Back to Work: Huskies Host Omaha this Weekend

(Photo Prout)

St. Cloud, MN – Following the Huskies sweep and first conference wins of the season at Miami there’s no holiday break yet as they go back to work this weekend hosting the Omaha Mavericks.  It’ll be their last chance to pile on additional conference points until they make a road trip to Denver on January 10/11. A successful weekend vs the last place Mavericks could catapult them to third place in the conference before they finish 2019 with the Mariucci Classic tournament on December 28/29. However, before we get ahead of ourselves, lets take a look at the weekend series with Omaha:

SCSU Huskies (4-6-4 |2-4-0 NCHC) vs  Omaha Mavericks (6-6-2 |1-4-1  NCHC) 

TV: Fox Sports North (Fri) | My Fox 9 + (Sat)
Live Stats: SCSU Athletics
Live Stream: ($) | Stream can also be found on: Apple TV and Roku,
Live Audio Stream: TUNEIN RADIO
Radio: 96.7 FM (St. Cloud)
Tickets: SCSU Athletics
When: Friday,  Dec 13 – 7:37 PM CT | Saturday, Dec 14 – 6:07 PM CT

Series notes – SCSU | Series Notes – Omaha

Last Time Out:

The unranked Huskies had an ultra successful weekend in Oxford, OH sweeping conference opponent Miami by 2-1 and 5-3 scores. These were the first conference wins of the season and first sweep of the year. In a nail-biter on Friday, Luke Jaycox scored the game-winning goal with 25 seconds remaining in regulation to earn the one-goal win.  Jami Krannila scored the teams other goal and David Hrenak stopped 20 of 21 shots on goal to gain the win, his third of the season. In the Saturday rematch, the Huskies found goal scoring from five different players in the 5-3 win. Nick Poehling led the way with a goal and two assists. David Hrenak had another strong game in goal turning aside 27 of 30 shots. The Huskies were perfect on the penalty kill keeping Miami off the board in five attempts over the weekend.

Omaha faced the defending National Champions on home ice and had the opposite results and were on the receiving end of a sweep by the UMD Bulldogs. In the series opener, the Bulldogs broke open a tight one-goal game in the second period to score four times in period three in the 6-3 win. All of the UMD goals were of the five on five variety. Teemu Pulkkinen, Joey Abate and Dean Stewart were the Maverick goal scorers and goaltender Isaiah Saville was victimized six times on 31 shots. On Saturday, in a tighter game dictated by special teams, the Bulldogs edged Omaha 4-3. UMD scored a shortie and a power play goal and Omaha scored late on a power play with an extra attacker but fell short in the rematch by a goal. In a tough weekend for Saville he allowed 3 goals on 16 shots and was replaced by Austin Roden.

Head to Head:

The Huskies are 24-10-2 all-time vs Omaha going back to 1998. SCSU has dominated this opponent going 5-0-0 in the last 5, 10-0-0 in the last 10 and 17-3-0 in the last 20. The last meeting between the two squads was on February 22/23, 2019 in Omaha with the Huskies prevailing by 4-1 and 5-0 scores for the weekend sweep.

Scouting the Omaha Mavericks:

Former Omaha defenseman, Mike Gabinet (2000-2004) took over the reigns of the program after a season as Associate Head Coach under Dean Blais in 2016-17. In his two plus seasons starting in 2017-18, Gabinet is attempting to put his stamp on the program, compiling a 32-47-7 record.  With 16 underclassmen including three first-year goaltenders it’s a work in progress. However, they have had success against ranked opponents defeating Western Michigan and Ohio State on the road and another key win over Wisconsin on home ice.

The team suffered huge hits to their offense with the graduation of forwards Mason Morelli (19-15-24) and Frederik Olofsson (10-24-34), two of the holdovers from the Dean Blais era and two of the top fowards in college hockey. The two combined to score one-third of the goals for the Mavericks last season.  It appears thus far that the Mavericks have a more balanced attack and are not relying solely on upperclassmen to lead the offense. Currently, junior Kevin Conley (6-18-14) is the points leader but sophomore Taylor Ward, who posted 27 points last season leads the squad in goals with seven. 6′ 3″ 200 pound senior power forward Zach Jordan has posted six goals as has USHL veteran and freshman Joey Abate. The team will also be relying on Colorado Avalanche draft pick and USNDT 17 and 18 alumn Tyler Weiss (2-9-11) and another junior hockey veteran Ryan Brushett to supplement the offense. Brushett posted 84 points for Powell River of the BCHL last season.

Sauk Rapids, MN native Travis Kothenbeutal will be returning home for the series and has logged 10 games and has four assists.

On defense, the Mavericks have a solid and sizable unit led by 6’2″, 206 pound Pittsburgh Penguins draft choice and senior captain, Ryan Jones and Arizona Coyotes draft choice, 6’2″, 200 pound Dean Stewart, another senior. None of the starters are less than 6’2″ and they average 200 pounds. Included in this unit are first-year 6’4″ 207 pound Brandon Scanlin, who currently leads the unit with 2 goals and 7 assists for 9 points, Minnesota natives, Jason Smallidge and Nate Knoepke and Kirby Proctor, another USHL veteran. Additionally, John Schuldt, the brother of  former Husky Jimmy Schuldt is a member of this defensive corps. This unit as a whole is a commendable +8.

Goaltending was a total rebuild for Omaha as they saw the departure of Evan Weninger, a stabilizing force in the position for four seasons and 115 games where he posted a career .91 SV%. They also saw the departure of Matej Tomak who had additional eligibility remaining but opted to return to Slovakia to continue his hockey career.

The team felt they hit the jackpot in first-year goaltender, Isaiah Saville, an Anchorage, AK native who was named USHL Goaltender of the Year last season while with the Tri-City Storm. The Las Vegas Knights draft choice currently has a 5-4-2 record, 2.96 GAA and .89 SV%. However it hasn’t been roses for the 19 year-old struggling in his last four games with a 84% save percentage. Saville was named this week to the preliminary roster for the Team USA World Junior squad.

Backing up Saville are two other first-year goaltenders in Austin Roden, who played with future Husky Brady Ziemer at Merritt in the BCHL and Jacob Zab who has yet to see any ice time. Roden is currently 1-2-0 with a 1.98 GAA and .914 SV%.

Omaha’s national statistics are as follows:

Team Offense: 3.36 GPG (11th)
Team Defense: 2.93 GAPG (35th)
Power Play: 23.08% (13th)
Penalty Kill: 78.33% (43rd)
Penalties (Average Min. Per Game): 17.93 (3rd)

Scouting the SCSU Huskies:

A group of seniors will lead the Huskies in 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.

They continue to strive for weekly progress and the coaching staff was encouraged with the Huskies sweep on the road at Miami last weekend. However, with a current 5% probably of making the NCAA tournament they need to continue their improvement and wins before they can consider any thoughts of post-season play. Currently, they are 17 points behind league leader UND, 13 points back of UMD but within five points of third place Western Michigan. A successful weekend could get them back in the conference mix.

The team lost its 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.

The offense continues to be led by Sam Hentges (7) and Easton Brodzinski (5). Even Hentges, who was off to a torrid start and was named NCHC Forward of the Month in October has been in somewhat of a scoring drought and has two goals in the last seven games. With better offense last weekend, the teams scoring deficit has been reduced to about half a goal a game. But, producing 2.79 goals per game on average will continue to force them into some close games. A positive sign was scoring by committee last weekend and seven goals scored by different players. Scoring by their depth players is needed if they are to have continued success.

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 3.36 goals per game placing them 50th out of 60 teams. The Huskies returned five starters from last season in Jack Ahcan, Nick Perbix, Luke Jaycox, Spencer Meier and Brendan Bushy. Granted, last years offense, which finished 2nd in the country controlled play and kept the puck out of the defensive zone but clearly there’s room for improvement this season.

As a unit, there has been improvement but they remain minus 14. Jack Ahcan continues to be the leader back on the blue line and is tied for second in points with 3-10-13. He is on the ice in every conceivable situation and unfortunately, his defensive statistics this season are a reflection of the amount of responsibility he is shouldering. More support for Ahcan is needed as they approach the second half of the season. Based on his play last weekend, Ahcan was named NCHC Defensive Player of the Week.

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 and the expectations are high for Hrenak who has played 70 career games for the Huskies. However, it’s been a struggle for Hrenak statistically so far with a 3.05 GAA and .887 SV% after thirteen plus games. On the positive side, Hrenak has had four consecutive games with his save percentage over 90% and last weekend stopped 47 of 51 shots for a .922 SV%. This is the result the coaches have been expecting out of the junior.

Backups Joey Lamoreaux and Jaxon Castor, both first-year players have had essentially no ice time thus far. Lamoureaux had 30 minutes of playing time vs Colorado College and stopped 14 of 15 SOG. Castor was been bothered by a practice injury but appears he’s ready to go. He backed up Hrenak in Miami last weekend.

National Statistics

Offense: 2.79 (30th)
Defense: 3.36 (50th)
Power Play: 20.37% (20th) 
Penalty Kill: 72.92% (56th) 
Penalties (Average Min. Per Game): 12.43 (22nd) 

Game Prospectus:
There is never an easy weekend in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference with more depth top to bottom than any other conference in college hockey. This weekend will be no different as the Huskies face the Omaha Mavericks. On paper, Omaha has the edge in every statistical category with the exception of average penalties per game.

The charge for the Huskies this weekend will be very similar to areas of concentration from last weekend:

  1. Maintain discipline, stay out of the penalty box and skate five on five.
  2. David Hrenak needs to be north of 90% in save percentage
  3. Balanced scoring. Seven different players hit the score sheet last weekend. They need scoring by committee.
  4. Omaha enters the series averaging 3.36 goals per game. Attention to detail defensively is a must.
  5. The Mavericks are penalty-prone. SCSU needs to capitalize on that if given the opportunity.

The Huskies have lost three times to the Mavericks in the last 20 games. In particular, the Huskies have dominated on home ice. We can safely disregard those statistics this weekend as the teams appear to be much more evenly matched. Omaha has size, depth and experience on defense and more balanced scoring up front. Saville is a highly touted goaltender with the ability for a big weekend.

The Huskies need to continue the momentum earned last weekend at Miami.

All the links for this weekends games can be found HERE

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