Playoff Positioning Begins as SCSU Visits WMU

Easton Brodzinski (Photo Prout)

St. Cloud, MN – It’s hard to believe but NCHC playoff hockey will be here in no time. St. Cloud State has twelve games remaining in their conference schedule split evenly between three road series and three home series. They begin their push to the playoffs with a road trip to Kalamazoo, MI and a crucial league series with the Western Michigan Broncos, currently four points above the Huskies in the NCHC standings. Following a home sweep of #12 ranked Minnesota-Duluth, the Huskies have climbed out of eighth place to fifth and have their sights on a top-four finish in the league. After an awful stretch of games going  0-5-2, the Broncos have reloaded their lineup with previously injured players and have won two in a row. Never easy in this tightly competitive conference it’ll be an intense battle in Kalamazoo.

 SCSU Huskies (8-10-4 | 5-7-0 NCHC) vs  WMU Broncos (9-9-4 | 5-5-2 NCHC)  

TV: none
Live Stats: WMU Broncos
Live Stream: NCHC.TV $
Live Audio Stream: TUNEIN RADIO
Radio: 96.7 FM (St. Cloud)
Tickets: WMU Broncos
Where: Lawson Arena | Kalamazoo, MI
When: Fri, Jan 24 – 6:07 PM CT | Sat, Jan 25 – 6:07 PM CT

Series notes – SCSU  |  Series Notes – WMU

Last Time Out:

The Huskies put forth their best performance of the season in a weekend sweep of defending national champion University of Minnesota-Duluth. In two tightly contested battles in front of the Huskies best home crowds of the year, they edged the Bulldogs by scores of 2-1 and 2-0 (EN). On Friday, with the game knotted 1-1 entering period two, SCSU’s Chase Brand scored 4:11 into the period with what turned out to be the game-winning goal. Outshot 18-4 in period three, David Hrenak was outstanding in capturing the win. On Saturday, in another razor thin battle, Nick Poehling scored the first goal of the contest with 1:35 remaining followed  by an empty net goal by Micah Miller one minute later to complete the sweep. Hrenak secured the shutout and finished the weekend stopping 59 of 60 shots on goal.

Read: Unranked Huskies the Current “Rodney Dangerfield” of Hockey

The Broncos  rebounded from a winless streak of seven games to dominate Colorado College on home ice by scores of 5-2 and 6-2 on January 17-18.  The Broncos forged a 3-0 lead before the Tigers could get on the board and capped things off with two more goals in period three in the win. It was scoring by committee with five different players scoring. In the rematch, Hugh McGing started things off with a short-handed goal in the first period and the Broncos buried the Tigers with three goals in period two en-route to a convincing 6-2 win. Dawson DiPietro scored twice for the Broncos.

Head to Head

SCSU leads the all-time series 18-4-4 going back to December 29, 2011. The teams have participated in six overtime contests with three of them ending in a 5-5 draw. The series between the teams was knotted at 3-3-2 until January 24, 2015. After that, SCSU has carried a 15-1-1 record vs the Broncos. The Huskies have never lost at Lawson Arena and carry a 7-0-3 record in Kalamazoo.

The teams last met at Lawson Arena in Kalamazoo on March 1/2, 2019 with the Huskies sweeping by 8-2 and 5-4 scores.

Scouting the WMU Broncos

The Broncos who were pegged to finish third in the preseason media poll are close to where they were expected to be. Injuries have taken their toll and they suffered through a streak of seven games without a win until last weekend. Currently in fourth place, the rest of their conference games are split evenly between the road and at home.

Offense
On paper and when this team is healthy, they have a lot of firepower. They returned 120 goals from last season which was the 5th highest scoring team in college hockey. The problem is they’ve been riddled with injuries. “It was a matter of having our team together” mentioned coach Andy Murray in his weekly press conference. “Having had a couple of games to play together and get some combinations going is what we foresaw at the start of the year. We were just never able to have them because of guys out of the lineup.” They proved this last weekend in a dominating offensive series vs Colorado College burying the puck eleven times with six different players scoring.

Philadelphia Flyers second round draft choice and senior, Wade Allison would be in pro hockey now were it not for the tremendous amount of time he’s lost due to injuries the last few years. He scored twice last weekend vs Colorado College but still has only played 13 games this season. “It’s the best hockey Wade Allison has played in two years” said coach Murray. “He’s paid a heavy price with his injuries.”

Another player, junior Josh Passolt, a sixteen goal scorer last season, has missed time as well and only has three goals this season but scored twice in the weekend finale at Minnesota-Duluth two series ago.

Otherwise, there’s plenty of scoring punch with upperclassmen, Hugh McGing, a former World Junior team member, Paul Wasche, Dawson DiPietro and Ethan Frank. Sophomore Rhett Kingston has seven goals. Size has always been a characteristic of this team and 6’7″ 228 pound Austin Rueschoff can be a disruptive force and has five goals.

The Broncos like to place the puck on net and have averaged 40 shots on goal their last eight games.

Defense
At defense, senior Cam Lee is a mobile offensive defenseman but has been slowed by injuries and has only played in 12 games but returned for last weekends series with the Tigers.You’ll see him anchoring a post on the power play. Second-year defenseman, Mattius Samuelsson is very talented and was drafted 32nd overall by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2018. He was also a member of USA’s the World Junior team this year. The 6’4″ 214 Samuelsson is the son of former NHL defenseman Kjell Sanuelsson and is a smooth skating blueliner that moves the puck well and can supply some offense. Finally, Ronnie Attard is a 6’4″ 208 pounder that is a third round draft pick of the Philadelphia Flyers. He’s only appeared in 16 games due to injury but has shown some offense with four goals.

Goaltending
Senior Ben Blacker is a four-year player but after appearing in 59 games his first two seasons, he’s only seen 13 games since. Last season, it was senior Trevor Gorsuch who was handed the job and this year the coaching staff has turned over the duties to Brandon Bussi, a 6-4″ 215 pound freshman out of the USHL. Overall, the coaching staff has confidence in Bussi and he has reasonably good numbers with a 2.81 GAA and .908 SV%. The issue with Bussi has been his inconsistency from night to night with a GAA under 2.00 in series openers but close to 4.00 in the series finale.

National Statistics

Team Offense: 2.95 GPG (23rd)
Team Defense: 3.00 GAPG (37th)
Power Play: 15.48% (46th)
Penalty Kill: 78.35% (47th)
Penalties (Average Min. Per Game): 13.00 (15th)

Scouting the SCSU Huskies:

Offense
Leading the team with 22 points, Sam Hentges has been out of the lineup for four games with a lower body injury and may not make the trip to Kalamazoo. Junior, Easton Brodzinski has taken over the team lead in goals with eight and has been one of the more consistent point producers all season with nearly a point a game. Scoring has been fairly balanced with sixteen players netting at least one goal. Evidence of this is that eight different players have scored game-winning goals this season. Sophomore forward Nolan Walker has nine points this season but seven of them have come in the last eight games. Fellow sophomore Micah Miller has stepped up his offense with four goals in the last eight games. The freshman line of Okabe, Brand and Krannila have combined for 11 goals and 12 assists for 23 points and that’s encouraging.

Defense
The defense continues to make improvement and they were exemplary last weekend vs the Bulldogs allowing just one goal. Jack Ahcan is the leader of the defensive unit and is also providing offense with 4 goals and 14 assists for 18 points placing him second on the squad in points. Defensive partner Nick Perbix has contributed 4 goals as well. As a whole, the plus/minus is improving and is currently minus 7.

Goaltending

NCHC Goaltender of the Week, David Hrenak had an outstanding weekend vs the Bulldogs stopping 59 of 60 shots on goal. He’s elevated his save percentage to .901% and dropped his GAA to 2.81. SCSU goaltender coach Matt Bertram summed things up commenting “Right now, I think our goaltending is giving our team a chance to win every night. All three goalies have been very good in practice, pushing each other in a healthy competition. This past weekend is some of the best hockey I have seen David play. He was tracking and square to every puck, and had great battle/compete both nights.”

No doubt the Huskies will go with the hot hand on Friday in Kalamazoo. Jaxon Castor has started four games and currently carries a 2.94 GAA and .885 save percentage.

National Statistics

Offense: 2.91 (24th)
Defense: 3.18 (46th)
Power Play: 19.23% (24th) 
Penalty Kill: 74.65% (57th) 
Penalties (Average Min. Per Game): 10.27 (39th) 

Game Prospectus:

Both teams will be entering this weekend with confidence having swept their last opponent. The all-time series results have been tilted heavily in the favor of the Huskies and SCSU has never lost a game at Lawson Arena. The Huskies will have to continue their strong defensive play from last weekend facing a team that targets 40 shots per game on their opponent. Goaltending and disciplined defensive play will be a key once again for the Huskies who do not score a lot of goals.

With St. Cloud State just four points behind WMU in the standings Murray commented “We don’t put the standings on the board.They are college students and can read. You can get so wound up on that you can lose perspective. Our focus is to be as good as we can be on Friday. Obviously we haven’t been very successful against St. Cloud the last couple of years. They will come in here riding high and playing good defensively. It will be a great opponent this weekend.”

This is a crucial weekend for both teams as they battle for a top four position in the NCHC standings and ultimately home ice for the playoffs. Fortunes can change very quickly with six points on the line.

All the links for this weekends games can be found HERE

Check out our sister site huskiesillustrated.com which is optimized for mobile.

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