NCHC Semi-Finals: SCSU and UMD Meet for Seventh Time

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Grand Forks, ND – Talk about familiarity. The #2-seeded SCSU Huskies  face the #3-seed UMD Bulldogs in the semi-finals of the NCHC Frozen Faceoff at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks on Monday at 3:05 PM CT. This will be the seventh meeting between the squads in the 2020-21 season. All of these meetings have taken place in the compressed time frame of less than three months. The prize is the right to advance to the tournament championship on Tuesday, March 16th at 7:35 PM CT.

#8 SCSU Huskies (16-9-0 NCHC) vs #9 UMD Bulldogs (14-9-2 NCHC) 

TV: CBS Sports Network
Live Stream: CBS Sports Network
Radio: 96.7 FM (St. Cloud) KDAL AM 610 & FM 103.9 (Duluth)
Where: Ralph Engelstad Arena – Grand Forks, ND
When: Mon., Mar. 15 (3:06 PM CT)

 Last Time Out

The Huskies had their hands full in the quarterfinal game vs Colorado College on March 12. Despite an onslaught of 44 shots on goal, it took a late third-period goal by Nick Perbix to seal the win and defeat an undermanned Tigers team that had a roster of 17 players. CC took the early lead in the second period on an odd goal that skipped over David Hrenak’s glove hand off a shot from the center red line. A power-play goal by Zach Okabe tied the game leading to the game-winner by Perbix.

The Bulldogs faced Western Michigan on March 13 in a classic playoff matchup. A back and forth game had the lead change three times before the Bulldogs finally prevailed 6:24 into an overtime session by a 5-4 score.  The resilient Broncos scored with an extra attacker with 22 seconds left in regulation to send the game to overtime. However, the end result was not without controversy as the faceoff puck drop in the WMU zone bounced off a Bulldogs glove before hitting the ice and should have been whistled dead. However, it was not and the puck ended up on defenseman Connor Kelley’s stick who sent a low shot past Brandon Bussi for the game-winning goal. Koby Bender scored twice in the win.

Head to Head 

SCSU has an overall advantage of 76-56-6 and a 73-50-8 record since joining the NCAA Division I ranks. SCSU is 4-1-0 in the last five, 6-4-0 in the last 10, and 12-8-0 in the last 20 games. Six of the last twenty games have gone to overtime.

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UMD Bulldogs Notes

The three-time national champions have won two consecutive national championships in 2018 and 2019. They have been participants in the NCAA tournament six of the last seven seasons and nine of the last twelve seasons. The Bulldogs were picked to finish third by the media in the preseason poll.

Despite some major losses from last year’s squad, the Bulldogs have one of the top returning rosters in terms of goals. UMD returned 90 goals and seven of their top-10 scorers from last season.

Goaltending
The Bulldogs suffered a major hit in the goaltending department with the graduation of NCHC Goaltender of the Year, Hunter Shepard. However, sophomore goalie Ryan Fanti has had a strong start to his career with a 10-6-2 record logging 71.8% of the minutes. He’s been solid with a .905 save percentage (sixth in the NCHC) and a 2.36 goals-against average (2nd in the NCHC). He’s sharing time with freshman,  Zach Stejskal (4-3-0) .923 SV% and 1.98 GAA.

Forwards
The departure of NCHC Defensive Forward of the Year Justin Richards was a big loss but the team returns one of the top offenses in the league with seven of their top ten goal scorers. Leading the group are junior forwards Cole Koepke (12-7-19) and Noah Cates (5-12-17) and senior forward and Minnesota Wild draft choice Nick Swaney currently second in the conference in points with 27. Senior forward Kobe Roth is third on the squad in goals with 11 and is sixth in the NCHC goal scoring. Junior forward Jackson Cates is tied for 5th in points in the conference with 10-13-23 and leads the team with five power-play goals.

Defense
The Bulldogs also saw the early departure of Hobey Baker winner Scott Perunovich who signed a professional contract with the St. Louis Blues in the off-season. Two other huge losses were Dylan Samberg who signed early with the Winnipeg Jets after playing in 109 career games and the graduation of Nick  Wolff, a four-year starter and physical presence on the blueline who signed with the Boston Bruins.

Senior and assistant captain Louie Roehl will lead the defense. He’s been a part of two national championships and has played in 139 games. Roehl has 27 (7g, 20a) points and a +34 rating for his career. Others who have stepped forward are senior, Matt Anderson, and junior Hunter Lellig. The addition of NHL draft choice and senior Dan Cairns, a 6’2″ 203-pound transfer from Cornell brings experience and size to the unit and he is +17 for the season.

Freshman Wyatt KaiserDarion Gotz, and Connor Kelly fill out the roster.  Kaiser, an 18-year-old draft choice of the Chicago Blackhawks has been very impressive and is currently 6th on the team in points with 9 assists and +4. Kelley has two goals in his last two games.

Statistics

Record 14-9-2
Head-to-Head 2-4-0
Goals 77 / 3.08 (19th)
Goals Against 58 / 2.32 (14th)
Power Play 20.2% (21st)
Penalty Kill 74.7% (44th)
Avg. Height / Weight 6′ 0.35″ / 187.8 lbs.
Avg. Age 21y 7m

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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 6 goals and 14 assists for 20 points and has three game-winning goals. Perbix is also tied for fourth in the country for points by a defenseman. 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 +8) 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. 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 (5-13-18 +6) and Jami Kanilla (9-8-17 +8) 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 +19 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 +7) has been teamed with Nick Perbix and they’ve been a strong pairing.

Goaltending has been solid but not spectacular with David Hrenak logging 81% 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 +13 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

Record 16-9-0
Pairwise Record 13-6-0    .640
Head-to-Head 4-2-0
Goals 80 / 3.20 (18th)
Goals Against 65 / 2.66 (19th)
Power Play 23.2% (11th)
Penalty Kill 86.8% (6th)
Avg. Height / Weight 6′ 0.26″ / 186.6 lbs.
Avg. Age 22y 3m

Game Prospectus and Coaches Comments

There are few secrets and very little that separates these teams. As a result, the outcome will be dictated by execution and limiting mistakes. Special teams and goaltending could very well steer the result of this game. As the higher seed, the Huskies will get last change which could be an advantage in line matchups. A couple of extra big saves by the goaltenders could be a key factor as these teams are that close.

No doubt David Hrenak will be in goal for SCSU but it’s currently up in the air for the Bulldogs. In his pre-game press conference head coach, Scott Sandelin was not tipping his hand on whether it’s Fanti or Skejskal.  ” I’m very confident in both goaltenders,” said Sandelin. It doesn’t matter right now who we put in there – we’ll see on Monday. It’s a good situation. We have good goaltending and they’ve both proven they can play.”

Concerning game preparation, Sandelin admitted ” There’s not a lot of pre-scout videos we need to do on each other because we’ve seen each other so much. We’ve had some great games with them. They are a good team, well-coached, they have some weapons and a good power play. They are solid from the net out. ”

“I expect it to be a real close game, good intensity, and up and down the rink. Both teams can skate and you can expect another tight game. I don’t expect to see too many penalties as neither team plays that way. But, when we get the opportunity we have to score.”

SCSU head coach Brett Larson commented “It feels like a seven-game Stanley Cup series with UMD. Both teams know each other really well. (In the last two meetings) they set the tone of the game in their rink and we did in our rink. I think it’s going to be an absolute battle with each team trying to set the tone. I have a feeling it will be a war from the drop of the puck. Special teams are probably going to be the key. Five on Five could be extremely tight and it could come down to special teams”.

That could be an advantage for the Huskies who have had a success rate of 30% vs UMD this season while limiting the Bulldogs to a 15.7% success rate on the man-advantage.

Concerning star forward, Veeti Miettinen who was injured vs Colorado College Larson noted ” He has been going through treatment and he did skate on Sunday morning. We’ll make the determination before game time.”

 

 

 

 

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