St. Cloud, MN – The Huskies are one of the last two NCHC teams (Omaha the other) to finally begin conference play for the 2019-20 season as they host the Colorado College Tigers at the HBNHC this weekend. Both teams enter the series with records at or below .500 and in an unusual start for the Huskies they have tied 50% of the games they have played thus far. The Huskies begin a stretch of eight conference games before finishing off the first half of the season in the Mariucci Classic in Minneapolis on December 28/29. SCSU holds a huge all-time series advantage over the Tigers since joining the NCHC and they look to begin the conference season with a successful weekend.
St. Cloud State University Huskies (2-2-4 | 0-0-0 NCHC) vs Colorado College Tigers (2-3-1 | 0-1-1 NCHC)
TV: Fox 9+ (Both Games)
Live Stats: SCSU Athletics
Live Stream: NCHC.tv ($)
Live Audio Stream: TUNEIN RADIO
Radio: the River 96.7 FM | KVSC 88.1 FM
Tickets: SCSU Athletics
Where: Herb Brooks National Hockey Center – St. Cloud, MN
When: Fri Nov 15 – 7:37 PM CT | Sat, Nov 16 – 6:07 PM CT
Last Time Out:
The Huskies completed a successful non-conference road trip to Marquette, MI earning a tie and win vs the WCHA’s Northern Michigan Wildcats. But, it wasn’t easy with both contests decided in overtime sessions. On Friday, the Huskies appeared to be on cruise control with a comfortable 3-0 lead nearing the end of the contest. However, the Wildcats were gifted two five-minute major penalties with slightly over eight minutes remaining in regulation and rallied for three goals to salvage a 3-3 tie with the Huskies at the Berry Events Center. Nick Poehling, Will Hammer and Jack Poehling were credited with goals for SCSU.
In the rematch, the Huskies went from dominating the game with a 4-1 lead in period two to hanging on with the game tied at 4-4 in the final session. Ultimately, the team pulled together and found a way to win on the road in overtime by a 5-4 score. Nick Perbix scored the game winner 3:53 into the session. Easton Brodzinski (2-0-2), Jack Ahcan (0-2-2) Sam Hentges (1-2-3) and Spencer Meier (1-1-2) all had a multi-point game for SCSU.
The Tigers were idle last weekend and last played on November 1-2 hosting the Western Michigan Broncos in a conference series. On Friday, the Tigers carried a 3-2 lead into the final period but imploded defensively allowing four goals in a 6-3 loss. In game two, the Tigers appeared to be headed to a win until WMU’s Ronnie Attard scored with 24 seconds remaining in the contest. A scoreless overtime followed as the teams skated to a 4-4 tie.
Head to Head
SCSU leads the all-time series between these two squads 52-48-2. The Huskies are 4-0-1 in the last five, 8-1-1 in the last ten and have won 17 of the last 20. SCSU is 6-2-2 vs the Tigers in the last ten games at the HBNHC. Colorado College’s last win was on March 4, 2017 in St. Cloud by a 2-1 score.
Scouting the CC Tigers:
The turnstile has been active for the the Tigers since last season. Lost are their top four goal scorers in Mason Bergh, Trey Bradley, Trevor Gooch and Westin Michaud. All departed as seniors with the exception of Michaud who did a graduate transfer to North Dakota. They combined for 46 goals and accounted for 95 points. Obviously that’s a huge chunk of offense to try to replace. Fortunately, they return two players that will have an immediate impact on their offense. Nick Halloran was an All-American in 2017-18 after putting up 45 points and UND Transfer Chris Wilkie played 20 games last season before an injury sidelined him after February 26th. Already, Wilkie has 4-5-9 in six games and Halloran 1-5-6 in five games.
The coaching staff is expecting big things out of rookies Patrick Cozzi and Josiah Slavin who have yet to score but Providence transfer Bailey Conger (4-2-6) and Yale transfer Andrew Gaus (1-1-2) are already paying dividends. Sophomore Ben Copeland (3-1-4) has also started the season strong.
Graduation hit the CC defense hard as well with the loss of Ben Israel, Cole McCaskill and Andrew Farney all four-year players who played in excess of 120 games each. But, they return one of the leagues top young defenseman in Bryan Yoon who had 26 points last season and has already posted five points in five games this season. They will also have to rely on players like senior Kristian Blumenschein who has logged 104 games in his career and junior Zach Berzolla and newcomers Connor Mayer, Brady Smith and Chad Sasaki. There will be some growing pains with this unit and as a whole, they are currently -9 in plus/minus.
Like the other positions, the Tigers also had a big hit with the early departure of Alex Leclerc after his junior season. An outstanding fixture in goal for the Tigers he had a career spanning 108 games. He could be second-guessing his decision as he’s currently playing in the United Kingdom and has a 4.08 GAA and .875 SV% in the league.
To shore up this position, they’ve picked up Northeastern graduate transfer Ryan Ruck and NAHL Robertson Cup MVP Matt Vernon, the son of former NHLer Mike Vernon. Vernon was also a junior hockey teammate of current Husky freshman, Thomas Rocco. Backing up this duo is Maple Plain, MN native John Flakne who saw the ice in two games last season. Both Vernon and Ruck have split time in goal and both are currently under .90 SV%.
Nationally, the Tigers statistics are as follows:
Offense: 2.83 GPG (27th)
Defense: 3.67 GAPG (49th)
Power Play: 5/29 17.24% (27th)
Penalty Kill: 14/19 73.68% (54th)
Penalties: 20/40 6.67 AMPG (58th)
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 has been the starter in every game so far this season. 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 64 career games for the Huskies. However, it’s been a struggle for Hrenak statistically so far with a 3.24 GAA and .877 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.
There are two qualty backups 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. It hasn’t been the case thus far with the team yielding 3.5 goals per game. 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 6 but with numbers improving after last weekend. On the other hand, Jack Ahcan is 2-6-8 (3rd in points) in eight games and may be shouldering too much to support the rest of the unit and is -5. Spencer Meier has elevated his game greatly and is currently tied for 5th in points with 2-2-4 and is +2. He has become a key component of the Huskies power play unit. Nick Perbix scored the game-winning goal in overtime last Saturday and has two goals as well. But, he is -7 on the plus/minus and needs to shore up his defensive game. The coaching staff continues to seek the right defensive combinations with the abundance of bodies available.
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 been a challenge replacing that scoring and replacing two elite centermen. One player that is making an impact is sophomore forward Sam Hentges who was named NCHC Forward of the Month for October. He’s been spectacular with 6 goals and 9 assists for 15 points in 8 games. He has not been held off the scoreboard in a single game and has had five multiple point games. Easton Brodzinski has suddenly come alive with eight points in the last five games and it’s essential to have his offense clicking. Otherwise, there is no other forward with two or more goals.
The coaching staff continues to try to find the right chemistry and combinations at forward and specifically in the middle of the lineup. Sam Hentges has been shifted to the Poehling line with Kevin Fitzgerald moved to a line with Jami Krannila and Micah Miller. The “fourth” line consisting of Will Hammer at center and Thomas Rocco and Jake Wahlin has been outstanding and is +3.
Offense: 3.12 GPG (18th)
Defense: 3.50 GAPG (45th)
Power Play: 10/46 21.74% (16th)
Penalty Kill: 19/27 70.37% (57th)
Penalties: 31/106 13.25 AMPG (18th)
This should be a typically tough NCHC conference series. Both teams are looking for improvements in a number of areas including goals allowed, penalty kill percentage and goaltending. The Huskies will have the last change and that should allow them to try to neutralize a potentially potent Colorado College line of Wilkie/Congar/Halloren that has accounted for over 50% of the scoring for the Tigers to date. Additionally, the Huskies need to show more discipline as they’ve had an uncharacteristic number of ill-timed penalties so far. They also need to shore up their play defensively around David Hrenak.
The Tigers were perhaps one of the fastest teams the Huskies faced last season and so we should expect a lot of north/south hockey on the Olympic sheet of ice. The Tigers have been very disciplined and one of the least penalized teams in college hockey. As such, this series could come down to whose offense performs better at even strength.
Historically, the Huskies have a huge 17-2-2 advantage in the series between the teams since joining the NCHC. However, that usually doesn’t mean much once the puck is dropped. Both teams had extensive roster losses after last season and as a result both are still worrying more about how they are playing as opposed to their opponent. But, the Tigers roster consists of 13 upperclassmen so it’s not an inexperienced team. I expect goaltending to be a big factor this weekend. What else is new?
Keys to the Game for SCSU
- Brodzinski continuing his scoring streak and secondary scoring from the middle of the lineup
- Neutralizing (with line matchups) the Colorado College line of Wilkie-Conger-Halloran
- Limiting CC to 25 SOG and Hrenik with a .910 SV%
- Huskies with 30 SOG
- Discipline and focus to reduce penalties