SCSU to Battle North Dakota for Frozen Faceoff Championship

Jami Krannila (Photo Prout)

Grand Forks, ND – The culmination of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference season is tonight as the #2 seed SCSU Huskies battle the #1 seed UND Fighting Hawks at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, ND for the Frozen Faceoff Championship. It will be an obvious advantage For North Dakota to play on their home ice with a highly partisan crowd but SCSU head coach Brett Larson sees it differently.

As the obvious underdog, Huskies head coach Brett Larson sees other things to gain out of this game. “We’re just looking for more growth out of this team and learning how to play in big games and it will be a lot of fun and I know the guys are excited for it. Learning how to play under the bright lights in a big game is how teams grow and I know the guys are looking forward to that opportunity.”

A lock for the NCAA tournament, the team sees this as great preparation for further high-pressure games on the horizon. “We’ve earned the right to play in the championship game and now we want to show up and prove we can play in a big game like this.”

#8 SCSU Huskies (17-9-0)  vs #2 UND Fighting Hawks (20-5-1 ) 

TV: CBS Sports Network
Live Stream: CBS Sports Network
Radio: 96.7 FM (St. Cloud)
Where: Ralph Engelstad Arena – Grand Forks, ND
When: Tues., Mar. 16 (7:35 PM CT)

Last Time Out

The Huskies had a typically difficult battle with the UMD Bulldogs on Monday, March 15. On this night it was the Huskies who took an early lead, leveraged an exemplary performance out of senior David Hrenak, and won the special teams battle with a power-play goal and short-handed goal to advance to the Frozen Faceoff championship game with a tight 3-2 win over the UMD Bulldogs.

The game-winning goal was an oddity scored by sophomore forward Chase Brand on a shot from behind the net that was reviewed over half a minute later and ultimately ruled it was a good goal to give the Huskies a 3-2 lead they never relinquished.

The Fighting Hawks also were in a battle of their playoff life vs the Denver Pioneers and it took an extra attacker goal with 1:27 remaining by Jasper Weatherby to send the game to an overtime session. UND ultimately prevailed on a goal by Gavin Hain 8:37 in the session to advance to the championship game. Adam Scheel stopped 17 of 18 shots in the win.

Head to Head

UND leads the all-time series 75-44-15 in the Division One era.  SCSU is 2-2-1 in the last five games, has a 4-4-2 in the last 10 games and 8-9-3 in the last 20. Nine of the last sixteen games have gone to overtime between these two squads. SCSU is 2-4-3 in those overtime contests. The teams last met on December 16, 2020 with UND gaining a 4-3 overtime win.

In the Frozen Faceoff in 2018, the Huskies defeated the Fighting Hawks 3-2 in overtime.

(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 second in the USCHO poll and #1 in the College Hockey News Power 16 ranking. 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. Coach Brad Berry was named NCHC Coach of the Year.

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%. Scheel was recently named NCHC Goaltender of the Year and First-Team All-Conference.

So far in 2020-21, Scheel is 18-3-1 with a 1.76 GAA and .929 SV% while Thome has appeared in five games and is 2-2-0 with a 2.83 GAA and .872 SV%.

Forwards
North Dakota returned 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. He currently leads the squad in points with 7-24-31.  Second round NHL draft choice Shame Pinto is the second leading returning scorer and through the early season leads the squad with 15 goals. Colin Adams, Grant Mishmash and Jasper Weatherby round out a potent group of returnees.

Pinto and Kawaguchi were named to the NCHC All-Conference Team and Pinto was named NCHC Player of the Year.

Rookie Riese Gaber has been one of the top rookie goal scorers in the league with 9-8-17. He was recently named to the NCHC All-Rookie Team.

Defense
The Fighting Hawks feature four NHL draft choices on defense including senior alternate captain Matt Kiersted and junior Jacob Bernard-Docker. Both are offensive-minded defensemen with Kiersted currently fifth in team points with 3-17-20 and Bernard-Doctor seventh with 3-14-17.

Kiersted was named to the NCHC All-Conference First Team and Docker was named to the NCHC All-Conference Second Team.

Two first-year players have been impressive thus far. 2020 first-rounder Jake Sanderson (2-11-13) and second-round choice Tyler Kleven (5-1-6) have made an immediate impact. Senior Gabe Bast, sophomore Ethan Frisch, senior Josh Rieger, and freshman Cooper Moore round out a very deep defensive unit. Jake Sanderson also made the NCHC All-Rookie Team.

Statistics

Record 20-5-7
Head-to-Head 1-1-0
Goals 102 / 3.92 (1st)
Goals Against 50/1.92 (3rd)
Power Play 23.7% (8th)
Penalty Kill 85.8% (8th)
Avg. Height / Weight 5’11.96″ / 190.2

Veeti Miettinen (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 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 20 goals and 12 assists including 3 game-winning goals and 6 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 (5-14-19 +6) and Jami Kanilla (10-9-19 +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 four in points on the team.

As a unit, the defense is +21 led by junior captain Spencer Meier and senior transfer Brendan Bushy at +7 and +4 respectively. . Senior transfer Seamus Donohue (0-7-7 +8) 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 2.53 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 +3 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 17-9-0
Pairwise Record 14-6-0    .654
Head-to-Head 1-1-0
Goals 83 / 3.19 (18th)
Goals Against 67 / 2.58 (18th)
Power Play 23.% (13th)
Penalty Kill 86.3% (6th)
Avg. Height / Weight 6′ 0.26″ / 186.6 lbs.
Avg. Age 22y 3m

Nolan Walker (Photo Prout)

Game Prospectus

This game features two of the top offensive and defensive teams in the conference. North Dakota has the top power-play unit in the NCHC while the Huskies have the top-ranked penalty kill unit.

The explosive Fighting Hawks are scoring nearly four goals a game and score from the forward position or the blue line. However, don’t underestimate the Huskies who also have been scoring at a clip of three-plus goals per game.

The Huskies will have to weather the emotion of the partisan crowd and home-ice advantage in the first period and hopefully score early to get the crowd ot of the game. The Huskies played perhaps one of their best games of the season in a 5-3 win over the Fighting Hawks on December 12th.

Special teams play will be important and it’ll be a great matchup on both sides whether it is on the power play or penalty kill.

A diligent effort by the Huskies in the faceoff circle is paramount against Shane Pinto who is one of the top players in the faceoff circle in the country. Games are won and lost in this aspect of the game.

This game has a lot of storylines with two high school teammates, Kierstad for UND and Perbix for SCSU competing for the playoff championship. the game also features two of the league’s top rookie forwards in Riese Gaber and Veeti Miettinen.

UND will be the home team with the advantage in matching lines. However, they played a late overtime game last night which could leave them with less gas in the tank than the Huskies who have had some extra hours of rest.

Keep in mind 9 of the last 16 games have gone to overtime. Don’t be surprised by that outcome in this game.

The Huskies have played in three previous Frozen Faceoff Championship games losing 3-2 to Miami in 2015, defeating UMD 3-1 in 2016, and losing a 3-2 two overtime thriller to UMD in 2019.

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