Preview: Battle Royale as St. Cloud State Visits Minnesota State

Kevin Fitzgerald (Photo Prout)

St. Cloud, MN – Unquestionably, the top tilt in college hockey this weekend is the battle royale between St. Cloud State University and Minnesota State University Mankato. Polls create a lot of hype and if you are into college hockey polls, SCSU claims the top spot in the USA Today/USA Hockey Poll, and MSU is perched on top of the US College Hockey Online poll. This two-game non-conference series in Mankato is the heavyweight series of the weekend with serious ramifications beyond bragging rights between two sister schools in the Minnesota State Colleges and University system. Can you say Pairwise?

Minnesota State had been the premier and dominant team in the WCHA until it was dismantled after the 2020-21 season and replaced by a slimmed-down version now called the CCHA. The WCHA had gone through a change as well starting in 2013-14 and the Mavericks dominated winning six of eight regular-season titles, three WCHA tournament championships, and six NCAA appearances.

The Huskies on the other hand joined the deeper and more powerful NCHC in the debut season of 2013-14 and proceeded to win three regular-season titles, one NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship, and made six appearances in the NCAA tournament.

All eyes will be on the Mayo Clinic Event Center this weekend as two in-state rivals battle in what should be a raucous environment as the Mavericks attempt to avenge a 5-4 loss to the Huskies in the Frozen Four last April.

(Photo Justin Aller)

#1/2 SCSU Huskies (2-0-0)  vs  #1/2 MSU Mavericks  (2-0-0) 

TV: Spectrum 191/826
Live Broadcast Stream: Flohockey.tv ($)
Radio/Stream: KNSI 1450 AM/99.3 FM (St. Cloud) KVSC 88.1 FM (St. Cloud)
Where: Mayo Clinic Event Center | Mankato, MN
When: Fri/Sat; October 8/9 7:07 / 6:07 PM CT

2021-22 CenterIceView Road Trip Guide

Last Time Out

Both teams had their 2021-22 opening season series last weekend with the Huskies facing college hockey’s newest Division I team, the University of St. Thomas, in a home and home and the Mavericks on the road facing the defending National Champion University of Massachusetts.

The Huskies mopped up on the UST Tommies at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center on Saturday, October 2nd by a 12-2 score. Four players had a multi-goal game including Kevin Fitzgerald (2-2-4), Easton Brodzinski (2-1-3), Chase Brand (2-1-3), and Jami Krannila (2-1-3). In all, seventeen players accumulated points in the game. David Hrenak and Joey Lamoreaux combined to stop 30 of 32 shots on goal in the win.

In the rematch at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, MN it was a different sort of game as the Huskies outshot the Tommies 36 to 12 but were only able to get two pucks past UST’s Peter Thome in the 2-0 win. The game-winning goal was scored on the power play by Zach Okabe in period one and Micah Miller added the other in period two.

The Mavericks on the other hand had their work cut out for them as the UMass Minutemen unveiled their National Championship banner on home ice at the Mullins Center in Amherst, MA. Not to be deterred, MSU senior forward Reggie Lutz scored on the power play 55 seconds into period one and the Mavericks never trailed in a 2-0 win. Julian Napravnik added a third-period goal to seal the win.

In the rematch, the Mavericks fell behind by a 3-0 score late in period two before making an incredible comeback for a decisive 6-3 win. Nathan Smith scored at 18:48 of period two to draw to within two scores and they rattled off five consecutive goals in period three to stun the Minutemen for a sweep of the weekend. MSU outshot UMass 45 to 22 for the contest and 77 to 40 over the weekend.

Zach Okabe (Photo Prout)

Head to Head 

The two in-state rivals and member schools of the Minnesota State University system have been competing on the ice since the 1969-70 season with MSU holding a 63-57-13 edge. However, at the Division I level, the Huskies have dominated holding a 36-23-8 advantage. SCSU is 2-3-0 in the last five games, 7-3-0 in the last 10 games, and 13-6-1 in the last 20 games.

The teams last met in the semi-finals of the Frozen Four on April 8, 2021. In a very exciting back and forth game, Nolan Walker deflected a shot by Seamus Donohue past MSU goaltender Dryden McKay with 53.2 seconds remaining in regulation to send the Huskies to the NCAA championship game with the 5-4 win. The Mavericks outshot the Huskies 29-22 in the contest.

Prior to this game, the teams last played on December 28, 2019, in the Mariucci Classic in Minneapolis with the Huskies earning a convincing 7-2 win. Zach Okabe led the Huskies with a career game scoring four goals. Mavericks goaltender Dryden McKay allowed five goals in the first 27:15 of the contest before being pulled from the game.

Minnesota State University Mavericks Notes

MSU Head coach Mike Hastings was a former player at St. Cloud State under Herb Brooks, and an assistant under Craig Dahl for the 1990-91 and 1993-94 seasons. He also had an extensive tenure as a head coach in the USHL from 1994 to 2008 and was an assistant coach at the University of Minnesota and Omaha. He is in his tenth season as head coach at Minnesota State University in Mankato. He was also head coach of the USA World Junior team for the IIHF World Junior Championships in 2019.

He carries an all-time record at Minnesota State of 238-90-24 which is the most wins of any program in Division I college hockey during his tenure. His teams have made six NCAA appearances have won six WCHA regular-season titles and three WCHA postseason championships. He was inked to a 10-year contract in 2017 that runs through the 2027-28 season.

Dryden McKay, MSU (Photo Prout)

Goaltending

Senior netminder Dryden McKay ranks first as the active career NCAA leader in shutouts with 25 and heads into the season with a .875 winning percentage. He was named CCHA Goaltender of the Week after his performance vs UMass.

McKay was named 2020-21 WCHA Player of the Year and is a two-time WCHA Goaltender of the year. McKay has a career 77-15-4 record with a 1.53 GAA, and .932 SV% in 99 games played for his college career. The Downers Grove, Ill., native was a Hobey Hat Trick finalist for the 2020-21 Hobey Baker Award and a top-three finalist for last year’s Mike Richter Award as the national top goaltender of the year. He was also named an NCAA West All-American.

Although at 5’11” and 175 pounds he’s not the stature of the prototype goaltenders these days but he is clearly the Mavericks’ top player and the key to their success. McKay will be a workhorse this season and will be backed up by two freshmen, Andrew Miller and Keenan Rancier.

Forwards

Despite additional eligibility, the Mavericks do not have a single player at forward returning for a fifth season. As a result, the team does lose 62 points of offense most notably from Dallas Gerads, Walker Duehr, Jake Jaremko, and Todd Burgess who combined for 28 goals and 27 assists for 55 points.

However, they return their top four scorers including Julian Napravnik (10-18-28), Cade Borchardt (9-15-24), Nathan Smith (9-16-25), and Reggie Lutz (10-11-21). They have the 8th most returning goals from last season. Smith was named CCHA forward of the week after the sweep of UMass. Napravnik is one of the active career leaders in game-winning goals with 12.

Being counted on to add offense is junior, Ryan Sandelin (7-2-9) who came alive in the West Regional with two goals including the GWG vs Quinnipiac, and was named the tourney’s Most Outstanding Player. Others include Ondrej Pavel, speedy junior, Brandon Furry, University of Michigan transfer Josh Groll, Union transfer Sam Morton and freshman Will Hillman, Brenden Olsen, and Zach Krajnik.

There’s no question, the top two lines can produce but it’s yet to be seen whether the lower two can.

Defense

The defense is their most experienced position with a senior-laden group including Wyatt Aamodt, puck-moving junior Andy Carroll (3-5-8 +7) Jack McNeely (1-5-6 +12), and New Hampshire transfer Benton Maass who played in 120 games at UNH.

Add in 22-year-old sophomore Akito Hirose who was named  WCHA Rookie of the Year and Jake Livingstone and you have one of the top defensive units in college hockey.

Tony Malinowski and freshman Steven Bellini and Riese Zmolek round out a physically imposing unit with seven of the nine players at six feet or taller.

Team Statistics

Goals 8 / 4.00
Goals Against 3 / 1.50
Power Play 11.1%
Penalty Kill 100.0%
Avg. Height / Weight 6’0.50″ / 183.6 lbs.
Avg. Age 22y 7m

Easton Brodzinski (Photo Prout)

St. Cloud State University Notes 

The 2020-21 national runner-up Huskies have the luxury of minimal departures from last season. They did see the departure of blue-collar players Will Hammer and Jared Cockrell (both of whom would have been 26 this season) who were part of a highly successful checking line and provided respite for the top three lines. Otherwise, the entire team is back sans defenseman, Tyler Anderson who logged 15 games and is pursuing medical school at the University of Manitoba. Team additions outweigh the departures and that’s what gives a great deal of optimism for the 2021-22 season.

Goaltending

Goaltending continues to be a strength with veterans David HrenakJaxon Castor, and Joey Lamoreaux all returning. Hrenak returns for his fifth season and his career includes 115 games, 2.41 GAA, .909 SV%, and 12 shutouts. Backups Castor and Lamoreaux could be starters on many other teams but only saw action in seven games last season.

Forwards

At forward, the team returns a whole lot of experience with six seniors and five juniors. They return the top eight goal scorers and point producers including linemates Veeti Miettinen, Jami Krannila, and Zach Okabe who produced a combined 28 goals and 69 points. Also returning is senior Nolan Walker who had a breakout year on offense with 10 goals and 14 assists for 24 points. Easton Brodzinski finished the season as the team’s top goal-scorer with 13 goals but sustained a fractured femur in the Boston College semi-final finishing his season. However, he made a triumphant return to the ice last weekend scoring two goals, and was named the first star of Friday’s contest. He also passed the 100 career point mark last weekend.

Fifth-year senior forward Kevin Fitzgerald decided to return and he’s a key component of the offense and special teams and had an explosive game on Friday with 2 goals and 2 assists.

Seniors Micah Miller and Minnesota Wild draft choice Sam Hentges and juniors Chase Brand and Kyler Kupka are others that will be key contributors and are expected to bury the puck more this season. Joe MolenaarThomas RoccoJack Johnston, and newcomers Mason Salquist (the reigning NCHC Rookie of the Week), Robert Morris transfer Aiden Spellacy and Ryan Rosborough will be vying for ice time as well.

Defense

The defense is deep and talented and led by senior captain Spencer Meier and NCHC preseason all-league team pick and senior Nick Perbix. Perbix had a breakout season in 2020-21 posting 7 goals and 16 assists and was plus-eight. Seamus Donohue, a fifth-year seniorwas a Michigan Tech transfer, meshed well with Perbix, and logged a ton of minutes. Luke JaycoxBrendan BushyOndrej Trejbil, and Brady Ziemer are all experienced veterans that bolster the strength of a defensive unit that finished the season +41 last year.

Newcomers include two-year USHL veteran Josh Luedtke and Minnesota Wild draft choice Jack Peart who was paired with Perbix last weekend and posted two assists. Both are puck movers and will change the dynamics and personality of this defense.

Team Statistics

Goals 14 / 7.00
Goals Against 2 / 1.00
Power Play 61.5%
Penalty Kill 77.8%
Avg. Height / Weight 5′ 11.93″ / 183.0 lbs.
Avg. Age 22y 8m

Game Prospectus

This should be a classic, highly competitive series between two of the highest-ranked teams in college hockey.  The impressive road sweep of UMass certainly turned heads and proved the Mavericks will be a force to deal with this season.

Both teams return a great deal of experience at goaltender and defense and defensive play will be key in this series. The Huskies may have more experience and depth at forward as they return more total offense from last season.

As the Huskies learned from their Frozen Four matchup last season, the Mavericks can play a stifling, relentless forecheck and were perhaps the most difficult opponent all last season.

Both teams have high-end scorers and can score in bunches. The Mavericks will get the last change as the home team and will get their preferred matchups all weekend. Faceoff wins will be crucial and the Huskies Nolan Walker, Mason Salquist, and Aidan Spellacy were all highly successful in the faceoff circle last weekend.

Both teams can create offense from the blue line and it should be an interesting chess match.

Dryden McKay has proved human in the last two games vs the Huskies yielding 10 goals to the Huskies in less than two full games. As closely matched as these two teams are, it could come down to goaltending and who has the upper hand on special teams. The Mavericks were 100% on the penalty kill last weekend and the Huskies were 61.5% on the power play. It could be quite a matchup.

Home ice will be to the Maverick’s advantage and it should be a highly partisan, loud, and excited Maverick gallery of fans. This is a can’t miss series.

 

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