NCHC Quarterfinals: Win or Done for SCSU vs Western Michigan

(Photo Prout)

UPDATED 3/12/2020: 


“COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – The National Collegiate Hockey Conference and its member institutions, in coordination with Xcel Energy Center, have announced the 2020 NCHC Tournament has been cancelled effective immediately. NCHC Frozen Faceoff ticket refunds are available at point of purchase. Online orders will be automatically canceled and refunded. Fans looking for a refund of their NCHC Quarterfinal round tickets should contact their athletic department’s ticket office.”

St. Cloud, MN – At no. 24 in the Pairwise rankings and with a current probability of making the NCAA tournament without winning the NCHC Frozen Faceoff at about 3 percent, there is no margin for error in this weekends NCHC quarterfinal series vs Western Michigan. In past years, this would have been a favorable matchup as the Huskies had never lost a game at WMU’s Lawson Arena. However, in January, the Huskies were schooled quite decisively, getting swept by the current no.16 ranked Broncos who are also 18th in the Pairwise. With both teams above the Pairwise cutoff line, two losses by either team would be lights out for the 2019-20 season.

SCSU Huskies (13-15-6 | 10-12-2 NCHC) vs  #16 WMU Broncos (18-13-5 | 12-9-3 NCHC)  

TV: none
Live Stats: WMU Broncos
Live Stream: NCHC.TV $
Live Audio Stream: TUNEIN RADIO
Radio: 96.7 FM (St. Cloud) KVSC 88.1 FM
Tickets: WMU Broncos
Where: Lawson Arena | Kalamazoo, MI
When: Fri, Mar 13 – 6:07 PM CT | Sat, Mar 14 – 6:07 PM CT | Sun, Mar 15 -6:07 PM CT (if necessary)

Series notes – SCSU  |  Series Notes – WMU

Last Time Out:

With home ice for the NCHC playoffs on the line, the Huskies faltered in Duluth getting swept by the Bulldogs by scores of 4-1 and 6-1. On Friday, they got off to a good start with a goal by Zach Okabe early in period one and held that lead through nearly two periods. A deflected shot and a turnover deep in the SCSU zone suddenly gave UMD a lead they never surrendered in the 4-1 win. On Saturday, the Bulldogs scored early and often in a dominant 6-1 win. The lone goal by the Huskies was scored by Micah Miller in the second period. SCSU goaltender was relieved by Joey Lamoreaux in period two.

The Broncos completed a successful weekend at home sweeping Miami by scores of 5-2 and 8-4. On Friday, the Broncos threw 46 shots on goal and leveraged a 4-1 second period lead into the 5-2 final. Jason Polin scored twice for the Broncos. In the rematch, the Broncos were even more dominant with a shot differential of 44-29 and piling up 8 goals. High McGing netted a hat trick in the lopsided win.

Head to Head 

SCSU leads the all-time series 18-6-4 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 15-3-1 record vs the Broncos. The Huskies had never lost at Lawson Arena  until they were swept by the Broncos on January 24/25, 2020.

The teams last met at Lawson Arena in Kalamazoo on January 24/25, 2020 with the Broncos sweeping by duplicate 6-2 scores.

The Huskies are 8-5-0 overall in the first round of the NCHC playoffs and 2-0-0 vs Western Michigan. They are 2-2-0 on the road in these playoffs.

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 derailed the team early in the season with the squad suffering through a streak of games going 1-6-2. With a healthy squad, the team rebounded nicely in mid-January and have been 11-4-1 since. With a home playoff series on the line, the Broncos swept rival Miami last weekend by a combined score of 13-6. Oddly, the Broncos only scored three goals in three games prior to the Miami series where they piled on 13 total goals.

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.  They proved this last weekend in a dominating offensive series vs Miami burying the puck thirteen times with seven different players scoring. The team can score in bunches, has balanced scoring and has five players in double digits in goal 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 Miami and has 23 points but still has only played 26 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.”

Otherwise, there’s plenty of scoring punch with upperclassmen, Hugh McGing, a former World Junior team member and NCHC First-Team All-Conference leading the squad in scoring with 13 goals and 35 points. Paul Wasche, Dawson DiPietro and Austin Rueschhoff all have 12 goals. Sophomore Rhett Kingston has nine goals but will miss the Friday contest due to a one-game suspension for a hit during the Miami series. Size has always been a characteristic of this team and 6’7″ 228 pound Austin Rueschoff can be a disruptive force. Ethan Frank and Josh Passolt can be dangerous players as well.

The Broncos like to place the puck on net, average 34.5 shots on goal per game and rank 5th in the country in that department. They are also a very good faceoff team, ranked third in that department winning over 55% of their faceoffs.

At defense, senior Cam Lee is a mobile offensive defenseman but had been slowed by injuries early and has played in 26 of 36 games. However, he’s the top blueliner, 5th on the squad in scoring and plus 11. You’ll see him anchoring a post on the power play. He had five assists vs Miami last Saturday. Second-year defenseman, Mattius Samuelsson, NCHC Honorable Mention All-Conference is very talented and was drafted 32nd overall by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2018. He was also a member of USA’s 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 has a big shot and has 2 game-winning goals and 3 power play goals. He was named to the NCHC All-Rookie team this week.

Senior Ben Blacker is a four-year player but after appearing in 59 games his first two seasons, he’s only seen 15 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 solid numbers with a 2.65 GAA and .910 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. Last weekend he allowed two goals on Friday and four goals on Saturday.

National Statistics

Team Offense: 3.47 GPG (8th)
Team Defense: 2.81 GAPG (32nd)
Power Play: 19.84% (24th)
Penalty Kill: 76.82% (52nd)
Penalties (Average Min. Per Game): 13.00 (11th)

(Photo Prout)

Scouting the 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 29th 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. However, he’s been held off the score sheet for the past six games but has five assists. Seniors Ahcan and Nick Poehling, NCHC Honorable Mention All-Conference and sophomore Micah Miller have paced the team with six points each in the past seven games and Jack Poehling with five points.

If there is such a thing as a sophomore slump, Sam Hentges is certainly the poster boy. Still ranked fourth in team scoring, he has one goal and eight assists in the last 20 games.

With 94 total goals scored this season, this will probably end up being the lowest goals of any season since they joined the NCHC.

The Huskies are also 44th in the country in shots on goal  but when they shoot they are successful ranked 16th (tied with UMD) in shooting percentage.

Defense was assumed to be the strongest position on the team entering the season. It’s been inconsistent and currently allowing over three goals per game. Concerning is 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 -21 and the top tandem of Ahcan and Perbix is -20. On the other hand, Jack Ahcan is 7-18-25 (4th in points) and recently reached the 100 career point mark and with 82 assists is tops all-time for defensemen at SCSU. He was named NCHC Second Team All-Conference this week. Spencer Meier has elevated his game greatly and is currently 4-6-10 but is -2 on plus/minus. He has become a key component of the Huskies power play unit. Nick Perbix is 4-11-15 and provides offensive push from the blue line but is -12 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 -1 in plus/minus and has six points.

Junior David Hrenak has participated in 32 of 34 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 88 career games for the Huskies. After a rocky start, Hrenak is finally hitting his stride and has his save percentage over 90 percent and he will be counted on heavily this weekend. He was named NCHC Second Team All-Conference this week. In the last twelve games, he’s posted a 91.4% save percentage and the Huskies need that level of play, perhaps more, to be successful.

National Statistics:

Offense: 2.76 GPG (29th)
Defense: 3.18 GAPG (48td)
Power Play:  18.10% (34th) 
Penalty Kill: 78.38% (43rd) 
Penalties (Average Min. Per Game): 11.12 (30th) 

Game Prospectus:

The Huskies are in survival mode this weekend in the quarterfinals of the NCHC playoffs. Should they not advance, the 2019-20 season will be over for the Huskies. If the Huskies are unable to contain the high-powered offense of the Broncos they could see a repeat of the January series when they were outscored 12-4 over the weekend.

The Huskies will absolutely have to stay out of the penalty box. In the January meeting, WMU was 4/9 on the man-advantage (44%) and the Huskies were outscored by a combined total of 7-2 in the first period. On-ice discipline will be paramount in this series.

They’ll face a lot of shots by Western – it’s what they do. The defensemen will have to sacrifiuce their bodies blocking shots and Hrenak probably needs to be 92 percent over the weekend to give the Huskies a chance to keep the games close and grind out some wins. On the other hand, the Huskies are ranked 16th in the country in shooting percentage but 44th in total shots. They need to shoot more and take advantage of their accuracy.

Strong play by the Huskies centermen will be important. The Broncos are one of the top faceoff teams in the country and the Huskies need to be better. Yielding possession of the puck to Western in the offensive zone or on the man-advantage will yield trouble. The Broncos also emphasize speed through the neutral zone and the SCSU forwards will need to disrupt that.

Special teams can work to the Huskies advantage. The Broncos average 13 minutes of penalties a game (11th in college hockey) and are 52nd on the penalty kill. That’s a good matchup for the Huskies to take advantage of.

The Broncos will be without nine goal scorer Rhett Kingston on Friday who is serving a one game league suspension. He’s a big body and if anything it will disrupt their lineup.

The Huskies will be underdogs but they can prevail in this series if they don’t self-destruct. A trip to the Frozen Faceoff next weekend would be quite an accomplishment.

All the links for this weekends games can be found HERE

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