SCSU Hockey: National Title is on the line vs UMass

David Hrenak (Photo Prout)

Pittsburgh, PA – When the St. Cloud State University Huskies hit the ice tonight at the Pittsburgh Paints Arena they’ll be in rarified territory. No SCSU hockey team has ever gone this deep in the season in the history of Division I hockey. They’ll be facing Hockey East’s University of Massachusetts in the National Championship and carrying the flag for the National Collegiate Hockey Conference that has won the last four titles and dominated the Frozen Four in its short existence as a hockey conference.

“The fun thing over the last 48 hours for me is to see how important this program is to a lot of people and all I want to tell them is we’re playing for them,” said coach Brett Larson in Friday’s press conference. “The one thing I can guarantee the fans is this staff and group are going to leave it all on the ice on Saturday night.”

When asked about participating in the most important game in SCSU hockey history Will Hammer commented ” We’re not trying to think about it too much. We’re trying to control what we can control. I know the big thing in the locker room during the games is taking the game in five-minute segments because sometimes picturing things in full is just too much to handle. That’s going to be our mentality.”

SCSU Huskies (20-10-0)  vs  UMass Minutemen  (19-5-4) 

TV: ESPN
Live Stream: WatchESPN  Canadien TV Schedule
Radio: 96.7 FM (St. Cloud) KVSC 88.1 FM (St. Cloud)
Where: PPG Paints Arena – Pittsburgh, PA
When: Sat., April 10 (6:00 PM CT)

(Photo Prout)

Last Time Out 

The Huskies were in an epic battle with in-state rival Minnesota State on Thursday, April 8th in the Frozen Four semi-finals. In a see-saw game, and a game of comebacks, the Mavericks fell behind by a 3-1 score before rallying to take a 4-3 lead early in period three. SCSU tied the game with slightly less than 10 minutes remaining on Joe Molenaar’s first goal of the season and took the lead on a skillful deflection of a Seamus Donohue shot by Nolan Walker with 53.2 seconds remaining in regulation. Spencer Meier, Kyler Kupka and Will Hammer scored the other goals for SCSU and David Hrenak stopped 25 of 29 shots in the win.

The Minutemen dispatched the University of Minnesota, Duluth 3-2 in overtime in the other semi-final game. Anthony Del Gaizo’s third-period goal knotted the game at 2-2 and Garrett Wait scored the game-winner at 14:30 of the overtime session to send UMass to the championship game.  Matt Murray stopped 36 of 38 shots for the win.

Head to Head 

The Huskies have only faced UMass twice in their years as a Division I program. They first met on 11/25/2000 in Amherst, MA with the Huskies scoring three unanswered goals in the third period to earn a 3-1 win. Jon Cullen scored the game-winning goal and Ryan Johnson and Tyler Arnason added the others.

The teams also met on January 4, 2002, in St. Cloud with the Huskies winning 5-1. Ryan Malone scored twice including the game-winning goal. Mark Hartigan and Joe Motzko netted the other goals for SCSU.

(Photo Justin Aller)

University of Massachusetts Minutemen Notes

The Minutemen are making their second consecutive appearance in the national championship game having been defeated by the UMD Bulldogs 3-0 in the 2019 national championship game.

Coach Greg Carvel has a 93-75-10 record over five years at the helm of UMass and has transformed the team into a perennial power in Hockey East. This season, the team has posted an outstanding record of 11-2-2 vs ranked opponents. They are currently riding a 13 game unbeaten streak into the championship game which is the longest in school history. They have only lost five times this season and three of those losses were one-goal games.  Their last defeat was on January 17th, a 4-2 loss to Boston College.

Their record vs common opponents (Boston College, Boston University and UMD) is 2-5-0 while SCSU is 7-2-0 vs those teams.

Goaltender
Junior Filip Lindberg and senior Matt Murray present a formidable duo in goal and have evenly split playing time. Lindberg (9-1-4)  has a 1.33 goals against and a .946 save percentage ranking him first in the country in both categories. Murray (10-4-0) has a goals-against of 1.97 ranking him 11th in college hockey and a .917 save percentage.

Lindberg has been the starter for the stretch run of the season with wins in all three games of the Hockey East playoffs and the first two games of the NCAA tournament vs Lake Superior State University and Bemidji State University. However, he missed the semi-final game vs UMD due to COVID protocol being replaced by Murray who posted a 36 save performance in the 3-2 overtime win over the Bulldogs. This was Murray’s first start in about three months.

It appears Lindberg will be available for the championship game as long as he passes COVID testing the day of the game. Lindberg, a native of Espoo, Finland is a draft choice of the Minnesota Wild and a second-team All-Stae in Hockey East.

Forwards 
UMass features two potent goal scorers in senior Carson Gicewicz (17-7-24) who has netted 2 game-winning goals and 5 power-play goals and Bobby Trivigno (10-23-33) the team’s points leader who also has 3 game-winning goals. Trivigno was named to the Hockey East 1st All-Star team.

Other key forwards include Hockey East Rookie of the Year Josh Lopina (9-14-23), senior Oliver Chau (5-21-26), and University of Minnesota transfer Garrett Wait who has netted 9 goals.

The Minutemen have been riding the strength of a strong freshman class that has accounted for 89 of 269 of the team’s points (33.7%) and 39 of the team’s 98 goals (39.8%).

Defense
A significant strength on this team is the defensive unit led by Hockey East 3rd team All-Stars and junior Marc Del Gaizo (3-11-14 +19) and sophomore Matthew Kessel who is sixth on the team in points with 9-13-22 and +14. Both are NHL draft choices with Del Gaizo with Nashville and Kessel with the St. Louis Blues. Zac Jones, a New York Rangers draft choice was named a second-team Hockey East All-Star and is tied for third on the team in points and is plus 16. These three have accounted for 21 of the team’s 98 goals – an impressive statistic.

Not imposing physically, only Kessel at 6’3″ stands taller than six feet. However, they pride themselves on being tight and strong and hard and fast in the offensive zone.

Veterans Colin Felix (0-10-10 +17) and Ty Farmer (3-2-5 +7) are also key pieces of this unit as is freshman Aaron Bohlinger (0-11-11 +3).

Team Statistics

Record 19-5-4
Pairwise Record 17-4-4 .734
Head-to-Head 0-0-0
Goals 98 / 3.50  (8th)
Goals Against 48 / 1.71  (2nd)
Power Play 22.9  (12th)
Penalty Kill 91.5% (2nd)
Avg. Height / Weight 5′ 11.74″ / 187.8 lbs
Avg. Age 21y 10m

(Photo Justin Allers)

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 7th 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 third on the team in points with 7 goals and 16 assists for 23 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 ( 11-13-24 +7) 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 21% of the team’s goals and 20% of the point totals and three game-winning goals.

Senior Kevin Fitzgerald has 9 goals and 9 assists including 3 game-winning goals and 2 power-play goals.  Senior transfer Jared Cockrell and senior Will Hammer have both been invaluable for their leadership and ability to log extensive crucial defensive minutes. Last month, Fitzgerald was named the recipient of the NCHC Sportsmanship Award.

The glaring omission to the lineup is the loss of leading goal scorer Easton Brodzinski due to a fractured leg in the second period of the regional championship vs Boston College. You simply can’t take a 13 goal scorer and one of the leading career scorers entering the NCAA tournament without having an effect.

Sophomore forwards Zach Okabe (6-16-22 +6) and Jami Kanilla (11-12-23 +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 +41 led by junior captain Spencer Meier and senior transfer Brendan Bushy at +10 and +8 respectively.  Senior transfer Seamus Donohue (1-8-9 +14) has been teamed with Nick Perbix (+12) and they’ve been a strong pairing.

Goaltending has been impressive in the tournament with David Hrenak. He’s logged 85% of the minutes this season and has compiled a .908 save percentage and 2.57 goals-against average placing him 26th in save percentage and 34th in goals-against average in the country. Hrenak was named Most Outstanding Player in the Northeast Regional tournament. 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 +15 differential vs +4 in period one and +3 in period two.

Special teams have been strong with the power play 16th in the country at 21.7% and the penalty kill 14th at 81.8%.

Team Statistics

Record 20-10-0
Pairwise Record 17-7-0    .667
Head-to-Head 0-0-0
Goals 101 / 3.37  (14th)
Goals Against 79 / 2.63  (17th)
Power Play 22.6% (13th)
Penalty Kill 83.2% (17th)
Avg. Height / Weight 6′ 0.26″ / 186.6 lbs.
Avg. Age 22y 3m

(Photo Justin Aller)

Game Prospectus

This will be the third Hockey East matchup for the Huskies in the NCAA tournament. Obviously, they have faired well outscoring Boston University and Boston College by a margin of 10-2. On paper, UMass leads in every major statistical category but it’s really hard to base much on that as they play in two different conferences and the comparisons are not relative. However, one comparison that can be made is that the Minutemen were 2-5-0 vs common opponents Boston College, Boston University, and UMD while SCSU had a record of 7-2-0 vs those opponents.

UMass prides itself on being a well-conditioned team and certainly had more in the tank in the third period and overtime session vs the UMD Bulldogs. This is a less physically imposing team than the Huskies last opponent, Minnesota State and they’ll probably see a style much similar to that of the Boston Schools.

It appears that UMass will have both Carson Gicewicz and Filip Lindgren back in the lineup against the Huskies. That’ll be a big boost to the lineup from both a goaltending and offensive standpoint. 17 goal scorer Gicewicz is an impact player and is deadly on the power play. Statistically, Lindgren is the top goaltender in the country.

UMass struggled against the Bulldogs early in the semi-final game and began to take over as it appeared the Bulldogs began to wear out as the Minutemen were rolling four lines. It’ll be a different situation against the Huskies who have a very balanced lineup and will roll four lines the entire game.

You’ll probably see little change in tactic by the Huskies who will forecheck hard, try to cause turnovers, and make it difficult for Umass to navigate through the neutral zone.

If this turns into a skating game, expect to see more of an impact by the line of Okabe, Miettinen and Krannila.

UMass is a good faceoff team winning over 50% of their draws this season and puck possession will be critically important in a game like this. The Huskies need to win the duel in the faceoff circle.

Both teams are strong on special teams and discipline will be ultra important. Hrenak needs to continue his strong play in goal and will be tested not only by the UMass forwards but by their offensive-oriented defensemen.

These appear to be two evenly matched teams and whoever can control the tempo of the game and limit mistakes will be successful.

   

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