NCHC Quarterfinals: Huskies vs Tigers as Playoffs Begin

(Photo Prout)

St. Cloud, MN – The NCHC Frozen Faceoff commences on March 12th in a new venue and new format in Grand Forks ND. In this unprecedented year, the National Collegiate Hockey Conference scrapped the three-game format at home sites for the quarterfinals and moved the tourney to Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, ND. Grateful for a highly successful season under trying circumstances I highly doubt anyone is complaining.

The second-place Huskies, a lock for the NCAA tournament face seventh-place Colorado College in a single-elimination format for the right to battle for the Frozen Faceoff Trophy. Everything is on the line for the Tigers who must win the tournament or shelve their skates for the 2020-21 season.

#8 SCSU Huskies (15-9-0 NCHC) vs  CC Tigers (4-16-2 NCHC) 

TV: Midco Sports Network
Live Stream: NCHC.tv
Radio: 96.7 FM (St. Cloud)
Where: Ralph Engelstad Arena – Grand Forks, ND
When: Fri., Mar. 12 (2:37 PM CT)

NCHC Playoff Bracket

Last Time Out

The Huskies played a single game vs the UMD Bulldogs on March 6 in St. Cloud and edged the Bulldogs by a 4-3 score in overtime. SCSU charged out to a 3-0 first-period lead with goals by Chase Brand, Jami Krannila, and Veeti Miettinen and appeared to have a comfortable lead. However, the resilient Bulldogs battled back for two goals in period two and another early in period three to knot the game at 3-3. Extending the contest to an overtime session, the Huskies made quick work of things with a goal 17 seconds into the overtime by Easton Brodzinski.

The Tigers, have not played since a 4-0 loss at Denver on February 27th due to a combination of positive COVID-19 tests, contact tracing, and subsequent quarantining of individuals within the Colorado College hockey program. As a result, the Denver and Colorado College home-and-home series scheduled for March 4th and 6th was canceled.

In a penalty-filled game on February 27th, the Tigers fell behind by two goals to Denver in period one and yielded two goals on the power play in the second period in the four-goal shutout. This was the 12th loss in the last 13 games for the Tigers who have been outscored 50-13 during that stretch of games.

Head to Head

SCSU leads the all-time series between these two squads 55-52-9. The Huskies are 3-1-1 in the last five, 6-2-2 in the last ten, and 14-4-2 in the last twenty games. As of late, these teams have seen a number of their games go to overtime. The last three of four games and five of the last nine games have gone to overtime. The Huskies won the last contest on 2/20/2020 by a 4-0 score in St. Cloud.

(Photo Prout)

Colorado College Tigers Notes

It’s been a challenge for CC head coach Mike Haviland since taking the reigns of the Tigers hockey program in 2014-15. It’s been a battle to rebuild a program that possesses such a rich history of collegiate hockey. Starting his 6th season, the likable Haviland was 63-136-20 and continuing with his rebuild of the program. Making matters worse, the Tigers whose offense finished 40th in college hockey last season saw the departure of their two top goal scorers in Chris Wilke (23-8-31) and Nick Halloran (12-18-30). The defense and goaltending were relatively intact but in need of help as the Tigers finished 2019-20 with college hockey’s 53rd ranked defense yielding 3.62 goals per game. Here’s a quick look at the Tigers:

Goaltending
The Tigers entered the season with their goaltending intact with returnee and sophomore  Matt Vernon who logged 29 games with a 3.43 GAA but a credible .901 save percentage. They also plied their east coast connections and brought in 6’6″, 200-pound goaltender, Dominic Basse, a 6th round draft choice of the Chicago Blackhawks. Despite unimpressive numbers of 3.48 GAA and .887 SV%  for Youngstown in the USHL the athletic Basse was considered a project. After doing mop-up duty for starter Vernon in a 6-1 loss to Omaha on December 9th, Basse started the next two games vs Miami and UMD winning both, and has supplanted Vernon as the starter logging 70% of the minutes and compiling a 3.18 GAA and .895 save percentage.

Forwards 
The departure of Wilkie and Halloran from last year’s squad saw the loss of 40% of their goal scoring. An obvious cavern to fill, players counted on to fill this void are returnees and juniors, Ben Copeland and Grant Cruikshank and sophomore, Josiah Slavin (a Blackhawks draft choice). The coaching staff brought in a large class of forwards including former US National U-18 player Hunter McKown (2-4-6), USHL veteran Logan Will (3-1-4), and Jackson Jutting (1-2-3), the son of former long-time Minnesota State coach Troy Jutting to have an impact. The Tigers also enticed Minnesota native Matt Gleason to join the squad midway through the season. A four-year player for Cretin-Derham Hall High School in St. Paul, MN Gleason has a bright future with the Tigers.

So far, Cruikshank (8-2-10, 2 PP goals), Copeland (4-7-11), and Slavin (5-8-13) are the team leaders in points.

Defense
The defense is led by 2018-19 NCHC All-Rookie team choice, Bryan Yoon who can be an impact player on the blue line. The junior finished 4th on the squad in points in 2019-20. The Tigers have upgraded their defense with Swede and Boston University transfer, Hugo Blixt, a 6’4″ defender who brings both size and durability to the unit.  First-year players and USHL veterans Jack Millar and Nicklas Andrews bring additional offense to the position and in the early season, Millar has added 2 goals and 4 assists. Connor Mayer and Zach Berzolla are steady and reliable defensemen and can log lots of minutes.

Team Statistics

Record 4-16-2
Pairwise Record 4-14-2    .268
Head-to-Head 0-2-0
Goals 35 / 1.59 (40th)
Goals Against 77 / 3.50 (40th)
Power Play 5.7% (50th)
Penalty Kill 71.4% (48th)
Avg. Height / Weight 5′ 11.23″ / 176.8 lbs.
Avg. Age 21y 7m

Chase Brand (Photo Prout)

St. Cloud State University Notes

A comprehensive preview of the team is here

The Huskies exceeded preseason expectations and finished second in the league standings nine points behind North Dakota. They are ranked 8th in the country in the USCHO poll and 6th in the College Hockey News Power 16.

Foremost, the play at the blue line by junior and Hobey Baker nominee, Nick Perbix has been a huge boost relieving the void left by the graduation of one of the all-time best at the position in Jack Ahcan. Perbix is currently second on the team in points with 5 goals and 14 assists for 19 points and has two game-winning goals. Perbix is also tied for fourth in the country for points by a defenseman. This week, Perbix was the runner-up in the voting for NCHC offensive defenseman of the year and was chosen as second-team NCHC  All-Conference.

Freshman sensation, Veeti Miettinen ( 10-13-23 +9) with one game-winning goal and five power-play goals leads the team in points. He’s become more explosive as he’s adjusted to playing in the NCHC and was named both NCHC and American Hockey Coaches Association Rookie of the Month for January. He’s a two-time NCHC Rookie of the Week and a nominee for the Hobey Baker Award. This week he was chosen to the NCHC All-Rookie Team and second-team NCHC All-Conference. Also, on March 11th he was named NCHC Rookie of the Year.

Other key factors to the Huskies’ success on offense have been the play of the junior class of forwards Nolan WalkerMicah Miller, and Sam Hentges. These three have combined for 20% of the team’s goals and 20% of the point totals and three game-winning goals.

Seniors Kevin Fitzgerald and Easton Brodzinski have combined for 19 goals and 10 assists including 3 game-winning goals and 5 power-play goals. Brodzinski has 96 career points and is only 4 points shy of the watermark 100 point club for his career at SCSU. Senior transfer Jared Cockrell and senior Will Hammer have both been invaluable for their leadership and ability to log extensive crucial defensive minutes. This week Fitzgerald was named the recipient of the NCHC Sportsmanship Award.

Sophomore forwards Zach Okabe (4-13-17 +7) and Jami Kanilla (9-8-17 +9) have benefitted from being on a line with the dynamic Miettinen but are having a solid season in their own right with two game-winning goals from Krannila and one by Okabe. Both are in the top five in points on the team.

As a unit, the defense is +21 led by junior captain Spencer Meier and senior transfer Brendan Bushy at +6 and +4 respectively. The team does not have a single regular in the minus. Senior transfer Seamus Donohue (0-5-5 +6) has been teamed with Nick Perbix and they’ve been a strong pairing.

Goaltending has been solid but not spectacular with David Hrenak logging 80% of the minutes and compiling a .907 save percentage and 2.63 goals-against average placing him 5th in save percentage and goals-against average in the NCHC.  Jaxon Castor is 3-0-0 with a 1.75 GAA and .914 save percentage.

The Huskies have been a third-period team with a +12 differential vs +2 in period one and even in period two.

Special teams have been strong with the power play 3rd in the conference at 22.8% and the penalty kill first at 86.5%.

Team Statistics

Team Statistics

Record 14-9-0
Pairwise Record 12-6-0    .625
Head-to-Head 2-0-0
Goals 78 / 3.25 (16th)
Goals Against 64 / 2.67 (22nd)
Power Play 22.8% (13th)
Penalty Kill 86.5% (6th)
Avg. Height / Weight 6′ 0.26″ / 186.6 lbs.
Avg. Age 22y 3m

Game Prospectus and Coaches Comments

The Tigers will be undermanned entering Saturday’s contest emerging from their third quarantine of the season. In his press conference on March 11, Mike Haviland said ” We have 17 available players for tomorrow’s game. we have a decent amount of guys out and we just came out of quarantine. We haven’t had a full practice yet. Guys still in quarantine will get into town today but we only have 17 available for the game tomorrow.”

He further stated ” We can’t feel sorry for ourselves. We have to come ready to play tomorrow. The players are trying to do the best they can. This is what it is and now we have to come up with the best plan to beat St. Cloud.”

As far as the game plan against the Huskies, Haviland said ” We have to stop their transition. They are highly skilled upfront and they skate so the transition game is something we have to take away from them. We have to be disciplined. They have a good power play so we have to stay out of the box and we have to manage the puck. We have to adapt on the fly and change some things as we go throughout the game.”

“We had two pretty good games against St. Cloud. One in the pod and one in St. Cloud. I have a lot of respect for Larson and what he does with his program and we’re looking forward to competing tomorrow,” said Haviland.

“Everybody that follows college hockey knows that anybody can beat anybody in this league in a one-game shot,” said SCSU head coach Brett Larson. “We all know that the bottom teams in our league would be at the top in other leagues. (The coaches) are telling their team it doesn’t matter what happened during the regular season, it’s a one-shot deal. Let’s go win this thing. They have a fresh start and new life and you know they are going to be a tough team to play against.”

Despite knowing Colorado College will have a short roster, coach Larson did not see it changing their game plan. ” People that have been around hockey know that short-handed teams are dangerous,” he said. ” It’s the next-man-up mentality. They’ll be playing for their program and each other so in my mind makes it an even bigger challenge and we need to be ready.”

As far as strategy Larson said, “If we can roll four lines, get pucks behind their defense and play in the offensive zone making them defend with four lines coming at them is when we’ve been most effective. Our game plan has to be to try and put pressure on them early and play in the offensive zone as much as possible and try to make CC defend. If we can do that and roll four lines hopefully we can create some offense and get a lead.

There is no tomorrow for the Tigers if they lose. Expect them to leave it all on the ice as it could be their last game of the season.

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.