St. Cloud, MN – What a difference a year makes. When the Huskies faced North Dakota in late January of 2019, the Fighting Hawks were reeling from being swept on home ice by #52 Pairwise Canisius College. Sitting 21st in the Pairwise, 5th in the league standings and with an offense 40th in the country without a top twenty scorer, the prospects were not favorable for an NCAA bid. On the other hand, the Huskies were comfortably ranked #1 in both the Pairwise and national polls and had the second best offense in college hockey. Fast forward to this weekend and things couldn’t be more different. The Fighting Hawks fans are giddy about the teams turnaround in the last 12 months with North Dakota the top-ranked team in both the national polls and the Pairwise. Ranked #1 in offense they also have the second-leading scorer in college hockey in Jordan Kawaguchi. The Huskies are in 5th place in the NCHC with a brutally tough schedule to finish the regular season and are fighting for their life for a berth in post-season play. This weekend will give an indication as to whether the unranked Huskies are up to the challenge to compete with the best.
SCSU Huskies (11-12-5 | 8-9-1 NCHC) vs #1 UND Fighting Hawks (23-3-3 |14-2-2 NCHC)
TV: Fri (Fox 9 Plus) Sat (Fox Sports North)
Live Stats: SCSU Athletics
Live Stream: NCHC.TV $
Live Audio Stream: TUNEIN RADIO
Radio: 96.7 FM (St. Cloud) 88.1 FM KVSC (St. Cloud)
Tickets: SCSU Athletics
Where: Herb Brooks National Hockey Center | St. Cloud, MN
When: Friday, Feb 21 – 7:37 PM CT / Saturday, Feb 22 – 6:07 PM CT
SERIES NOTES – SCSU
Last Time Out:
The Huskies continued their recent success with an overtime win and tie on the road vs Colorado College on February 7/8. In the series opener, the Huskies had to rally from a two goal deficit in the second period to send the game to overtime. Senior captain Jack Ahcan scored 31 seconds into the session to capture a 3-2 win. Jack Poehling and Chase Brand scored the other goals for SCSU. David Hrenak turned aside 22 of 24 shots on goal in the win. In the Saturday rematch, the Huskies again fell behind 2-0 before tying the game on goals by Nolan Walker and a power play goal by Easton Brodzinski with four minutes remaining in period three. The squads skated to an overtime draw and tie Tigers earned the extra league point with the shootout win.
The Fighting Hawks had an ultra successful weekend against Denver University on February 14/15 sweeping the series on home ice by 4-1 and 3-1 scores. On Friday, a two goal second period including the game-winning goal by Westin Michaud put the game out of reach. Peter Thome stopped 26 out of 27 shots in the win. On Saturday, the same result with UND forging a two-goal lead they never surrendered. Collin Adams scored the game winner and Peter Thome again was solid in goal stopping 25 of 26 shots in the sweep.
Head to Head:
UND leads the all-time series 74-44-14. SCSU is 2-3-0 in the last five games and 4-4-2 in the last 10 games.The Huskies are 7-2-1 in the last 10 games at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center. 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 letter winners 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 19 goals and 26 assists for 45 points. Pinto, the Ottawa draft choice has been an impact player with 14 goals in 27 games. Graduate transfer from Colorado College, Westin Michaud, has been outstanding with 13 goals and 24 points. Jordan Kawaguchi who finished 2018-19 as the team’s top point producer is having a Hobey Baker season leading the squad with 15-29-44. Upperclassmen, Collin Adams (10-16-26) and Cole Smith (10-6-16) have contributed nicely so far. The biggest strength on this team however is balanced scoring with 16 players in double digit scoring. And, this is one of the reasons for an offense producing an average of 4.14 goals per game, good for first 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 logged 140 games in his career. He’s a great leader, has produced 13 points thus far and is +11. He’s supported by offensive defenseman, Jacob Bernard-Docker (4-16-20) and Matt Kiersted (5-20-25). This unit in combination with solid goaltending by the tandem of Adam Scheel and Peter Thome has them sixth in the country in team defense allowing 1.97 goals per game.
The Fighting Hawks began the season with Adam Scheel, the anointed starter, and he appeared in 20 straight games before being relieved by Thome in a January home loss to Omaha. Since that time, Thome has started seven of ten games and is undefeated with a 6-0-1 record. He has posted outstanding numbers with a .940 save percentage and 1.26 goals against average. Scheel currently carries a .903 SV% and 2.08 goals against average.
Team Offense: 4.14 (1st)
Team Defense: 1.97 (6th)
Power Play: 22.17% (16th)
Penalty Kill: 87.13% (5th)
Penalties (Average Min. Per Game): 9.24 (49th)
Scouting the SCSU Huskies:
A group of seniors 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.
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.
With an offense ranked 28th in the country, the team relies heavily on the goal scoring of junior Easton Brodzinski with 42 career goals and currently the team leader in points and goals. The Poehling brothers have combined for 13 goals and 35 points and their contributions are integral to the success of this team.
From an offensive standpoint, it’s encouraging to see Micah Miller starting to show the excitement he displayed as a prep player. He’s strong on his skates, has blazing speed and shoots well on the fly. It was simply a matter of time that this 24 goal scorer in the USHL began to show some offense. He has seven points in the last seven games. It’s good to see fellow sophomore, Nolan Walker get the monkey off his back with his first goal of the season vs Colorado College. He’s another that has been performing well – the puck simply wasn’t going in for him. Hopefully, that first goal will jump start his goal scoring. Finally, Sam Hentges completes an outstanding group of sophomore forwards. After starting the season with 6 goals in 8 games he’s had one goal in the last 14 games. He’s missed six games due to injury and it makes one wonder whether he’s 100%. The team will have to build around them next season.
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 3.14 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 minus 10 but improving. On the other hand, Jack Ahcan is 6-16-22 (3rd in points) and recently reached the 100 career point mark. Spencer Meier has elevated his game greatly and is currently 3-5-8 and is +1. He has become a key component of the Huskies power play unit. Nick Perbix is 4-8-12 and provides offensive push from the blue line but is -8 on the plus/minus. First-year Ondrej Trebil is a big body with good offensive skills and has fit in nicely as a first-year play. He is +3 in plus/minus.
Junior David Hrenak has participated in 26 of 28 games 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 82 career games for the Huskies. Hrenak finally has his save percentage over 90 percent and it appears he’s going to be the goaltender counted on down the stretch. In the last four games, he’s posted a 93% save percentage and honestly, the only way the Huskies survive the next six games if he can continue to post those numbers. In the January sweep of the Bulldogs, he stopped 59 of 60 shots for a ridiculous .983 save percentage. He stopped 48 of 53 shots (90.5%) in two close games vs North Dakota in Grand Forks in November.
Offense: 2.86 (28th)
Defense: 3.14 (46th)
Power Play: 18.09% (36th)
Penalty Kill: 76.09% (54th)
Penalties (Average Min. Per Game): 10.18 (38th)
Three points behind fourth place Denver in the NCHC standings, the Huskies can control their destiny for the league playoffs considering they host Denver at home next weekend. They face the toughest schedule in college hockey over the next three weekends but there are some positives to this highly difficult schedule. It’s been a learning experience for this young team all season and they’ll get a taste of their ability to compete with the best in a playoff atmosphere the next three weekends. It’ll prepare them well for the upcoming league playoffs and a bid for yet another Frozen Faceoff appearance.
The Huskies played well vs the Fighting Hawks in late November with an opportunity to win both contests. Strong goaltending and adherence to strong defensive play will be essential against college hockey’s top offensive team. Jordan Kawaguchi, the teams leading scorer has had a great deal of success vs the Huskies with 3 goals and 5 assists for 8 points in 9 games. First-year forward Shane Pinto had a two-goal weekend vs the Huskies in November. Both need to be contained this weekend.
Special teams will be paramount and on-ice discipline is highly recommended for the Huskies. They simply can’t allow a top offense to have man-advantage opportunities.
It’ll be a lively crowd and a great atmosphere this weekend. The Huskies have much to gain with a successful weekend. They can get their overall record to .500 and get themselves within reach of the top-sixteen Pairwise. But, most importantly, they can gain confidence as they approach the playoffs.
With a successful weekend, North Dakota could secure their third NCHC Penrose Cup.
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