Huskies Face Strong Challenge in Road Trip to Grand Forks

(Photo Prout)

St. Cloud, MN – Two games into the conference season, there’s no need to panic for the Huskies. But, after getting swept on home ice by the Colorado College Tigers last weekend, the Huskies would sure like to right the ship on their road trip to Grand Forks to face current conference leader University of North Dakota. Selected team statistics for the Huskies are downright ugly compared to the Fighting Hawks who are top-ten in nearly every team category. With an 8-1-2 start and coming off a five-point road weekend vs one of the league favorites in Denver, the UND faithful are pretty sky-high about a team that has missed the NCAA playoffs for two straight years. Compound that with the typically raucous environment at Ralph Engelstad Arena and the last place Huskies have a huge challenge ahead of them.

SCSU Huskies (2-4-4 | 0-2-0 NCHC) vs  UND Fighting Hawks (8-1-2 |3-0-1 NCHC)

TV: Midco SportsNet
Live Stats: UND Athletics
Live Stream: NCHC.TV $
Live Audio Stream: TUNEIN RADIO
Radio: 96.7 FM (St. Cloud)
Tickets: UND Athletics
Where: Ralph Engelstad Arena – Grand Forks, ND
When: Nov 22 (Fri) – 7:37 PM CT | Nov 23 (Sat) – 7:07 PM CT




Last Time Out:

The Huskies had a disappointing home conference opening series getting swept by 4-2 and 5-2 scores by the Colorado College Tigers. On Friday, the penalty kill malfunctioned as the Colorado College Tigers scored three times on the man-advantage in a 4-2 win. After rallying for two goals in the second period to tie the contest, they allowed their 11th power play goal of the year at 10:47 of period three to give the Tigers the one-goal advantage they never conceded. On Saturday, they fell behind early and never closed the lead to closer than two goals while being swept for the first time at home by the Tigers in close to a decade. Colorado College outshot SCSU 32 to 29. David Hrenak stopped 13 of 16 shots while replacement Joey Lamoreaux stopped 14 of 15.

The Fighting Hawks on the other hand, had a highly successful road trip to Denver earning five of six points tying on Friday 1-1 and winning 4-1 on Saturday. In a tightly contested game Friday, the teams traded goals in the second period in the 1-1 tie but UND earned the extra league point on a three-on-three overtime goal by senior captain  Colton Poolman. In the rematch, Cole Smith scored twice with UND getting a power play, short-handed and empty net goal in the three-goal win. In an impressive effort, UND’s penalty kill stopped two major penalties and seven Denver power play opportunities.

Head to Head:

UND leads the all-time series 72-44-14. SCSU is 3-1-1 in the last five games and 4-4-2 in the last 10 games.The Huskies are 11-18-5 at Ralph Engelstad Arena. Six of the last ten games have gone to overtime between these two squads. SCSU is 2-2-2 in those overtime contests.

Scouting the UND Fighting Hawks

North Dakota recorded its 17th consecutive winning season last year but did not make the conference championship weekend for the first time since 2001-02 while in the WCHA. It was also the first time UND did not host a first round playoff series since 2001-02. Additionally,  UND did not qualify for the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season in 2019 after a 15-year run. North Dakota returns 20 letterwinners from last season, including seven of its top nine scorers and both goaltenders. Senior defenseman Colton Poolman, an NCHC Player of the Year finalist in 2018-19, returns to captain the team for a second season.  UND has 10 NHL draft picks on its 2019-20 roster, including three newcomers taken in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft: Shane Pinto (Ottawa), Harrison Blaisdell (Winnipeg) and Judd Caulfield (Pittsburgh).

Although the Fighting Hawks did not lose a lot of firepower from last years team they did see the departure of seniors Nick Jones who was second on the squad in points (20) and one of college hockey’s top faceoff artists, Rhett Gardner, who produced eight goals. They also saw the departure of Norweigan Ludwig Hoff who logged 92 games over his three seasons but had a disappointing three goals last year.

They’ve reloaded with top prospects Blaisdell, Pinto and Caulfield and as a trio they’ve produced 4 goals and 11 assists for 15 points. However, the biggest impact by a newcomer is  graduate transfer from Colorado College, Westin Michaud who is currently the team leader in goals with 6 and with 9 points. Jordan Kawaguchi who finished 2018-19 as the team’s top point producer again leads the squad with 3-11-14 in 11 games. Upperclassmen, Collin Adams (4-5-9) and Cole Smith (4-2-6) have contributed nicely so far. The biggest strength on this team however is not individual scoring but rather balanced scoring. Nineteen players on the roster have scored thus far. And, this is one of the reasons for an offense producing an average of 4 goals per game good for fourth in the nation.

The UND defense is highly experienced with five upperclassmen and only one first-year player joining the unit. They are led by senior Colton Poolman who has already logged 125 games in his career. He’s a great leader, has produced seven points thus far and is +7. He’s supported by offensive defenseman, Jacob Bernard-Docker (1-8-9), Matt Kiersted (1-7-8) and Gabe Bast who has been out since October 19th with an injury. This unit in combination with superb goaltending by Adam Scheel has them third in the country in team defense allowing a paltry 1.55 goals per game.

The Fighting Hawks are riding the talents of Adam Scheel who has played all 11 games thus far. Named NCHC Goaltender of the Week after the Denver series, Scheel stretched his unbeaten streak to seven games (6-0-1) and is now 8-1-2 on the season. He has now allowed one or fewer goals in eight of 11 starts this season. Scheel dropped his season GAA to 1.53 and upped his save percentage on the year to .924, both of which lead the NCHC in 2019-20. His 1.53 goals-against average ranks third nationally.

National Statistics

Team Offense: 4.00 (4th)
Team Defense: 1.55 (3rd)
Power Play: 16.67% | 7/42 (36th)
Penalty Kill: 94.87% | 37/39 (2nd)
Penalties (Average Min. Per Game): 9.91 | 46/109 (41st)

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.

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 10 assists for 16 points in 10 games. He’s been held off the score sheet only once this season has had five multiple point games. Easton Brodzinski has suddenly come alive with 5 goals and 6 assists for eleven points in ten games. Otherwise, there is no other forward with more than two 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 and the “Gold” line consisting of Will Hammer (2 goals) at center and Thomas Rocco and Jake Wahlin has been outstanding and is +4. It’s been encouraging to see first-year players Chase Brand and Jami Krannila begin to produce some offense.

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 3.70 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 a very concerning minus 13. On the other hand, Jack Ahcan is 2-6-8 (3rd in points) in ten games but is -7.  Spencer Meier has elevated his game greatly and is currently tied for 5th in points with 2-2-4 and is -1. He has become a key component of the Huskies power play unit. Nick Perbix is 2-3-5 but is -7 on the plus/minus and like the entire unit needs to shore up his defensive game. The coaching staff continues to seek the right defensive combinations with the abundance of bodies available. First-year Ondrej Trebil is a big body with good offensive skills and appears he’s worked his way into the lineup.

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 66 career games for the Huskies. However, it’s been a struggle for Hrenak statistically so far with a 3.39 GAA and .876 SV% after nine plus 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.

First-year Joey Lamoreaux replaced Hrenak for a period and a half last Saturday. He had a successful outing stopping 14 of 15 shots and was beat on a deflected shot from the point. If anything, he showed in his short stint that he is a  credible alternative to Hrenak. It’s difficult for the team to maintain any consistent success with goaltending south of 90%.

National Statistics:

Offense: 2.90 (25th)
Defense: 3.70 (51st)
Power Play:  22.50% | 9/40 (16th) 
Penalty Kill: 67.65% | 23/34 (58th) 
Penalties (Average Min. Per Game): 13.50 | 40/135 (14th) 

Game Prospectus:

This will be a challenging weekend on the road at a difficult venue and against a team playing at a very high level right now. It’ll take a lot of focus and discipline for a team still looking for their identity.

“UND’s defensive corps has matured. They are hitting their stride and they don’t beat themselves a lot” said Brett Larson. “After our (last) weekend, there is nothing better than a challenge. No disrespect to them but what better challenge than to knock them off”. On playing at Engelstad Arena senior forward Jake Wahlin commented “It’s a tough barn. But, the atmosphere is fun and a rink you love to play there. For us to be successful we have to believe in what we are doing and stay in our game plan. We have to do what the coaching staff wants us to do.”

And, the game plan needs to be better defensive play both at even strength and on the penalty kill which will lead to better goaltender play.

About the only area the Fighting Hawks are not excelling at right now is the power play currently 36th in national team statistics having converted only 7 of 42 opportunities. Conversely, the penalty kill has been lights out at 94.87% having only allowed 2 power play goals in 39 attempts. That’s not good news for the Huskies whose bright spot this season has been their power play converting 22.50%.

It’s imperative the Huskies maintain on-ice discipline and stay out of the penalty box. With a number of first-year players in the lineup it’ll be easy to be distracted by an amped up Engelstad Arena and against a UND team playing with confidence.The penalty kill has been dismal and the Huskies can’t afford to hand the Fighting Hawks that advantage this weekend. Easy to say, but goaltending has to be north of 90% this weekend or the Huskies will have little chance of picking up a win. North Dakota has a very balanced lineup with every line a threat to score. The Huskies will need a strong weekend defensively fending off an aggressive offensive attack and goal-mouth presence and lots of rubber thrown at the SCSU goal. The Huskies absolutely need to defend better around the goal.

The Huskies will be underdogs in this series and maybe that’s a good thing. It’s series like this that will benefit their growth in the long run.

All the links for this weekends games can be found HERE

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