St. Cloud, MN – The unranked SCSU Huskies attempt to extend their season this weekend as they face the #3 ranked and #2 seed Gophers in the first round of the WCHA playoffs. The Huskies enter the playoffs as the #7 seed and will be severe underdogs against a team that carries an all-time record of 91-3-3 vs St. Cloud State. The Huskies head to Minneapolis for a practice session on Thursday and begin the best-of-three series on Friday at 6:37 PM CT at Ridder Arena on the campus of the University of Minnesota.
SCSU Huskies (6-23-4 Overall | 2-21-1 WCHA) vs #3 U of MN Gophers (25-5-3 Overall | 17-5-2 WCHA)
Live Stats: GopherSports.com
Live Stream: FloHockey($)
Live Audio Stream: GopherSports.com
Tickets: Gopher Athletics
Where: Ridder Arena – Minneapolis, MN
When: Friday, Feb 28 – 6:37 CT | Saturday, Feb 29 – 2:07 CT | Sunday, Mar 1 2:07 CT (if necessary)
Head to Head
The all-time series between these squads is extremely lopsided in favor of the Gophers who carry a 91-3-3 record vs the Huskies. The teams faced each other four times season with the Gophers winning all four games. In late October the Gophers swept SCSU 3-0/4-2 at Ridder Arena in Minnneapolis. They faced each other again on January 10/11 at the HBNHC and again, the Gophers prevailed by scores of 4-1 and 3-0.
Scouting the Gophers
The #3 ranked Gophers are pursuing their eighth national title after falling in the national championship game last season. Their most recent national title was in 2016. As usual, this team is loaded with talent including three top-twenty nationally ranked scorers in Sarah Potomak (18-23-41), Grace Zumwinkle (22-19-41) and Taylor Heise (17-22-39). Zumwinkle was recently named to the USA National team that will be competing in the IIHF World Championships in March/April. Collectively, the team has five players in double-digit goal scoring and six players with points greater than 20 points. The offense is ranked fifth in the country scoring 3.71 goals per game. However, the power play is not as prolific at 12th in the country with a success rate of 17.65 percent.
The team is extremely stingy defensively allowing 1.53 goals per game – good for 4th in the country. The penalty kill is equally strong ranked #1 in the country killing 93.18% of their opponents advantage. Defensively, the team is led by juniors Emily Brown (4-13-17 +29) and Olivia Knowles (3-12-15 +30). Freshman Madeline Wethington (6-18-14 +19) has made an impact as a first-year player and is the daughter of former SCSU Women’s head coach Kerri Brodt Wethington. As a unit, the defense is an outstanding +136 in Plus/Minus.
Senior Sydney Scobee has appeared in all 33 Gopher games this season and is ranked 6th nationally in both goals against (1.56) and save percentage (.934) and has eight shutouts. She carries a 24-5-3 record into this series.
Offense: 3.71 GPG (5th)
Defense: 1.53 GAPG (4th)
Power Play: 17.65% (12th)
Penalty Kill: 93.18% (1st)
Penalties: 6.12 Ave Min/Game (36th)
Scouting the Huskies
It’s been a trying year as the Huskies are going through a rebuilding process with new head coach Steve Macdonald. They’ve notched two league wins and finished the regular season in last place in the conference. They’ve had issues on both ends of the ice with the offense and defense ranked 34th in the country. With a goal differential of 1.63 it’s understandable that wins have been hard to come by.
Adding to the difficulty is the fact that top goaltender Janine Alder, has only appeared in four games this season due to injury. The senior had logged 64 games in goal during her first three seasons and was a two-time Olympian with the Swiss National team. In her place, junior Emma Polusny has filled in nicely with a very good .910 SV% but in need of better defensive support allowing 3.28 goals per game while facing close to 1100 shots on goal.
Injury has also affected the forward position with junior Laura Kluge missing nearly a month and a half with an upper body injury. She recently had a cast removed from her arm but has had no time to get back into game shape. Coach Macdonald was disappointed that she didn’t have at least another week before returning to game action but is pleased she will be back in the lineup..
On offense, the future is bright with two of the top three scorers first-year players. Klara Hymlarova, recently named to the WCHA All-Rookie Team leads the squad in points with 7-16-23 and another freshman, Olivia Czar third in points and second in goals with 9-4-13. Senior, Hallie Theodosopoulos has had a strong senior year and leads the team in goal scoring with 12-7-19. The return of Kluge to the lineup with be a boost to their depth.
It’s been a tough year for the defense with a -89 Plus/Minus for the entire unit and no defenseman in the plus. Seniors have led the defensive unit with Abbey Theisen, Rachel Herzog and Brooke Kudirka combining for 8 goals, 14 assists and 22 points or 15% of the teams total.
Offense: 1.73 GPG (34th)
Defense: 3.36 GAPG (34th)
Power Play: 15.0% (25th)
Penalty Kill: 79.61% (33rd)
Penalties: 7.27 Ave Min Per Game (28th)
As mentioned, the Huskies will be huge underdogs in a series facing a team they have only defeated three times in 97 games. On the other hand, despite losing all four games this season to the Gophers, the games at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis were relatively close. The Huskies need to find a way to generate some five on five offense against one of the top defensive teams in college hockey. In speaking with coach Macdonald, he knows he’ll have to have an aggressive forecheck to disrupt the breakout and strong offensive rush they’ll face against the Gophers. Emma Polusny will have to be awfully good in goal and the SCSU defense needs to transition the puck quickly to negate offensive zone control by Minnesota.
Having a successful first game against the Gophers will be key. Falling behind 1-0 in the series will be a steep hill to climb to win two games in a row. The Huskies will need their best weekend of the season to prevail against the high-powered Gophers.