Weekend Preview: #8 Bulldogs Present Challenge for St. Cloud State

Hunter Shepard (Photo Prout)

St. Cloud, MN – The Huskies return home to face the second-place UMD Bulldogs in another key National Collegiate Hockey Conference series. Always entertaining, the Huskies are looking to get back on track after suffering losses in three straight NCHC games. The standings are very tight between position four and eight and the Huskies will need a strong weekend against the defending national champions in order to stay in reach of an ultimate home playoff position.

# SCSU Huskies (6-10-4 | 3-7-0 NCHC) vs #8 UMD Bulldogs (12-6-2 | 7-1-2 NCHC)  

TV: Fox 9 + (Fri) | Fox Sports North + (Sat)
Live Stats: SCSU Athletics
Live Stream: NCHC.TV $  (Sat only)
Live Audio Stream: TUNEIN RADIO
Radio: 96.7 FM (St. Cloud) KVSC 88.1 FM 
Tickets: SCSU Athletics
Where: Herb Brooks National Hockey Center – St. Cloud, MN
When: Fri, Jan 17 – 7:35 PM CT | Sat,  Jan 18 – 4:05 PM CT


The Huskies were on the road at Denver last weekend and were swept 6-3 (EN) and 5-3 (EN) in a roller coaster weekend. On Friday, 5th ranked Denver University outshot SCSU 48-26 and outscored the Huskies 3-1 in the final period in the three-goal win. It was a one goal game entering the third period but penalty trouble gifted the Pioneers a five on three and the dangerous Pioneers capitalized. On Saturday, a rough start to period two saw Denver explode for four goals in the first 13:20 of the second period and despite a valiant three goal rally by the Huskies they couldn’t overcome the deficit in the 5-3 loss.

The Bulldogs faced some stiff competition hosting the Western Michigan Broncos but still came away with a four points in a 6-3 (EN) win Friday and a 3-3 overtime tie on Saturday.  A three goal third period including an empty netter buried the Broncos Friday. Nick Swaney scored twice in the third. On Saturday, WMU appeared to be in good shape with a 3-1 lead entering period three. However, a Scott Perunovich goal at 11:48 tied the game and sent it to overtime with neither team able to score in the extra session.

Head to Head:

In all-time competition that goes back to the year 1946, the Huskies carry a 70-52-9 advantage. During the Division I era, SCSU again holds a 67-48-8 advantage. In the last five, SCSU is 3-2-0 and in the last ten, the Huskies have a 6-4-0 advantage. In the last 20 games, SCSU carries a 10-9-1 advantage. The teams last met on March 23,2019 in the Frozen Faceoff Championship game at the Xcel Energy Center. In a highly entertaining and competitive game, the Bulldogs prevailed in two overtimes by a 3-2 score.


Scouting the UMD Bulldogs

With 13 upperclassmen and many key players returning from their national championship squad of 2019, it’s no surprise to see the Bulldogs a threat to make a run at the national title for the third consecutive year. Their strength is from the goaltender out with Hunter Shepard returning for his senior season along with a strong trio of defenseman including Scott Perunovich, Nick Wolf and Dylan Samberg. Losing several key forwards from last years squad generated some questions about their offense but they are producing over three goals per game. The power play has been outstanding and is currently 4th in the country with over a 28% success rate.

It was a boost for this team to see Hunter Shepard return for his senior season. His numbers last season were spectacular with a 29-11-2 record, 1.76 GAA and .923 SV%. Once again, he’s a workhorse playing in all 20 games for the Bulldogs. However, the numbers have dipped with a 2.35 GAA and .909 SV%. Shepard was named NCHC goaltender of the week following the WMU series.

The Bulldogs feature six upperclassmen on the blue line and return three prominent players in Scott Perunovich, Dylan Samberg and Nick Wolf. Perunovich, currently the team’s leader with 25 points provides the same type of play for the Bulldogs as Jack Ahcan does for the Huskies. Sizable defenseman Samberg (6’4″ 225) and Nick Wolf (6’4″ 230) lead a defense allowing 2.45 goals per game. Samberg has 13 points – all assists and is sixth on the squad in points. The defense is currently ranked 19th in the country and allowing more scoring than last year having finished the regular season allowing only 2.00 goals per game. The penalty kill is nowhere near last years performance currently 30th at  80.25%. They were a top-five unit last season.

The offense took a hit with the graduation of last seasons top scorer Parker Mackay who was also a clutch player with 4 game-winning goals. Additional losses were Peter Kreiger who scored 9 goals and the departure early of Riley Tufte to the Dallas Stars organization. He never quite met the expectations as a scorer but did have 6 points in 13 games vs SCSU.

The Bulldogs did return a sizable chunk of offense (over 75%) from last year with 96 goals and 268 points.This season, scoring is coming from underclassmen with sophomores Noah Cates (11 goals), Cole Koepke (8 goals) and Jackson Cates (7 goals) providing nearly 40 percent of the goals. Minnesota Wild draftee and junior, Nick Swaney, always a threat, has netted seven goals as well. Another junior, Kobe Roth has equaled his eight goals from last season. It’s not an overly balanced offense but they are getting the job done currently ranked 15th in the country scoring 3.25 goals per game. Surprisingly, this is more offense than the Bulldogs were producing at the end of the regular season last year.

National Statistics

Team Offense: 3.25 GPG (15th)
Team Defense: 2.45 GAPG (19th)
Power Play: 28.05% (4th)
Penalty Kill: 80.25% (30th)
Penalties (Average Min. Per Game): 13.90 (10th)

Micah Miller (Photo Prout)

Scouting the SCSU Huskies:

The Huskies currently find themselves in last place in the NCHC standings, a position they are not been accustomed to over the last decade. Inconsistent play, a defense not performing as expected and defensive lapses during games have all contributed to this lack of success. On the positive side, they have the same number of wins as fourth place Western Michigan and one successful weekend could catapult them to fourth place in the standings. However, with 14 conference games remaining, urgency is beginning to rear its head if they are to secure home ice for the league playoffs. With their current odds of making the NCAA tournament about 3% all the team can do is keep improving and go on a run of wins the second half of this season. When this team plays disciplined hockey and is clicking on all cylinders they can be very good. It’s a function of a young team and all part of their growth.

It’s been a disappointing season from a defensive standpoint. Currently, the defense is ranked 53rd and the penalty kill 57th. As a team, they are minus 7 and the defensive unit is minus 16. From a plus/minus standpoint, the top pairing of Ahcan and Perbix are minus 22. Certainly, it’s a function of other factors and not always an accurate representation of performance. Factors beyond the players control such as goaltender save percentage, shooting percentages and other factors play into this. Both Ahcan and Perbix are having good offensive seasons and both are in the top seven in points – Ahcan second with 17 points and Perbix seventh with 9 points.

The defense has improved incrementally when you compare the first 10 games to the most recent 10 games improving from 3.70 goals per game to 3.20. The penalty kill’s improvement has been much greater from 71% to 80%. Within the last ten games was a run of five games where they did not allow a power play goal in 12 attempts.

The team is also starting to see some incremental improvement in the offense and some trends normally expected at this point in the season. Hentges, who was on a tear in the first few months of the season is seeing his leadership in points being eroded by Ahcan and Brodzinski. Brodzinski has taken over the team lead in goals with eight and he’s been consistent in his offensive production. Hentges, who has been out of the lineup for two games had one goal in his previous ten games after six in his previous 8 games.

As expected, the first-year players are starting to get experience and it’s starting to show in their offense. Jami Krannila is 5th in points with ten and Chase Brand 9th with eight points. Zach Okabe had the well publicized four goal performance vs Mankato in the Mariucci Classic. Sophomores, Nolan Walker and Micah Miller have been two of the most effective forwards as of late with Walker producing six points in the past six games and Miller with three goals in the last six games.

The power play which was 9 for 40 (22.5%) over the first 10 games has regressed to 6 for 32 (18.75%) in the last 10 games.

Junior, David Hrenak started the first 15 games of the season and has since rotated with first-year player, Jaxon Castor.  Hrenak has  a 3.12 GAA and .890 SV% and Castor 2.94 GAA and .885 SV%. The rotation will continue and stronger plays expected as neither goaltender has dented the top 50 in goals against or save percentage.

National Statistics:

Offense: 3.00 (21st)
Defense: 3.45 (53rd)
Power Play:  20.83% (19th) 
Penalty Kill: 73.44% (57th) 
Penalties (Average Min. Per Game): 10.60 (34th) 

Game Prospectus:

This is always an entertaining and competitive series. There should be no surprises in terms of strategy and systems as coach Larson spent six years on Scott Sandelin’s staff as an assistant at UMD and most recently coached with him in the World Junior Championships.

The Huskies will be facing one of the top netminders in college hockey in Hunter Shepard. Discipline will be a key for the Huskies as the Bulldogs have a power play producing at close to 30 percent. It appears Sam Hentges who is out with a lower body injury is questionable which places more stress on others to produce offensively.

Coach Larson felt the team was on it’s heels too much last weekend. He wants to see the team attack the zone with speed with a minimum of lateral passes. He’d like to see more shooting than passing when the opportunity arises. He felt the team passed on opportunities to shoot last weekend.

From a defensive standpoint, SCSU will need solid goaltending and defensively they will need to avoid the lapses that have haunted them all season.  The Huskies will need to push the play much like they did the second half of the game last Saturday at Denver. The Huskies defense will have to be on their toes and cope with a typically strong forecheck by the Bulldogs. Another strong effort by the fourth “Gold” line would be a bonus as they were on the ice for all three SCSU goals last Saturday vs #5 Denver.

The Bulldogs are the 10th most penalized team in the country. Special teams play may be crucial in this series.

All the links for this weekends games can be found HERE

If surfing via mobile device check out huskiesillustrated.com 

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