NCHC Battles Continue as Huskies Host Miami

Sam Hentges (Photo Prout)

St. Cloud, MN – After a disappointing weekend on the road vs Western Michigan, the Huskies return home to host the Miami RedHawks in another key league series. With ten games remaining in the conference season, the team will attempt to create some momentum and some wins as they try to secure home ice for the NCHC playoffs. That quest was severely derailed last weekend being swept and outscored 12-4 by the Broncos. Eight points separate fifth place from the league cellar and in what is starting to look insurmountable, fourth place is a distant ten points. For St. Cloud State, they can only look ahead – not behind, to see what can be salvaged out of the balance of the schedule. Currently 34th in the Pairwise, it’s a long shot to make their 7th appearance in eight seasons in the NCAA tourney unless they can perform well in the NCHC playoffs.

SCSU Huskies (8-12-4 | 5-9-0 NCHC) vs  Miami RedHawks ( 6-14-4 | 3-9-2 NCHC) 

TV: Fox9+
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) 88.1 FM (KVSC)
Tickets: SCSU Athletics
Where: Herb Brooks National Hockey Center – St. Cloud, MN
When: Friday, January 31 – 7:37 PM CT | Saturday, February 1  – 6:07 PM CT

Last Time Out:

The Huskies had a tough weekend in Kalamazoo, MI dropping two games to the Western Michigan Broncos. Falling behind 3-0 in the first period of each game, the Huskies simply couldn’t overcome the deficit losing by 6-2 scores in each contest. On ice discipline was a factor in the series with the Broncos scoring four times on the power play in the series and the Huskies whistled for a total of nine penalties. It didn’t help that team leader, Jack Ahcan was given a game misconduct for contact to the head on a debatable call and was lost for the final two periods of Friday’s game. Goal scorers over the weekend for SCSU were Ahcan, Okabe, Brodzinski and Wahlin.

The RedHawks hosted the Denver Pioneers and suffered the same result losing by 3-2 and 5-2 scores. In a tight game on Friday, Denver scored the only goal in period three to break a 2-2 tie and edge the RedHawks 3-2. On Saturday, the Pioneers scored first on the power play and never fell behind in the contest cruising to the 5-2 win and sweep.

Head to Head:

SCSU leads the all-time series going back to 1987 by a five-game margin – 22-17-4. In the last 5 games, the Huskies are 5-0-0, 7-1-2 in the last 10 games and 14-4-2 in the last 20. They last met on December 6/7, 2019 in Oxford, OH  with SCSU winning 2-1 and 5-3.

Scouting the Miami University RedHawks :

It’s been a tough several seasons for the RedHawks who have not had a winning conference or overall record since 2014-15. Since finishing second in the conference in 2014-15, the RedHawks have gone 28-69-15 in conference and 53-95-23 overall and have advanced to the NCAA tourney just once in the past five years. This resulted in a major overhaul of the coaching staff with long-term coach Rico Blasi being released along with his staff. He was replaced by alum and former Bowling Green mentor Chris Bergeron who added Miami alum Barry Schutte and former SCSU men’s assistant and women’s head coach Eric Rud to his staff. MORE HERE

It hasn’t been easy for the RedHawks since joining the NCHC and the glory years of 8 straight NCAA appearances and 2 consecutive years in the Frozen Four in 2009 and 2010 are a thing of the past when they were members of the Central Collegiate Hockey Conference. However, the new coaching staff has injected excitement and energy into the program.There has been obvious progress but until the coaching staff is able to inject more of their players and personality on the team it’ll continue to be a process of growth.

With Josh Melnick finally graduated, obvious leaders at forward are seniors Gordie Green (10-17-27) and Karch Bachman (8-17-25). Green is scoring over a point a game and has four power play goals and two game-winning goals. He’s 5’8″ and 170 pounds but plays much bigger. He has 106 career points. Bachman, a Florida Panthers draft choice was miserable on the Huskies last season with three goals and two assists. Coach Rud calls him a “Strong, dynamic skater with a good release.” Junior Casey Gilling (7-15-22) is probably “the most improved forward since the start of the year” said Rud.

Miami has bolstered their depth at forward with the addition of Holy Cross transfer Matt Barry. He currently has one goal and three assists.

They are also getting some mileage out of first-year players John Sladic (6-5-11), Ryan Savage (5-5-10) Chase Pletzke (5-7-12) and Monte Graham (4-8-12).

The team lost an excellent offensive defensemen in Grant Hutton to graduation. Hutton was deadly on the power play and posted seven goals and fourteen assists last season. Sophomore Derek Dashke has filled in nicely.

Coach Rud says sophomore Derek Dashke (8-11-19) has been a bright spot. “He has a lot of talent, is defending harder and has been good on the power play.” He has one game-winning goal, three power play goals and is plus 4.  6’4″ 200 pound first-year defender Jack Clement has been a welcome surprise adding some offensive punch with four goals and four assists and is plus 3. Others being counted on to solidify this unit are senior, Grant Frederic, junior, Rourke Russell and sophomores Bray Crowder and Andrew Sinard.

Ryan Larkin is one of those players that seems to have been around forever and is finally in his senior season. He’s had a career 113 games and is the clear starter in goal. His numbers aren’t good with a 3.67 GAA and .895 SV% but they’ve improved since the the two teams last played in December. It’s a clear reflection of the teams struggles as well.

Larkin is backed up by freshman Ben Kraws ( 3.41 GAA, .881 SV%) and junior Grant Valentine (3.32 GAA, .881 SV%).

National Statistics

Team Offense: 2.96 GPG (23rd)
Team Defense: 3.62 GAPG (55th)
Power Play: 23.17% (12th)
Penalty Kill: 75.25% (55th)
Penalties (Average Min. Per Game): 10.75 (34th)
Shooting Percentage – 11.9% (8th)
Faceoff Percentage 50.8% (25th)

Scouting the SCSU Huskies:

The season continues to be a challenge for the team and coaching staff. At times, the team will tantalize you (e.g. sweep of UMD) and then disappoint (e.g. swept by Western Michigan). Unfortunately, it’s not a single element that has been derailing the team. The biggest concern is the defense that’s ranked near the bottom in college hockey defensive statistics along with the penalty kill (currently 58th out of 60). Untimely penalties, lack of success in the face off circle and lapses in games where the team has allowed a flurry of goals have all contributed to their difficulties. On the positive side, the team is ranked 14th in shooting percentage at 10.6% (North Dakota is 1st with 13.4%) but 46th in number of shots taken. In other words, they are pretty successful at scoring when they decide to shoot. Although the team is not taking a lot of penalties – ranked 33rd, when they do, they’ve been highly unsuccessful on the penalty kill (58th out of 60). Western Michigan converted 44% of their opportunities last weekend.

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 is struggling with 40% of the goals scored by Sam Hentges (7), Easton Brodzinski (9). Jack Ahcan (5) and Nick Poehling (6). Hentges, who was off to a torrid start has been in a scoring drought and has one goal in the last twelve games (vs Miami). The most consistent scorers in the last ten games are Nick Poehling, Easton Brodzinski, Jack Ahcan, Nolan Walker and Micah Miller.

Scoring by class is fairly even: Seniors (20-37-57), Juniors (18-37-55), Sophomores (18-38-56) and Freshman (12-21-33)

The power play is beginning to lag as well, now 33rd in the country at 17.86%.

Defense was assumed to be the strongest position on the team entering the season. It hasn’t been the case with the team yielding 3.42 goals per game placing them 52nd out of 60 teams. The Huskies returned five starters from last season in Jack Ahcan, Nick Perbix, Luke Jaycox, Spencer Meier and Brendan Bushy. However, it’s become quite obvious the importance of seniors Jimmy Schuldt and Jon Lizotte were to a defense that finished 11th in the country and allowed almost a goal and a half less than the teams current numbers. 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 much improvement.

As a unit, the defense is a minus 15. Jack Ahcan continues to be the leader on the blue line and is second in points with 5-14-19. He is on the ice in every conceivable situation and unfortunately, his plus/minus are a reflection of the amount of responsibility he is shouldering. Better play out of the entire unit is essential.

Junior David Hrenak has been the primary starter 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 were high for Hrenak who has played 78 career games for the Huskies. However, it’s been a struggle for Hrenak statistically so far with a 2.99 GAA and .898 SV% after 22 plus games. However, it’s not all on Hrenak’s shoulders as there’s been some surprisingly inconsistent play from the defenders in front of him this season. He had a good outing vs UMD two weekends ago stopping 94% of the shots he faced. This past weekend he stopped 48 of 56 shots (.857%).

Backups Joey Lamoreaux and Jaxon Castor, both first-year players, have had limited ice time thus far. Lamoureaux had 30 minutes of playing time vs Colorado College and stopped 14 of 15 SOG. Castor has appeared in five games and his record is 1-4-0 with a 3.65 GAA and .859 SV%. This past weekend he allowed three goals on seven shots in 14 minutes of play. However, in his defense, all three were power play goals.

National Statistics:

Offense: 2.83 GPG (26th)
Defense: 3.42 GAPG (52nd)
Power Play:  17.86% (34th)
Penalty Kill: 72.50% (58th)
Penalties (Average Min. Per Game): 10.79 (33rd)
Shooting Percentage: 10.6% (14th)
Faceoff Percentage: 47.4% (56th)

Game Prospectus:

I’m being repetitive but this is another key series for the Huskies. With ten conference series remaining, there is little margin for error if they are to have any hope of securing home ice for the playoffs. The overused expression of “taking it one game at a time” really applies here. With three points on the line in every conference game, the standings can shuffle quickly.  Western Michigan battles Omaha this weekend so a successful weekend for the Huskies could once again get them back into contention for that final home playoff position.

On paper, these two teams are very similar statistically with the exception of the power play where Miami has the advantage. As such, any small advantage to either team could make a difference in the result of the game. The Huskies can’t self-destruct as they did last weekend with penalties. Goaltending has to be better. The team’s shooting percentage is good – they need to put more pucks on the net. Faceoff percentage needs to improve.

Karch Bachman and Gordie Green seem to play well against the Huskies. Karchman has has explosive speed on the outside and can make defenders look silly at times. Karchman has 4 goals in 16 games vs SCSU while Green has 5 goals in 15 games. Derek Daschke has seven points in the last seven games. They need to neutralize these three.

All the links for this weekends games can be found HERE

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2 thoughts on “NCHC Battles Continue as Huskies Host Miami

    • Sorry for the delay. I too expected much greater things based on his history as a high performer offensively. The middle of the lineup has competition and he has had a tough time beating out the others to be a regular in the lineup. It’s a big jump from the USHL to Division One hockey and an even greater jump for those from the AJHL which is inferior defensively to the USHL. Zach Okabe, the other big scorer from the AJHL is also finding the sledding tough in the NCAA. He’s had a little more playing time lately. It’ll kick in eventually. The NCHC is faster, more physical and the players are much stronger. I suspect by next year he’ll have it figured out.

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