Preview: North Dakota Visits SCSU in Crucial League Battle

Kyler Kupka (Photo Prout)

St. Cloud, MN – By the time the North Dakota Fighting Hawks show up in St. Cloud on December 3rd, the Huskies will have had two weeks to stew over being swept by the Western Michigan Broncos. It’s hard to imagine an early December series could be so consequential but a sweep by UND could place SCSU 12 points behind the league-leading Fighting Hawks. In a league as tightly contested as the NCHC, it could be too much of a hill to climb for the pre-season favorite Huskies to envision another Penrose Cup.

With both league and national tournament implications, the Huskies need to recover from their current three-game losing streak and put up a good showing vs the Fighting Hawks in their last conference games of the calendar year. They’ll finish 2021 with a non-conference game against the Bemidji State Beavers on New Year’s Eve.

“(We need to have) more of a mentality of a bounce-back – bouncing back from a difficult weekend,” said head coach Brett Larson in his weekly press conference. “Hopefully, the disappointment and bad feeling in your stomach for a week and a half push our team to consistently play at the level we’d like to play.”

“We don’t feel we’ve hit our standard the last few games,” said Larson. Our goal is to play at our standard in all areas and have the best weekend we can possibly play going into the Christmas break and then let the results fall where they may.”

Senior defenseman, Nick Perbix explained ” It was a good time to have a bye week and hit the re-set button. Playing in the NCHC there’s going to be highs and lows every season and definitely, we’re at a low point right now but we have to focus on bouncing back. There’s no better way to do it with North Dakota coming into town.”

Defensive partner Jack Peart who played junior hockey in Fargo, ND is looking forward to playing the Fighting Hawks. “Everyone in college hockey knows about North Dakota and their fans and getting to play them at home is a special moment for me.”

#5/6 SCSU Huskies (3-3-0 /9-5-0) vs #6/5 UND Fighting Hawks (5-1-0 /10-5-0 ) 

Pairwise: SCSU (7), UND (4)

TV: Fox 9+
Live Stream: NCHC.tv
Radio: KNSI AM 1450/99.3 FM (St. Cloud); KVSC 88.1 FM (St. Cloud)
Where: Herb Brooks National Hockey Center, St. Cloud, MN
When: Friday/Saturday, Dec. 4/5 (7:35 PM CT/6:00 PM CT)

Last Time Out

The Huskies were idle this past weekend and last played on the road vs Western Michigan University on November 19/20. In a venue that has become very difficult for SCSU, the Huskies were swept by scores of 6-2 (EN) and 4-0 (2 EN).

On Friday, the Broncos carried a 2-0 lead into the final period and then busted loose with two goals in the first seven minutes of period three to gain an insurmountable 4-0 lead. Two empty-net goals sealed the win for WMU.

In the Saturday rematch, despite outshooting the Broncos 36-24, Brandin Bussi was unbeatable in the 4-0 loss. Two quick goals by the Broncos in period two were all that was needed as the Broncos earned their sixth straight win over the Huskies at Lawson Arena.

North Dakota hosted the University of Minnesota on November 26/27 and after falling by a 5-1 score on Friday recovered to gain a 3-2 win on Saturday.

On Friday, Bryce Brodzinski scored twice as the Gophers outshot the Fighting Hawks 32-22 and outscored them 5-1.

On Saturday, North Dakota raced out to a 3-0 third period lead before allowing two third period scores by the Gophers to make things interesting. The Fighting Hawks held on to the 3-2 win outshooting the Gophers 26-13. Senior captain Mark Senden scored twice for UND.

Frozen Faceoff Championship March 2021 (Photo Prout)

Head to Head

The teams last met on March 16, 2021, in the championship game of the NCHC Frozen Faceoff at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, ND.

The Huskies took control of the contest early and carried a 2-1 lead into the third period before being undone by some untimely penalties and momentum egged on by the highly partisan crowd. A three-goal outburst in a matter of two minutes in period three including two power-play goals created a lead the Huskies were unable to overcome in the final 15 minutes of the period in the 5-3 (EN) loss.

UND leads the all-time series 76-44-15 in the Division One era.  SCSU is 2-2-1 in the last five games, 4-5-1 in the last 10 games, and 7-10-3 in the last 20. Nine of the last seventeen games have gone to overtime between these two squads. SCSU is 2-4-3 in those overtime contests.

Since 2012, the teams are knotted at 6-6-2 at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center.

Riese Gaber | Easton Brodzinski (Photo Prout)

University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks Notes

The Fighting Hawks leveraged their success in the Pod and on the road to outlast the Huskies for the Penrose Cup in 2020-21. They also defeated the Huskies on home ice for the NCHC Frozen Faceoff Championship. Their season ended in the NCAA Midwest Regional Final in a five-overtime 3-2 loss to the UMD Bulldogs.

This is a team that was decimated by pro-signings following the 2020-21 season. Gone are seven of their top eight-point producers that posted 161 points or sixty percent of the team’s offense. Gone are Jordan Kawaguchi, Collin Adams, Shane Pinto, Jasper Weatherby, Matt Kierstad, Grant Mishmash, and Jacob Bernard-Docker. Further complicating things was the pro signing of goaltender Adam Scheel and the transfer of backup goaltender Peter Thome to the University of St. Thomas.

As a result, the team hit the transfer portal hard adding defensemen, Brady Ferner (RPI) and Chris Jandric (Alaska), forwards Ashton Calder (LSSU), and Connor Ford (Bowling Green), and goaltender Zach Driscoll (Bemidji State). They also have a large class of first-year players adding two goaltenders, five forwards, and two defensemen.

Forwards

The big question was who would step forward and supply the needed goal scoring on the team. Riese Gaber, for one, was a certainty as he added nine goals and 17 points his freshman season and was one of the league’s top rookie forwards. Thus far he is tied for the team lead in goal scoring (7) and second in points (15). Veterans Gavin Hain, Mark Senden, and Judd Caulfield have chipped in with nine goals and WCHA transfers Calder (7-7-14) and Ford (1-11-12) have had an immediate impact. Freshman, Jake Schmalz (4-7-11), and Matteo Constantini (4-5-9) have had a successful transition to the collegiate game.

Defense

The defense is outstanding with super sophomores Jake Sanderson (6-10-16) and Tyler Kleven (3-2-5) and the addition of veteran transfers Ferner and Jandric. Ethan Frisch and Cooper Moore will be in the mix and NHL draftee Brent Johnson is expected to contribute as well.

Goaltending

Goaltending hinges on the ability of Zach Driscoll to make a successful transition from the WCHA to the weekly grind of the NCHC. Driscoll, who will turn 25 during the season first entered the league with the SCSU Huskies in 2016 and logged 14 games. He subsequently transferred to Bemidji State playing three seasons before transferring to North Dakota. His career numbers of 2.19 GAA and .920 SV% are outstanding. Thus far, he is 10-5-0 with a 2.45 GAA and .895 SV%.

Beyond Driscoll, the Fighting Hawks will have to rely on untested first-year Swede Jakob Hellsten, junior Harrison Feeney who has played one career game, or Kaleb Johnson who had a 3.12 GAA in the North American Hockey League. Bets are on Hellsten if Driscoll can’t get the job done.

Team Statistics

Record 10-5-0
Pairwise Record 10-4-0 (0-1)   .697
Head-to-Head 0-0-0
Goals 49 / 3.27
Goals Against 40 / 2.67
Power Play 24.5%
Penalty Kill 80.6%
Avg. Height / Weight 5′ 11.59″ / 186.4 lbs.
Avg. Age 21y 8m

David Hrenak (Photo Prout)

St. Cloud State University Notes

The 2020-21 national runner-up Huskies have the luxury of minimal departures from last season. Team additions outweigh the departures and that’s what gives a great deal of optimism for the 2021-22 season. With a demanding 2021-22 schedule, the Huskies have been up to the task going 7-3-0 on the road including road wins over top pairwise rated the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State University, Mankato. Derailing their success was a disappointing two losses at Western Michigan in their last series.

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 127 games, 2.38 GAA, .910 SV%, and 12 shutouts. He’s been outstanding so far with a 1.83 GAA and .927 SV% and one shutout.

Backups Castor and Lamoreaux could be starters on many other teams but only saw action in seven games last season. Both have seen game action with Lamoreaux carrying a 2.52 GAA and .947 SV% and Castor 1.45 GAA and .945 SV% and a 1-1-0 record.

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 (3-5-8), Jami Krannila (6-5-11), and Zach Okabe (4-4-8) who produced a combined 28 goals and 69 points in 2020-21.

Also returning is senior Nolan Walker (5-3-8) who had a breakout year on offense with 10 goals and 14 assists for 24 points in 2020-21. Easton Brodzinski (6-3-9) 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 vs St Thomas in the opening weekend scoring two goals and while becoming a member of the 100 career point club.

Fifth-year senior forward Kevin Fitzgerald (6-10-16) decided to return and he’s a key component of the offense and special teams and currently leads the team in points with 16 and has 4 power-play goals. Jami Krannila is second in scoring with 11 points and has three game-winning goals. Micah Miller has 2 shorthanded goals and is +8 and playing his best hockey ever as a Husky.

Senior and Minnesota Wild draft choice Sam Hentges (currently injured) 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, Robert Morris transfer Aiden Spellacy and Ryan Rosborough will be vying for ice time as well.

In all 22 players have at least a point.

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 has been paired with Nick Perbix. Both have been impressive, are puck movers, and will change the dynamics and personality of this defense. Peart has missed two games with an injury but has 2 goals and 4 assists for 6 points in 10 games. Luedtke has 5 points in 10 games as well.

The defensive unit is currently plus 19 with Ondrej Trejbal leading the group with a plus 5.

Team Statistics

Record 9-5-0
Pairwise Record 8-3-0 (1-2)   .675
Head-to-Head 0-0-0
Goals 47 / 3.36
Goals Against 28 / 2.00
Power Play 33.9%
Penalty Kill 84.0%
Avg. Height / Weight 5′ 11.93″ / 183.0 lbs.
Avg. Age 22y 8m

Series Prospectus

At this juncture in the season, this is a crucial series for the Huskies who face North Dakota and Minnesota-Duluth at home and then Denver on the road in the next three league series. In addition to league points, all will be crucial in solidifying their Pairwise ranking.

As good as the Huskies were in October with a 6-2-0 record they were only .500 in November with a 3-3-0 record. If you drill things down further, the Huskies are 3-5-0 vs teams with a winning record (MSU-Mankato, UMN, Omaha, WMU). So again, the next three league series will be telling.

The team statistics are also deceiving. In the aggregate, nationally SCSU is tied for 17th in team offense averaging 3.36 goals per game and 4th on the power play having success on 19 of their 61 (31%) power-play opportunities. However, if you eliminate the 12-2 blowout of St Thomas in their series opener, they are averaging 2.69 goals per game and have a power-play efficiency of 16.6%. During the month of November, the power play has been successful 18.5% of the time while allowing the opponents a 22.7% success rate. In the last four games against Omaha and Western Michigan, it deteriorates having success twice in 20 opportunities (10%) while their opponents were 22%.

Not helping matters the Huskies are averaging almost a full two more minutes per game in penalties thus far this season vs the 2020-21 season (12.43 vs 10.48). However, North Dakota is averaging even more at 13.67 minutes per game.

“We are playing a really heavy, strong team that puck battles don’t come easy against so we need to be ready for that and we need to find a way to win that area of the game” commented coach Larson.

North Dakota has had a lot of turnover from last season “But, what hasn’t changed is their culture and blueprint for winning and how they play,” noted Larson. “They have a new group of guys buying into that. They are going to outcompete you and play hard every shift and get pucks to the net.”

“You have to be very good at defending that area around the net. They don’t waste a lot of opportunities to get the puck to the danger areas. You know you will have to defend line rushes very well and get under sticks and control the net front. They are a team that works really hard to get to that dirty area.”

“They are a team that you always have to respect,” explained Perbix. They are always going to bring the hard, heavy aspect to play. It’s always a tough weekend but it’s always one of the most fun weekends of the year.”

“They are a big, fast team and they love funneling pucks to the net,” said Peart. “They shoot pucks a lot and we’ll have to stay on top of them and use our speed to our advantage.”

The Fighting Hawks lost three of the final four games in October but rebounded by winning 6 of 8 games in November and are 6-5-0 vs teams with a winning record.

North Dakota transfer goaltender Zach Driscoll, in his fifth season, began his collegiate career at SCSU in 2016. Against his former team, he has struggled in allowing 8 goals on 48 shots on goal (.830 SV%).

As always, this will be a closely contested series with special teams likely to play a critical role in the outcome of the games. The Huskies need to resuscitate their offense and power play and need to improve their on-ice discipline spending too much time in the penalty box as of late.

Injury Update

Sam Hentges, who has been out with an injury since the Wisconsin series will remain out of the lineup this weekend. It appears he may return for the Bemidji State University series on December 31. “We’ll probably see Sam against Bemidji,” reported coach Larson in his weekly press conference. ” Otherwise, we have some guys that are bumped and bruised and banged up a little but we’re hoping everyone will be available on Friday night.”

For North Dakota, forwards Matteo Constantini and Jackson Kunz are a wait and see for the weekend and forward Ashton Calder who is tied for the team lead in goals and third in points is “doubtful.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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