Photo credit: USCHO
The Denver Pioneers host top-ranked St. Cloud State University this weekend at Magness Arena and their top priority should be shutting down defenseman Jimmy Schuldt
After what many would call an “uncharacteristic” series sweep at the hands of the Western Michigan Broncos, the #3 Denver Pioneers are already looking to their next opponent. The St. Cloud State Huskies come to town for an in-conference matchup featuring the #1 and #3 college hockey teams in the nation.
Led by defenseman Jimmy Schuldt, the Huskies play a tight defensive game and have been very successful with their special teams units. Their goaltending has been A+ with impressive wins against Minnesota State University and the University of Minnesota Duluth.
The Huskies have four players already drafted to NHL teams featuring centerman Ryan Poehling, the Montreal Canadiens 2017 first-round pick. The Buffalo Sabres have the rights to 2015 4th round selection Will Borgen as well as 2012 7th rounder Judd Peterson. Mikey Eyssimont is a Los Angeles Kings 5th rounder from 2016.
— The NCHC (@TheNCHC) November 4, 2017
There is no question the Pioneers will have their hands full at Magness Arena these next two weekends. They host the now #1 and #2 teams in college hockey with North Dakota coming in next weekend.
UPDATE: Tariq Hammond is skating at practice but still wearing an orange, no-contact sweater. No word yet on whether he’ll play this weekend
— LetsGoDU (@LetsGoDU) November 7, 2017
There was some positive news this week when Pioneers captain Tariq Hammond was seen skating with the team in an orange non-contact jersey. His timetable isn’t determined yet for his return.
The Huskies are 7-0-0 and most of the credit belongs to the two-headed monster that is Jeff Smith and David Hrenak. Both net-minders have a combined goals allowed average of 1.90 and each has recorded a shutout. The phenomenal goaltending combined with a stout defense has resulted in only 13 goals allowed in seven games.
Generally, the way you win hockey games is if you are good at putting the put in the net, and are also good at keeping it out. St. Cloud State is pretty darn good at both. Scoring 33 goals and just allowing 13, the Huskies have an astounding goal differential of +20.
It’s interesting to note that 45% of the Huskies’ goals have come in the third period. The Huskies also give up roughly the same percentage of goals in each period to the opposition, further evidence of their strong 60-minute game.
The Pioneers face yet another tough test on special teams this week as the Huskies tend to capitalize on their powerplays. They have 11 powerplay goals and have converted 32% of their opportunities.
The Pioneers will need to keep a close eye on the point during the powerplay considering points leader Jimmy Schuldt leads the team with three powerplay goals.
Shots on Goal
Right now the Huskies are a well-coached, defense-first team. They are averaging close to 33 shots on goal per game and allowing roughly 30. This indicates the Pioneers offense will have a hard time getting clean shots through. Look for coach Jim Montgomery to put a strong emphasis on net-front presence and rebounds against the Huskies. If the Pios can shoot the puck low and cash in on some rebounds early, it might be the difference in an undoubtedly close series.
The Pioneers are a skilled team with top-end work ethic. This is a series that may require them to muck it up a little bit. It may have been a blessing that the Pios dropped out of the top ranking this week so they can put new emphasis on getting it back. When teams are so close in skill, games generally come down to turnovers, essentially who will make the first mistake. Montgomery will have his boys ready to play this weekend and I bet he plans on having the puck in the Huskies’ zone, a lot.
Who to watch
#22 – D – Jimmy Schuldt – 5G, 7A, +12
Jimmy Schuldt named NCHC Player of the Month https://t.co/cNKaZEDslz
— SCSU HUSKIES (@SCSUHUSKIES) October 31, 2017
#11 – F – Ryan Poehling (MON 1st, 2017) – 3G, 7A, +7
#23– F – Robby Jackson – 4G, 5A, 21 SOG
#34 – G – David Hrenak – 3-0-0, 1.65GAA, .946SV%, 1SO
First career shutout Sat. vs. UMD | 1st ⭐️ in only game of series pic.twitter.com/NyZdT0Gimo
— The NCHC (@TheNCHC) November 7, 2017
#1 – G – Jeff Smith – 4-0-0, 2.00GAA, .930SV%, 1SO
Prediction – Pioneers sweep St. Cloud State
I know this prediction seems a little biased, but I truly believe the series loss to Western Michigan was a wakeup call for the Pioneers. Last year’s championship team wasn’t perfect either, but the earlier a team discovers its flaws the faster they can improve.
This will be the hardest test of the season for the Pios and I believe they will prevail. Games like these tend to be decided purely by raw talent and the Pioneers have that box checked. This weekend should be a hard-hitting, intense matchup of a couple teams that have seen a lot of each other. I’m predicting the Pioneers student section and the DU Whiteboard has a big influence in the series.
Twitter Follow: @SCSUHUSKIES_MH
How to Watch / Listen:
Friday – 7:05pm, Altitude TV
Saturday – 7:05pm, Altitude 2, ESPN 1600