going to play big roles on our team” said Potulny. So far, Ghantous has 3 goals and 3 assists in 8 games but unfortunately, Jungels had a lower body injury and is out for the season. 

“We’re really excited about the ‘D’ corps and going forward that’s going to be a strength of our team. We can probably generate a few more goals, whether it’s deflections or tips or rebounds, because I do think those guys will get pucks to the net and if we can do that and get pucks through, it creates a little chaos by the net. ”

lt’s a no-brainer that Beaulieu, WCHA Defenseman of the Year and 2017 All-American, is an impact player. They are also counting on senior veterans Rylan Yaremko and transfer from Union College Ben Newhouse to shore up a defense that lost three seniors, James Vermueulan, Ryan Black and Tony Bretzman that all logged over 30 games for the Wildcats last season. They also like freshman Hank Sorensen who has already posted a goal and 4 assists and is plus 2.

It’s not easy to replace the now departed Atte Tolvanen who played in 137 games and won 62 over four seasons. The former two-time WCHA  First Team All-Star had career marks of 2.41 GAA and .918 SV%. He’ll be replaced by two youngsters with essentially no college playing experience. Sophomore Nolan Kent had a total of 14 minutes playing time in 2018-19 and will be competing with freshman, John Hawthorne. Prior to the season, Potulny said Kent probably had the edge since he played with the Wildcats last year, but he was “not in any rush” to determine a No. 1 goalie.” So far, both played 4 games with Hawthorne posting the better numbers with a 2.45 GAA and .917 SV%. However, it’s early and it’s a small sample. Based on games to date, it appears both will play this weekend vs St. Cloud State.

Nationally, the Wildcats statistics are as follows:

Offense:   4.00 GPG (8th)
Defense:   3.00 GAPG (36th)
Power Play: 9/39 23.08% (18th)
Penalty Kill: 30/38 78.95% (40th) 
Penalties:  49/112 14.00 MPG (12th)

Scouting the SCSU Huskies:

A group of seniors will lead the Huskies into the 2019-20 season. All-American and All-NCHC player Jack Ahcan was named captain and brothers Jack and Nick Poehling and Clark Kuster, a fifth-year senior are assistant captains. The team has added ten new faces after the departure of seniors Jimmy Schuldt, Jon Lizotte, Patrick Newell, Robby Jackson, Jacob Benson and David Zevnik. They also saw the departure of two top-notch centers in Blake Lizotte and Ryan Poehling who signed NHL contracts.

Junior David Hrenak entered the season as the obvious number one goaltender. The LA Kings draft choice finished the 2018-19 season with a 23-5-2 record, a 2.18 GAA and .906 SV%. He was a NCHC second team All-Star last season and the expectations are high for Hrenak who has played 62 career games for the Huskies. However, it’s been a struggle for Hrenak statistically so far with a 3.24 GAA and .884 SV% after six games. However, it’s not all on Hrenak’s shoulders as there’s been some surprisingly sketchy and inconsistent play from the defenders in front of him in the early season.

He’ll be pushed by two quality first-year players in 20 year-old USHL veteran Joseph Lamoureaux and another junior hockey veteran in 22 year-old Jaxon Castor. Both Lamoreaux and Castor rotated during the Alberta exhibition with Lamoreaux getting the “unofficial”  win stopping 14 of 16 shots while Castor stopped all three shots he faced. Neither have seen the ice since and it’ll be interesting to see how much patience the coaching staff will have before consideration of some rotation at that position.

Defense was assumed to be the strongest position on the team entering the season. The Huskies returned five starters from last season in Jack Ahcan, Nick Perbix, Luke Jaycox, Spencer Meier and Brendan Bushy. They add two other veterans in fifth-year senior, Clark Kuster and junior, Tyler Anderson, who missed the entire season due to injuries in 2018-19. Newcomers include 6’3″ 190 pound Ondrej Trejbal  from the Czech Republic and Trevor Zins from nearby St. Michael, MN.

As a unit, the defense is currently minus 12  with only two defensemen, Bushy (+1) and Anderson (+1) in the plus. On the other hand, Jack Ahcan is 2-3-5 in six games but may be pushing too much to support the rest of the unit. First-year defender, Ondrej Trebil looked good in his first taste of ice-time last weekend and he may be difficult to keep out of the lineup.

Sam Hentges (Photo Prout)

The team lost it’s top five scorers from last season – Newell, Lizotte, Jackson, Poehling and Schuldt. This group contributed 213 points (77 goals and 136 assists) and dominated minutes on the power play. All three – Lizotte, Poehling and Schuldt have been in an NHL lineup this season. It’s not that they won’t have skill at this position it’s simply a matter of playing experience and the growth young players go through in their first year. Sophomore forward Sam Hentges was just named NCHC Forward of the Month for October and he’s been spectacular with 5 goals and 6 assists for 11 points in 6 games. He has not been held off the scoreboard in a single game and has had four multiple point games. Easton Brodzinski has suddenly come alive with 6 points in the last three games and it’s essential to have his offense clicking. Otherwise, there is no other forward with more than a single goal.

The coaching staff continues to try to find the right chemistry and combinations at forward and specifically in the middle of the lineup as they are quite happy with the top line of the Poehlings and Fitzgerald and the “fourth” line consisting of Will Hammer at center and Thomas Rocco and Jake Wahlin.

Offense:  2.83 GPG (30th)
Defense:  3.50 GAPG (46th) 
Power Play: 6/24 25.00% (13th) 
Penalty Kill:  14/18 77.78% (44th)
Penalties:  21/64 10.67 MPG (41st)

Game Prospectus:

The 16th ranked Wildcats are playing some very good hockey right now. After a 5-3 loss at home to Michigan State on October 11th, the Wildcats are undefeated in seven games. However, NMU coach Potulny is not taking the Huskies lightly. “I don’t care what their record says. I just watched them and they have two kids that are playing that look like (NHL) first round picks. One has been an All-American a couple times and the other one is playing like one. They’re good. Their record, the tape doesn’t lie there. They’re gonna be good and we’re going to have to play well if we’re going to have success.”

The Wildcats offense has been good but like the Huskies, the special teams have been a mixed bag. The power plays have been productive but the penalty kill could use improvement as both are south of 80%.

SCSU assistant coach Nick Oliver described NMU as a “Good, well coached, balanced and experienced team. Their forward group is deep and our challenge will be to match their four lines. ”

Top forward Kevin Fitzgerald missed last Saturday’s game with an upper body injury and he was sorely missed. Oliver is hoping he’ll be back in the lineup this weekend.

Based on early season play, the Wildcats will be the favorite going into the weekend. And, don’t think the the 4-1 and 5-0 sweep of the Wildcats in St. Cloud last October won’t merit some consideration for payback in Marquette this weekend. This is an important weekend for both teams but particularly for St. Cloud in terms of the Pairwise. With only one win after six games, the Huskies need to start notching some”W’s”.

Also see: Wildcats Ready for Rematch on Rink (Ryan Stieg Story – Mining Journal)

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