Weekend Preview in Podcast Form w/ @SCSUTravelinFan and Myself

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Very short blog tonight. (It will actually be short, unlike the last one). I don’t want to repeat a lot of takes that I get into during the podcast. I encourage everyone to take a listen.

We are two St. Cloud State fans, but we do talk about much more than just what is going on in the 320. We touch on many aspects of college hockey. More focus is on the NCHC, but we do talk about other conferences as well.

Please listen and enjoy. Also, feel free to give us a rating and any other feedback! Thanks! My shift is over.

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Five Thoughts: Conference Races Heat Up

Short blog tonight. Everyone please subscribe to the Huskies Hockey Podcast where @SCSUTravelinFan and I talk all things involving St. Cloud State and a smattering of other things in college hockey. We record once a week during the season (usually on Wednesdays). I’ll also put a link on the blog.

  1. With North Dakota Able to Take NCHC Stranglehold, Instead Strangle Their Necks

For the first time this season, the North Dakota Fighting Hawks suffers back-to-back losses against the Denver Pioneers by scores of 6-4 and 4-1.

It was an uncharacteristic defensive effort from the Fighting Hawks, who allowed 10 goals on the weekend. They have allowed one or fewer goals in 17 games this season. However, the Pioneers were able to move the puck into key scoring areas and capitalized on them, making it a long weekend for North Dakota goaltender Cam Johnson.

Junior Trevor Moore had a monster weekend, scoring two goals assisting on five other goals.

  1. Omaha Gets Revenge, Takes Two from Western Michigan

Earlier this season, the Omaha Mavericks were an undefeated 6-0 before crashing down to earth and getting swept in Kalamazoo. This weekend held a different fate for the Western Michigan Broncos.

The Mavericks took the sweep 2-1 and 6-3 in Omaha to gain a little bit of revenge. Sophomore Tyler Vesel was the man of the weekend, opening the scoring shorthanded in Friday’s game and adding another two goals and an assist on Saturday’s penalty filled affair. A total of 17 penalties were called during the game.

With the sweep, Omaha has vaulted to a tie with Minnesota Duluth for the fourth and final home playoff spot.

  1. Minnesota Takes Slim Big Ten Lead

The Minnesota Golden Gophers were able to sweep the Ohio State Buckeyes, but it wasn’t without a flair for the dramatic.

The Friday see-saw battle was 4-3 in the waning seconds of the game when Buckeye forward Matthew Weis scored his seventh of the year in the nick of time with .1 seconds left to send it into overtime.

The victory was short lived and Gopher leading scorer Justin Kloos netted the game winner at the 3:25 mark.

Saturday’s game was also a nail-biter, but for a different reason. The Gophers took a 4-1 lead into the second intermission, but the Buckeyes cut the score to 4-3 midway through the third. However, the Gophers defense would stand tall and were able to hold on for the victory.

The Michigan Wolverines beat and tied the Wisconsin Badgers over the weekend. The Maize and Blue did end up winning the a shootout for the extra conference point, but leaving the win on the table vaulted Minnesota to the top of the conference standings with only six games to go.

  1. WCHA leading Minnesota State Manages Two Ties Against Cellar Dweller Alabama-Huntsville

The surprise of the weekend came south of the Mason-Dixon line, as the Alabama-Huntsville Chargers were able to tie the conference leading Minnesota State Mavericks by scores of 3-3 and 1-1.

Now, ties are extremely common in the WCHA, but Chargers have actually had fairly good goaltending for a team with a record as bad as they have. Junior Matt Larose has a .931 save percentage on the season and got the nod in both games. He was clearly enough to frustrate the Maverick shooters.

Minnesota State currently sits atop of the WCHA with a four-point lead over second place Michigan Tech and Bowling Green.

The Mavericks are off this week, so both Michigan Tech and Bowling Green can make up those four points and give the Mavericks a run for its money.

  1. Quinnipiac Finally Falters

We knew the Quinnipiac Bobcats haven’t been playing a quite the level of hockey as they were at the beginning of the season. They have been playing from behind quite a bit and have flirted with disaster since the turn of the calendar. This time, St. Lawrence caught them.

Senior Brian Ward scored his eighth of the year on the first shot in overtime to beat the Bobcats 4-3.

Quinnipiac moves to 22-2-6 on the season (following the Saturday win against Clarkson), which I guess is pretty okay. However, they have been tying quite a bit. They are 5-1-4 in the past 10 games and haven’t gotten much help from senior goaltender Michael Garteig. He has only a .894 save percentage in since the second Princeton game. I don’t expect those numbers to keep up, but it sure is of note.

For a quick blog, this is verbose. Podcast tomorrow. Preview Thursday. Week is already flying by! My shift is over.

 

Weekend Preview: NCHC Teams Jostling for Position

Thank you to everyone who gave positive feedback about the podcast that was put up yesterday. It was a lot of fun and I would like to do more in the future. If you haven’t had a chance to give it a listen, I encourage you to do so even if you aren’t a St. Cloud State fan. We went through the NCHC, Big Ten, and WCHA conferences.

Due to that podcast, this is going to be a short blog. I don’t want to risk repeating myself.

First a little recap with the non-conference game on Tuesday night.

Bemidji State 2 Minnesota Duluth 1

Coming off a three game win streak, the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs caught a bit of a snag with a loss to the Bemidji State Beavers. The game was a make up from earlier in the year when Amsoil Arena suffered a power outage.

The loss was utter devastation for the Bulldog’s at-large chances, dropping to a tie for 26th in the pairwise.

They do have four games with North Dakota and St. Cloud left, all on the road. So while the light is dimming, I don’t think it’s burnt out quite yet. But they would have to run the table.

Senior Markus Gerbrandt scored the game-winning goal for the Beavers with ten minutes remaining and sophomore goaltender Michael Bitzer stopped 25 of 26 shots to secure the victory.

The Bulldogs were playing a little shorthanded due to injuries (and suspensions). They are off this week, so this break comes at a good time for them. They have some very important games coming up.

Shifting the focus to this weekend, two key matchups highlight the NCHC as North Dakota travels to take on Denver and Western Michigan travels to Omaha.

In Denver, the Pioneers have been playing very well as of late. They are 6-1-3 in the last 10 games. During the stretch, the Pioneers have only allowed 20 goals.

Trying to break the Pioneers will be North Dakota, where the Fighting Hawks have been playing well since the start of the season. They haven’t lost since January 15th, where they fell 4-3 in overtime to Omaha.

Aided by the bye week, the Fighting Hawks got some well-needed rest for some of its star players, as senior Drake Caggiula and freshman Nick Schmaltz will both be back for this weekend. Their scoring touch will be a big welcome back, as they only managed to score four goals last weekend (three from freshman Brock Boeser).

North Dakota easily swept Denver earlier in the series by 5-1 and 4-0 results.

Moving to the other series, the Omaha Mavericks look to stop the bleeding that has occurred during the second half of the season. The Mavericks have gone 2-6 in the last eight games, including some lopsided losses to Colorado College and Miami. Omaha has had its fair share of troubles in conference play, going 6-9-1 and fighting for home ice. They are also being outscored 56-44 in those conference games.

The Western Michigan Broncos are sitting in the seventh spot in the conference and hasn’t won a conference game since beating Colorado College on December 12th.

It’s tough to look at this series without thinking about what happened earlier this season. The Mavericks were a perfect 6-0 heading into the first conference games of the season and just got ran out of Kalamazoo by 4-2 and 6-1 scores. Of the three goals the Mavericks were able to post, junior Jake Guentzel scored two of them.

I can’t see that happening against this series, especially with home ice points on the line for Omaha and being in front of the home crowd. However, the Broncos played North Dakota very tightly last series, so don’t be surprised if they manage to steal one.

I went though this and plenty more during the podcast, so please give that a listen. Both NCHC games are on CBS Sports Network on Friday, so check them out. My shift is over.

 

Five Thoughts: Conference Races Tighten Up

Even though many teams enjoyed the final off week of the regular season, plenty of big games were to be had and key points were up for grabs. Here are my five thoughts.

  1. Miami Impresses in Hard-Earned Split

On first glace, it’s easy to make assumptions about the St. Cloud State Huskies against the Miami Redhawks. It looks like the Huskies dominated with a 5-1 win on Friday, while the Redhawks were able to sneak away with a 3-2 victory on Saturday.

Watching that series, I feel Miami has the better of the play most of the series. A 5-1 score can look deceiving, but the Redhawks peppered junior goaltender Charlie Lindgren with 36 shots on goal, including 17 in the first, and controlled most of the play.

The Huskies got four of the five goals off odd-man rushes or breakaways and only finished with 24 shots. Credit the Huskies for capitalizing on its chances, but you can’t expect to win many games with that little puck possession.

That’s what happened on Saturday. Again Miami came out strong, but went into the first intermission with a 1-0 deficit. The tide turned in the second period when Miami scored three goals in 4:37 to get the lead for good.

I’ve been nervous about how the Huskies respond to giving up goals all season. It feels like they can let a game get out of reach. That’s what happened here.

I think Miami is set up well for home ice. They have a favorable schedule remaining against Western Michigan, Colorado College, and Minnesota Duluth.

  1. Minnesota Duluth’s Sweep Vaults Bulldogs to Home Ice Position

Speaking of home ice, the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs currently occupy the final home-ice spot in the NCHC. The season hasn’t been ideal for the Bulldogs, but a nice sweep of Colorado College may provide them with a spark to turn it around.

The sweep wasn’t without a fair share of drama, however. After a back and forth affair on Friday, the Tigers had a 2-1 lead late in the third period and seemed poised for a split. The Bulldogs were able to score two goals less than a minute apart and hang on for a 3-2 win.

Even though the Bulldogs are off this weekend, they can fall back no farther than a tie for fourth, depending on what Omaha does against Western Michigan (remember, the Broncos swept the Mavericks earlier this year). This battle for the last home ice spot may be the best battle in the conference as it looks to me that North Dakota has the best chance at the Penrose. Duluth does have the edge in points over Miami, but Duluth’s schedule down the road involves games at North Dakota and at Saint Cloud. That is a huge test and may be too much to overcome. The key series will be the final showdown between the Bulldogs and the Redhawks. Any way I look at the remainder of the schedule, it comes down to that series as being the key series for fourth place.

  1. Harvard is 1-3 in Last Four, Falls to 11 in Pairwise

The Harvard Crimson started the season strong, going 8-1-3 in its first 12 games. However, the team has taken a little bit of a hit and currently sits at 13-7-3 and has stumbled as of late, only scoring seven goals in the past four games.

Harvard finished last in the Beanpot, losing the first game 3-2 against Boston College and 5-1 Monday against Northeastern.

The Crimson are led in the goal scoring department by seniors Jimmy Vesey and Kyle Criscuolo with 18 and 16 goals, respectively. Keeping them off the score sheet is tough, but has been proven to be possible. At the beginning of the season, I thought they were one of the top teams in the country, but they seem less scary than they were early in the year.

  1. Michigan State Upsets Michigan, Gets Split

The upset of the week came from the Big Ten as the Spartans were able to stifle the potent Michigan Wolverine offense and win the Friday tilt 3-2 in overtime. Senior Matt DeBlouw tallied his fourth of the year for the game winner. The win was only the seventh of the year and third in the Big Ten for the Spartans.

The Wolverines were able to bounce back on Saturday, winning 4-1 the following night, firing 42 shots on goal and 20 in the first period alone.

The Wolverines have one of the best lines in college hockey with juniors JT Compher, Tyler Motte, and freshman Kyle Connor. The trio has combined for a total of 121 points on the season and has accumulated a 17-4-4 record.

I am not that high on the Michigan Wolverines. While they do have that talented trio and a pretty good supporting cast for depth, the goaltending has been mediocre all season. Senior Steve Racine has been flirting with a save percentage below .900 all season and at times has looked real shaky. I think a well-disciplined team in a regional will knock them out.

  1. WCHA Race Coming Down to the Wire

It has turned into a three-team race for the top of the WCHA. Minnesota State leads the pack for the time being, but both Bowling Green and Michigan Tech are both only two points back.

Minnesota State and Bowling Green just split a series in Mankato, so no ground was gained or lost from that front. But with no WCHA teams currently occupying an at-large bid for the national tournament, seeding for the WCHA tournament will be very critical.

I can see any one of those teams stepping up and representing the WCHA, but I don’t see any of them jumping up to get an at-large bid. Once the Final Five rolls around, every time will be fighting to avoid elimination.

That is all for me. Weekend preview will be coming on Thursday. My shift is over.

Weekend Preview: Minnesota Teams in Pivotal Series

Big games highlight the three conferences in the West. With precious conference titles and Pairwise positioning is on the line, some of the conference leaders can’t afford to stumble.

St. Cloud State at Miami

Last meeting: Huskies sweep 3-0, 3-1

Without a doubt, there is much more on the line in this series for the Redhawks. Sure, the Penrose Cup would be nice, but in many sports, the regular season championship is the hardest to win but the least celebrated. The Huskies are in very good position for the NCAA tournament.

Miami will be the more desperate team. They are currently tied for the last home ice spot in the conference with Minnesota Duluth and Omaha. At 22 in the Pairwise, the Redhawks are running out of time to push for and at-large bid and really need to set themselves up for a post-season push. Home ice would be the best way to do that.

The Redhawks have been doing that as of late. They are 4-1 in the past five games, averaging 3.6 goals per game during that stretch. The Redhawks are getting more consistent play from some of the top players like senior Sean Kuraly and junior Anthony Louis. The two freshmen, Jack Roslovic and Josh Melnick, are a threat to score every game.

I’m not a huge fan of the goaltending, however. Seniors Ryan McKay and Jay Williams save percentages of .905 and .900 don’t exactly scare anyone.

On the other side of the ice, the Huskies are fresh off winning the North Star College Cup and have nearly every part of the game clicking. Freshman Mikey Eyssimont was named the tournament MVP with three goals and two assists on the weekend and has added even more depth to a team that has nine players with at least 19 points. Expect Miami’s defense to be very busy all weekend long.

One key match-up will be the potent Huskies power play (31.7 percent) against the Redhawks penalty kill (93.1 percent).

Bowling Green at Minnesota State

Last meeting: 2-2 ties, both games

The top two teams in the WCHA look to take command of the ship as we enter the final leg of the season. If this series is anything like the one that was played early in the season, nothing will be solved.

The Bowling Green Falcons have had an up and down year. The highlight has come in the middle when the team went nine games without a loss. However, taking just one point from third-place Michigan Tech last series puts them in a position where they need to make a jump.

Enter Minnesota State. The Mavericks lost a back and forth game against St. Cloud State last weekend and beat the Minnesota Golden Gophers. The top Maverick players are playing very well and have improved quite a bit throughout the year.

The Falcons don’t have a lot of players that jump out on the stat sheet. Sophomore Brandon Hawkins leads the team with an even split 18 points while senior Mark Cooper leads the team with 10 goals. But a respectable 11 players have reached double digits in points. Nothing to sneeze at.

The main strength of the Falcons’ game comes from goaltender Chris Nell. The sophomore has an impressive 11-5-6 record and an even more impressive .937 save percentage and 1.64 goals against average. Both stats are in the top five in the nation.

The Mavericks will have its hands full. The home ice will be an advantage for the purple, as they are 9-4-0 at home. If the game stays close, the Mavericks have the advantage, as they are 7-2 in one goal games. The leaders of senior Teddy Blueger and sophomore C.J. Franklin played very well and the team will look for them to continue to this important conference tilt.

Both teams are on the outside looking in when it comes to the Pairwise bubble. Bowling Green enters the weekend at 25 whereas Minnesota State sits at 17. The Mavericks can get firmly on the bubble with a sweep this weekend.

Penn State at Minnesota

Last meeting: Split. Penn State won 3-2 OT, Minnesota won 7-1

The Minnesota Golden Gophers were playing very well until the two losses at the North Star College Cup. It felt like junior Hudson Fasching, the team leader in goals and points, disappeared for the two games last weekend, as Bemidji State and Minnesota State were able to shut him down. He was instrumental in the Gophers hot streak and the maroon and gold hopes he gets back on the score sheet.

The Penn State Nittany Lions has slipped a little bit since they got into the meat of the Big Ten schedule. They have lost the last three games and have given up an average of six goals against in those losses.

The majority of the Nittany Lions schedule is on the road from here on out. In fact, they have had only one conference series away from Hockey Valley, a split with Ohio State. Eight of the last ten games are on the road.

A pair of freshmen lead Penn State in goals with Andrew Sturtz with 13 and Chase Berger with 11. They love to put shots and pressure the goalie as they average almost 44 shots on goal per game, so you know Gophers freshman goalie Eric Schierhorn will be busy.

The Gophers are currently tied with the Michigan Wolverines with 24 points in the Big Ten Conference. Penn State sits at third.

In the pairwise, both teams are outside looking in. The Nittany Lions have the edge at 17 to the Gophers placement at 20.

One-timers:

  • It’s great to see Gopher women’s hockey senior Amanda Kessel back on the ice. She hasn’t played since the 2014 Olympics due to concussion issues. She has been cleared by the doctors and will add much more depth to an already dangerous team.
  • The Quinnipiac Bobcats, a team that sits at 20-1-5 and somehow isn’t a consensus number one team according to the polls that shan’t be named, has been playing with a little bit of fire lately. Last Friday against Dartmouth, the Big Green had a 4-1 lead before the Bobcats roared back and ended up winning 7-5. If they fall behind again to Cornell this weekend, I’m not sure the Bobcats will be able to climb back. Cornell is too good defensively.

That is it for me. Enjoy the games this weekend. My shift is over.

Weekend Recap: North Star College Cup

The St. Cloud State Huskies flexed its goal-scoring muscles to take the third annual North Star College Cup, beating Minnesota State 5-4 on Saturday and Bemidji State 5-2 on Sunday.

The Huskies have extended its unbeaten streak to six games, the longest of the season. They have had a four game win streak four separate times throughout the season.

Here is a rundown of the games in the NSCC.

St. Cloud State 5        Minnesota State 4

The Huskies power play went 3-for-4 against a normally effective Maverick penalty kill and was the difference when senior Jimmy Murray scored on a beautiful passing play late in the third period.

But it was Mikey Eyssimont’s night as he scored two goals and assisted on another. It looks like the light bulb turned on for the freshman, as he has six goals and nine assists during the month of January.

Maverick junior Zach Stepan also notched two goals and had an assist on the losing effort. Freshman starter Jason Pawloski was pulled after he allowed three goals in 10 shots. Junior reliever Cole Huggins didn’t fair much better, letting in two on 12 shots and taking the loss.

This wasn’t a game where the Huskies were clicking on full cylinders. That may be surprising to read after scoring five goals, but allowing four is something that is very uncharacteristic for this team. They need experience where they battle from drop to end horn. Minnesota State gave them that.

Bemidji State 4          Minnesota 2

Senior Markus Gerbrandt had two goals and an assist, including the game winner with about four minutes left in the game for the Bemidji State Beavers to pull ahead of the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

Sophomore Michael Bitzer played solid in goal, allowing two goals on 32 shots. The biggest barrage happened in the third period, when the Gophers flung 16 shots toward Bitzer.

The Gophers opened up the scoring early when junior Connor Reilly scored just 3:33 into the contest.

I was surprised on how many rebounds Bitzer gave up during the game and the Gophers’ inability to capitalize on the situation. Credit to Bemidji State for not giving the Gophers many second chances, but usually that many rebounds isn’t s recipe for success.

Day 2

Minnesota State 3     Minnesota 2

It was senior Teddy Blueger’s turn to have two goals and an assist in a game as his point total rose to a team leading 24th point of the year. Huggins made 21 saves on the night.

The lone bright spot for the Gophers on the weekend was junior Justin Kloos. Of the four goals scored by the team, Kloos had a hand in every single one of them, having two goals and two assists.

While a non-conference game, this has major pairwise implications for the Gophers. A win would have put them in 14th and in pretty good position to make the NCAA tournament. Instead, the loss puts them at 20th. It’s looking increasingly likely the Gophers will have to win the Big Ten tournament to make the NCAA tournament. The Gophers are 2-13 in the last 15 games against teams from the state of Minnesota.

St. Cloud State 5        Bemidji State 2

The Beavers may have been defending its title, but the Huskies scored four the first two periods to coast to the championship.

Senior Joey Benik scored his team leading 16th and 17th of the season in different fashions in the first period. Benik found a soft spot in the middle of the slot when a shot from senior David Morley bounced off the end boards and Benik was able to shovel the puck backhanded past Bitzer.

Benik’s second goal came off on an odd man rush when freshman Patrick Newell laid a perfect pass to Benik, who leaned into a slap shot and ripped one past Bitzer.

Bitzer’s night was quick. He allowed four goals on only 12 shots. Junior Reid Mimmack allowed one goal 12 shots in relief.

A bigger story is what happened late in the game when freshman Dan Billett took a five-minute major for kneeing Husky freshman Robby Jackson in the final minutes of the game. Jackson did not return and his status for next weekend is questionable.

The fourth line for the Huskies has been playing very well over the past few weeks and it would be a big blow for them if he were to miss significant time.

Billett may get a suspension on the play, but nothing has been announced.

One-Timers:

I like this tournament. People can point to the attendance and say how a generous 10,993 isn’t enough to sustain it, but it needs time to grow. The old WCHA Final Five didn’t start out as marquee event. It evolved and grew into one. This needs time to evolve.

The biggest change I would make is having the losing team sit out the next year instead of just a rotating member not named the Gophers sit out. I understand the non-conference scheduling for next year would be tricky as games need to be planned out, but that would add a lot more drama to the consolation game and would increase attendance. I think it would be tough to pull off, but doable. It would make it the most unique event in college hockey.

Three teams in three years have won this tournament. Only two teams have won the Beanpot in 22 years.

That is it for me. I’ll have a weekend preview on Thursday night. My shift is over.