Preview: Huskies Battle North Dakota to Begin Final Week of NCHC Pod

(Photo Courtesy Mark Kuhlmann @coolmancreative)

Omaha, NE- The Huskies return to action on Wednesday, December 16th to face fourth-ranked North Dakota in the final regular season matchup between the teams. Both squads have had mixed results over the past three games with SCSU 1-2-0 and UND 1-1-1. This is a pivotal game as both are tied with 12 points in the NCHC standings and trailing the UMD Bulldogs by 5 points. The Bulldogs face Omaha in the early game and depending on the result, either the Huskies or Fighting Hawks could climb to within two points of the Bulldogs.

#9 SCSU Huskies (4-2-0 NCHC) vs  #4 UND Fighting Hawks (4-2-1 NCHC)  

TV: Midco SN (select markets)
Live Stream: NCHC.TV (Subscription Required)
Radio/Stream: 96.7 FM the River (St. Cloud) 88.1 KVSC (St. Cloud)
Tickets: (No Tickets or Passes to the Public Available)
Where: NCHC Pod | Baxter Arena | Omaha, NE
When: Sat., Dec. 16 | 7:35 PM CT

Last Time Out

The Huskies faced Omaha for the second time in the NCHC Pod and were shutout by a 2-0 score despite outshooting the Mavericks 41-21 and 18-3 in the final period. Austin Roden was given the nod in goal for Omaha and he responded with a shutout in his first game of the season.

North Dakota snapped a three-game winless streak defeating Western Michigan University by a 6-3 score. UND thwarted a WMU comeback by scoring three times in period three including an empty-net goal in the win. Riese Gaber scored twice for the Fighting Hawks and Adam Scheel picked up his third win of the season.

Head to Head

UND leads the all-time series 74-46-15. SCSU is 2-2-1 in the last five games, has a 5-3-2 advantage in the last 10 games and 8-9-3 in the last 20. Eight of the last fourteen games have gone to overtime between these two squads. SCSU is 2-3-3 in those overtime contests. The Huskies defeated North Dakota 5-3 in the last meeting on December 12th.

https://centericeview.wordpress.com/2020/12/13/huskies-are-special-in-5-3-win-over-top-ranked-north-dakota/

Riese Gaber (Photo Courtesy Mark Kuhlmann @coolmancreative)

Scouting the Fighting Hawks

The Fighting Hawks were selected by the media as the favorite to win the conference in 2020-21. Currently, they are ranked fourth in both the USCHO and USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine polls. They finished the 2019-20 season with an outstanding 26-5-4 record which was their 18th consecutive winning season en-route to winning the Penrose Cup for the third time. The current roster contains 12 NHL draft choices.

Goaltender
The Fighting Hawks return a strong duo of goaltenders in junior Adam Scheel and senior Peter Thome. In 2019-20 Scheel compiled a 19-4-2 record and along with a 2.07 GAA and .904 SV%. Not to be outdone, Thome was 7-1-2 with an outstanding 1.37 GAA and .935 SV%.

So far in 2020-21, Scheel is 3-1-1 with a 2.18 GAA and .912 SV% while Thome has appeared in one game and is 1-1-0 with a 3.86 GAA and .833 SV%.

Forwards
North Dakota returns six of their top seven scorers contributing almost 50% of their 2019-20 goal scoring and total points. Foremost is senior captain Jordan Kawaguchi, a Hobey Baker Finalist that led the team in points with 15 goals and 30 assists for 45 points.  Second round NHL draft choice Shame Pinto is the second leading returning scorer and through the early season leads the squad with 3-7-10. Colin Adams, Grant Mishmash and Jasper Weatherby round out a potent group of returnees.

Rookie Riese Gaber has been one of the top goal scorers in the Pod thus far with five goals.

Defense
The Fighting Hawks feature four NHL draft choices on defense including senior alternate captain Matt Kierstad and junior Jacob Bernard Docker. Both are offensive-minded defensemen with Kierstad finishing second in team points in 2019-20 with 29 and Bernard-Doctor sixth with 25 points.

Two first-year players have been impressive thus far. 2020 first-rounder  Jake Sanderson and second-round choice Tyler Kleven have made an immediate impact. Unfortunately, after three games, both departed to the USA World Junior training camp. That leaves senior Gabe Bast, sophomore Ethan Frisch and senior Josh Rieger to fill that void.

Statistics

Record 4-2-1
Head-to-Head 0-1-0
Goals 27 / 3.86
Goals Against 18 / 2.57
Power Play 29%
Penalty Kill 77.4%
Avg. Height / Weight 5’11.96″ / 190.2

Jami Kranilla (Photo Courtesy Mark Kuhlmann @coolmancreative)

Scouting the Huskies

A comprehensive preview of the team is here

SCSU lost six players from its 2019-20 roster, which includes seniors Jack Ahcan, Jack Poehling, Nick Poehling, Clark Kuster and Jake Wahlin. The team will return a total of 21 players from its 2019-20 roster. This list of veterans includes six returning seniors, six juniors and nine sophomores. They return 3 goalies, 7 defense and 11 forwards. SCSU has four NHL draft picks on its roster this year including Nick Perbix (Tampa), Sam Hentges (Minnesota), David Hrenak (Los Angeles) and Veeti Miettinen (Toronto). The Huskies welcome two senior transfers to its roster (Seamus Donohue from Michigan Tech and Jared Cockrell from Colgate). Newcomers include two defensemen and four forwards.

Goaltender
David Hrenak is the anointed starter. The draft pick of the LA Kings won his 50th career game at SCSU on Dec. 1. He is one of just four SCSU goalies to win 50 career games. The others include Brian Leitza (66 from 1994-98), Ryan Faragher (53 from 2011-14) and Charlie Lindgren (51 from 2013-16). Hrenak is currently tied for first in the team records with 9 career shutouts.

Backing up Hrenak to start the season, Joey Lamoreaux and Jaxon Castor could be starters on many Division I teams. Castor was inserted for the game vs Omaha and after a shaky start, settled down stopping 24 of 27 shots on goal (.888 SV%) to earn his first win since December 28, 2019. The 6’1″ Lamoreaux, an NCHC All-Academic Team selection was inserted in two games in 2019-20 and had a 3.25 GAA and .893 SV%. He was given the nod in the last game vs Omaha and suffered the loss stopping 19 of 21 shots. Hrenak should get the start vs North Dakota and his numbers are good with a 2.77 GAA and .912 SV%.

Forward
The Huskies are looking to re-tool an offense that saw its point production drop from 156 goals and 429 points in 2018-19 to 94 goals and 260 points in a season-shortened 2019-20. They’ll rely on senior, Easton Brodzinski (12-15-27) who led the team in scoring last season for a big year as he approaches the 100 career point milestone. The junior class of Sam HentgesMicah Miller and Nolan Walker have come of age and the coaching staff looks for more consistency and scoring out of this bunch. The coaching staff wants these players to use their speed to be first on pucks, get to the net and create traffic. Upperclassmen and experienced forwards Kevin Fitzgerald and Colgate transfer Jared Cockrell need to be factors on offense as well.

This whole group of players has been moderately productive thus far in the Pod netting 10 of 19 team goals. Fitzgerald has three goals in six games.

The sophomore class of Jami KrannilaChase BrandZach OkabeKyler Kupka and Thomas Rocco all had their moments and gained experience last season. The question is how much of a jump can they make this season after a solid offseason of improving their strength and speed. Krannila in particular has been effective and is currently tied for second in points with two goals and two assists for four points.

Finally, newcomers Veeti MiettinenJack Johnston and Joey Molenaar will be thrown into the mix. Miettinen has already had an impact for the Huskies with a goal and three assists for four points. First-year graduate transfer Jared Cockrell has had an impact player as an integral part of a grinder line and netting a goal vs Omaha.

Defense
The defense will be solid but not flashy with Captain Spencer Meier leading the unit. The loss of Jack Ahcan to graduation was huge making the contributions from junior Nick Perbix and senior transfer Seamus Donohue that more paramount. Luke JaycoxBrendan BushyOndrej TrejbalTyler AndersonTrevor Zins and Freshman, Brady Ziemer will all be vying for the 4-6th position.

Perbix has been outstanding thus far in the Pod and is showing great leadership back at the blueline and along with Donohue and both are logging a lot of minutes. Perbix has netted two goals and three assists including a game-winning goal. Freshman, Ziemer has been effective as a first-year defenseman and is exhibiting the toughness and tenacity he is known for. Ziemer scored his first collegiate goal in the last game vs Omaha on December 6th.

Statistics

Record 4-2-0
Head-to-Head 1-0-0
Goals 19 / 3.17
Goals Against 16 / 2.67
Power Play 11.8%
Penalty Kill 92%
Avg. Height / Weight 6′ 0.13″ / 185.1 lbs.

Game Prospectus

The coaching in the Pod has been outstanding and it’s been interesting to see the game by game adjustments made by the respective coaching staffs. The compressed number of games has allowed the coaches to study their opponents very closely and make adjustments evidenced by the unpredictability of the results. The Huskies had a convincing win over the Fighting Hawks in their first meeting but that’s no assurance of success in this rematch.

The games between these two squads historically have been close and they generally come down to who makes the least number of mistakes. The Huskies had a parade of penalties in the last contest but the penalty kill currently ranked #1 in the NCHC and top-ten in the country bailed them out shutting down all five opportunities.

In the last game, the Huskies were whistled for three hooking penalties, one for interference and one for tripping typically calls against a team trying to slow down a skilled and quick opponent. It’s expected North Dakota will make the proper adjustments on their power play and the Huskies best have more discipline in this game. To date, the Huskies are averaging nearly 4 minutes of penalties more than their opponents.

The Huskies will be designated the home team in this matchup and this will be an advantage for last change and in the faceoff circle. However, they need to improve in that respect getting outdueled in the faceoff circle 51.7% of the time.

North Dakota is averaging 32 shots per game and you can expect a lot of rubber thrown at Hrenak, the expected starter in this fast-paced game.

Missing Sanderson and Kleven to the World Juniors and an injury to Ethan Frisch created depth issues at defense. However, this is a veteran team and they’ll adjust.

The final result of this game will most likely hinge on special teams play and coaching adjustments.

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