Denver Hockey Series Preview: St. Cloud State

Photo courtesy DU Athletics

The Denver Pioneers and St. Cloud State Huskies meet for the last time in the regular season in another heavyweight tilt between the No. 3 and No. 1 teams in the country

With only a few weeks left until the postseason, the Denver Pioneers are trending in the right direction having won three of their last four contests.  This weekend, however, they will face an opponent who they could very well see at the Frozen Faceoff and even the Frozen Four.

The St. Cloud State Huskies came to Denver last November for an intense series but lost both games.  The Huskies were one of the more physical teams the Pioneers have played all year and that will probably continue through this weekend.  The series ended with some extracurricular activities at Magness Arena leaving both teams with a bitter taste in their mouths.  This weekend’s series will have plenty of unfinished business. In addition to the bad blood, the Huskies can also clinch the Penrose Cup with a sweep.

Pioneers star forward Henrik Borgström spoke to the media this week about the matchup.  He said that the team is feeling good going into this weekend and that they need to “continue being relentless.”  We saw a lot of that relentlessness in Colorado Springs last weekend when the Pios dominated the Colorado College Tigers on the road.  The Pioneers play a suffocating style, getting pucks deep and forcing turnovers.  They are clearly getting in gear for the post-season.

The Pioneers and Huskies will possibly get some reinforcements with the return of Troy Terry and Will Borgen from the Winter Olympics.  Team USA was eliminated this week, but Terry had a great tournament playing alongside Harvard’s Ryan Donato and Boston University’s Jordan Greenway.

Strengths

Goaltending

If you take a look at David Hrenak’s numbers this year, you’ll see that his GAA and SV% are phenomenal.  And if you look closer, you’ll find those numbers could be even better without three bad games where he let in more than three goals (Alaska, Denver, and Duluth).  Hrenak has two shutouts and has allowed only one goal six times this season.  The St. Cloud defense also allows very few quality shots on net.  With the home crowd behind the Huskies, the Pioneers will need to be pretty creative early on and avoid giving up the first goal.

3rd Period Team

Similar to North Dakota, St. Cloud is a late-game team.  Of their 117 total goals, 45% of them came in the 3rd period.  They are also averaging almost four goals per game.  It’s scary to see that this is a team with a great defense, elite goaltending, a high-scoring offense, and they can close.  There isn’t much flaw in the Huskies which makes this series must-watch TV for college hockey fans.

Opportunities

Mr. Clutch

For some reason, Denver Pioneer Jared Lukosevicius is the college hockey version of Justin Williams.  Williams is famous for his clutch goals in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup.  Lukosevicius scored a hat-trick in the NCAA Championship last season and has multiple game winning goals this season.  The last time these two teams met, he had three goals in the series.

Penalty Kill

When two teams are this close, the series generally comes down to special teams.  In the series in November, the Pioneers held the Huskies to just one power play goal in 11 opportunities.  If the Huskies executed on a couple more of those, the games could’ve been quite different.  St. Cloud currently has a power play that scores on 23% of their chances.

Who to watch

#22 – D – Jimmy Schuldt – 7G, 24A, +20, 62 blocks

#11 – F – Ryan Poehling – 8G, 17A (MON 1st, 2017)

#23– F – Robby Jackson – 14G, 20A, 86 SOG

#19 – F – Mikey Eyssimont – 14G, 18A, 95 SOG (LA 5th, 2015)

#34 – G – David Hrenak – 9-3-0, 1.96 GAA, .927 SV%

Prediction – St. Cloud State sweeps Denver, clinches Penrose Cup

Nobody expected Denver to be coming off a loss entering this series with St. Cloud, but the good news is that Tanner Jaillet is still playing great hockey, keeping the Pioneers in close games.  The bad news is that the Pios are running into a red-hot Huskies team that is 13-2-1 at home and will be looking to return the favor when the Pioneers swept the Huskies earlier in the season.  When the head coaches of both teams are at each other’s throats, you know this will be a good series.  Get ready for No. 1 vs No. 3 in the country and a preview for the Frozen Faceoff.

Twitter Follow:  @SCSUHUSKIES_MH

How to Watch / Listen:

Friday – 6:37pm, CBS Sports Network, 104.3 The Fan

Saturday – 6:07pm, 104.3 The Fan