Denver Hockey Series Preview: St. Cloud State

Photo courtesy of the St. Cloud Times

You can say it was revenge or just another series, but the #5 Denver Pioneers made a statement last weekend when they swept the #10 UMass-Amherst Minutemen.  It wasn’t the prettiest at times but the Pioneers found ways to find goals from dirty areas and create havoc in front of the net.  Now winners of four straight games, the Pioneers host the unranked St. Cloud State Huskies and will try to improve on their 3-3-2 record in the NCHC.

In one of the tightest series the Pioneers have played all year, Denver found a way to edge out UMass-Amherst, a fellow top-10 college hockey team.  The Minutemen brought a very physical brand of hockey to Magness Arena and they seemed to finish every check hard.  There wasn’t much room to skate or stick-handle on the ice, but Denver did what they had to do to break down the UMass-Amherst defense.  It was all about chipping pucks in deep and using body position to wear out defensemen and draw penalties, which were plentiful in the game on Saturday.

Goals like Cole Guttman’s eighth of the year Friday night are how teams come away with wins in close games.  When there isn’t much space to operate, players have to become creative and deceptive with their shots and be less predictable.  Guttman took a chance from a bad angle and was able to sneak through the go-ahead goal for the Pioneers and extending his goal streak to five games.

The Pioneers are now done with their non-conference matchups for the year and will be on the road against Omaha and Miami following this weekend’s series with St. Cloud State.  Denver has an opportunity to gain some ground in the next few weeks as they face teams in the bottom half of the NCHC standings, but per usual, nothing is guaranteed in this conference.  With 12 points, the Pioneers trail Minnesota Duluth and North Dakota who have 19 and 23 points, respectively.

Pioneers head coach David Carle met with the media on Thursday and discussed the upcoming series with St. Cloud State, the Pioneer penalty kill, the team’s current four-game winning streak, and how the team has come together.

Last week’s highlights

 

In the news

St. Cloud State Huskies (6-8-4)

While they aren’t the Huskies of recent years, St. Cloud State is fully capable of taking down a top-ranked team.  Just before the end of the year, the Huskies defeated Minnesota-State 7-2, one of college hockey’s best performing teams this season.  In that game, freshman forward Zach Okabe broke out with four goals.  But Okabe isn’t the only talented freshman the Huskies have on the roster.  Finnish forward Jami Krannila was the NCHC’s rookie of the month after assisting on all of Okabe’s goals.

If you look down the St. Cloud bench, you’re not going to see names like Ryan Poehling, Jimmy Schuldt, Robby Jackson, or Patrick Newell anymore.  But you will still see David Hrenak in between the pipes for the Huskies.  The LA Kings prospect had a great season last year with 20+ wins and four shutouts while averaging a little over two goals per game.  The Huskies’ defense may not be as good as in years past but Hrenak can still steal a game.

Looking at the lineup, the forward group that sticks out like a sore thumb is the Huskies’ top line of Jack and Nick Poehling centered by junior Kevin Fitzgerald.  The line has combined for 11 points in their last five games.  Nick Poehling is the most aggressive of the two brothers who leads the team with 58 shots this year.  They will see a lot of powerplay time and probably have the most chemistry on the team together. Minnesota-native Sam Hedges is also breaking out in his sophomore season.  Having already eclipsed his 2018 season point total of 20 points, Hedges has a goal and six assists in his last ten games and is one the of Huskies’ best playmakers on the team.

Prediction – Pioneers split

After Denver took down the Minutemen, the media said they got their “swagger” back.  It was definitely a nice sweep, but Denver must treat all of its opponents with the same kind of urgency this time of the year.  A lot of people may disagree with this, and I hope I’m wrong, but the Pioneers have struggled in NCHC play to this point and haven’t seemed to get up for these games.  Hopefully, David Carle keeps his foot on the gas but a hot goalie and a few weird goals could really be a buzzkill to this nice winning streak.  If the Pioneers take anything away from the Minutemen, it’s that they need to stay hard on the puck.  The Pioneers grew a lot as a team last weekend but they need to prove that they can be consistent.

Twitter Follow – @SCSUHUSKIES_MH

Where to Watch/Listen

Friday – 7:07pm MT – tv: Altitude 2 / NCHC.tv / TSN radio: 104.3 The Fan

Saturday – 7:07pm MT tv: Altitude 2 / NCHC.tv radio: ESPN DENVER 1600

5 thoughts on “Denver Hockey Series Preview: St. Cloud State”

  1. Great analysis (again). I see a split too. But I think good teams sweep inferior teams. A sweep would send the message that DU is back to form.

  2. A sweep by DU will also show that “You are what your record is” and that holds mostly true for SCSU. The Huskies are in close to desperation mode. If they can’t win say 5 of their next 6 against the NCHC top 3 teams, they will need to win the Conference Tournament to go Ice Dancing. (Dunker claims that term) I see a DU sweep in a pair of close games. One may go to OT and we might lose that one in the extra 5 minutes. Hoping Cooley returns. It matters.

  3. I’m very curious to see how this series plays out. As we all know, DU has struggled in NCHC play thus far, with the exception of the CC series. St. Cloud, while “down” in the standings, is only 3 points behind DU and I’m sure chomping at the bit to make a major push between now and March.

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