For those expecting to see a mismatch this weekend between Minnesota’s power play and St. Cloud State’s penalty kill, the numbers might be deceiving.
The No. 1 Gophers have the nation’s sixth-ranked power play at 26.7 percent and the Huskies penalty kill is 41st in the country at 78.8 percent going into this weekend’s home-and-home series, but look at how each of the respective units has played in the weeks leading up.
The Minnesota power play is ice cold, scoring just four goals in 27 tries over the past six games. The struggles have come against some of the worst penalty kills in the land.
The Gophers’ PP scored twice in six tries against Alaska-Anchorage’s penalty kill Oct. 28-29. The Seawolves’ PK is 74.2 percent, not including games against Minnesota. The Gophers went 1-for-14 against North Dakota (78.1 percent) and 1-for-7 against Wisconsin (69 percent). Those percentages were also calculated without the games against Minnesota.
“We’ve got to get pucks to the net,” Minnesota defenseman Nate Schmidt said of the Gophers’ power-play unit. “That’s the biggest thing that we have been struggling with, and we haven’t been making the goalie work for saves.
“Sometimes it’s just whoever gets the most pucks to the net and gets a grinding, dirty goal.”
“When you don’t have as much success [on the power play] all of a sudden you try to get cute and make seam passes and get back-door tap-ins,” said Minnesota coach Don Lucia. “Whether it’s our level or any level, you watch NHL highlights and how many are just pounded pucks to the net and outnumbering people around the crease for rebound goals?”
The Minnesota power play started off 12-for-33 (36.4 percent) and the team was 6-0. Meanwhile, SCSU’s penalty kill got off to a dismal 16-for-22 start (72.7 percent), but has picked it up lately.
“We’ve been relying on our system and we’ve been cutting other teams’ chances to score on the power play,” said SCSU captain Ben Hanowski, in his first year as a regular on the PK. “Working hard to get the pucks out has been huge for us lately.”
“If you look at video, it’s not like teams do things a whole lot different,” Lucia said of opposing penalty kills. “It’s pretty much the same. It’s still about execution, it’s still about trying to create a two-on-one, it’s still about trying to deliver pucks to the net.”
The Huskies killed off all seven penalties Oct. 28 against North Dakota, although freshman goalie Ryan Faragher had to make 20 saves against the Sioux power play. The SCSU PK had a perfect night seven days later in the first game of a two-game series against Wisconsin, but the next night allowed two late power-play goals, allowing the Badgers to tie the game.
To the Huskies’ credit, they had killed off 2:11 of a five-minute major penalty before Wisconsin’s first power-play goal. The SCSU PK is 25-of-30 in the last six games.
Opposing power plays have to watch out for sneaky-fast Travis Novak on the SCSU PK. One of the quickest skaters in the WCHA, he creates short-handed opportunities for the Huskies.
Of course, the kill has gotten a lot of work as the Huskies have racked up 133 penalty minutes over the past six games (22.2 minutes per game). SCSU had 69 penalty minutes in the first six games (11.5 minutes per game). The Huskies are the eighth-most penalized team in the nation.
“One of the things that’s been unusual is that St. Cloud has taken a lot of penalties this year, including a lot of five-minute majors,” said Lucia. “Normally they’re one of the least penalized teams within our league.
“So I’m sure when we go in there, that’s been stressed and I don’t think we’ll get a lot of looks there this weekend.”
The Huskies need to maintain their penalty kill play to beat the Gophers, especially with many of their top offensive threats in a cast and a freshman goaltender that hasn’t seen as much talent up front as the Minnesota has.
Hanowski is SCSU’s last captain standing after Mike Lee went out indefinitely three weeks ago with a lower-body injury and Drew LeBlanc suffered a broken leg.
“Losing those two guys is hard to swallow,” Hanowski said. “Not having [Lee and LeBlanc] is really tough. A few of our other seniors have really stepped up. I’m kind of the vocal guy of the three and now I’m just trying to get better, have a good attitude and lead by example and be one our hardest workers.”
Without Lee in net, Faragher has stepped up for the Huskies and got his first collegiate win in a 44-save shutout Oct. 28 at North Dakota. His save percentage is .925.
Minnesota stays on top
Minnesota is ranked first in the USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll again despite splitting with unranked Wisconsin over the weekend. What kept the Gophers at the top was that the rest of the top five went 1-5-1 last weekend. For the record, teams ranked in the top five have gone 30-21-3 this season.
Top-five teams have swept their opponents seven times, three by Boston College. Western Michigan is the first top-five team to be swept. The No. 1 ranking has changed hands four times this season but Minnesota is the first WCHA team to be ranked first.
The real oddity was that Minnesota garnered the top ranking despite getting five fewer first-place votes than No. 2 Merrimack, but the Gophers edged Merrimack in voting points 963-949. Merrimack is tops in the PairWise Rankings and Minnesota leads the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine Poll.
In typical understated fashion, Michigan Tech coach Mel Pearson said his team’s current road trip is “not the perfect trip.”
The No. 15 Huskies’ 12-day expedition from Houghton to northern New York and back with a short detour through Anchorage, Alaska, is indeed far from perfect.
“Usually when you play in Alaska you come home and you’re home the next weekend or off,” Pearson said on his weekly radio show. “But the way the scheduling is, we have to go out to Canton, N.Y. Canton is not the easiest place to get to and we’re off school so we just felt it was best to come back from Alaska and stay on the road.”
After Saturday night’s game against the Seawolves, the Huskies will catch a red-eye flight out of Anchorage and arrive in the morning in Chicago, where they will spend a few days.
While being mindful of keeping the team fresh considering the grueling travel schedule, Pearson said it was important that his players stay busy while in the Windy City.
“We had to find a place where we could practice, leave our stuff, and have a workout facility and everything, and we did that,” said Pearson. “One of the local schools down in Illinois is going to help us out with that, so that came together.”
On Wednesday, the Huskies depart Chicago on a flight to Buffalo, N.Y., where they will board a bus for the four-hour trip to Canton and that weekend’s non-conference series with St. Lawrence. The Huskies will share Thanksgiving dinner together in the team hotel in Canton.
“I’ve never been on a trip this long other than when I played,” said Pearson. “When I played back at Tech, way back when, we played Colorado College one weekend, spent the whole week, and played Denver the next weekend.
“I can’t remember how we did on the ice but, you know, we got to see a lot of things, and it was a great experience.
“It’s not the ideal trip but it’s on the schedule and we have to play it and we have to make sure we’re ready to play hard and be successful.”
‘Steady’ Eddie makes the Hall
Former North Dakota goaltender Eddie Belfour was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday. He won 29 games in the 1986-87 season, helping the Fighting Sioux to the national championship in his only season at UND.
Although undrafted, Belfour was courted by the Chicago Blackhawks following a season in which he went 29-4-0 with a 2.43 goals against average and .915 saves percentage. But according to Nebraska-Omaha coach Dean Blais, who was a North Dakota assistant at the time and later served as head coach of the Sioux, Belfour nearly didn’t leave Grand Forks for Chicago alone.
“Gino Gasparini, the head coach, was considering going to the Blackhawks and he bailed out at the last minute and Eddie didn’t,” Blais said on his weekly radio show. “Eddie signed with them and won a Stanley Cup with the Dallas Stars a few years later.”
Belfour went on to win the Calder Trophy (NHL’s top rookie) in 1991, two Vezina Trophies (NHL’s best goalie) and four William M. Jennings Trophies (fewest goals allowed) over an 18-year career. He finally got his name etched on the Stanley Cup in 1999 with the Stars.
Blais recalled Belfour’s unique auditioning process for the North Dakota coaching staff.
“He would drive down [to Grand Forks] from Carman, Manitoba, about an hour and a half, and scrimmage at night with the pros and drive back that night so he could work the next morning,” said Blais. “He would do that three times a week so he put a lot of miles on his car and a [showed] lot of dedication. He was playing so well that he earned himself a scholarship.”
Although Blais and the Sioux staff had no idea Belfour would accomplish what he did in that single season, he said Belfour was a special player.
“He was the first one on the ice every day and hated to get beat on any shot at any time,” Blais said. “He was a triathlete so, obviously, he was in real good shape, real good condition and really specific about his equipment. Eddie would take a half an hour sharpening his own skates.”
Dayn Belfour, Eddie’s son and current Nebraska-Omaha goaltender, was present at the induction ceremony in Toronto.
WCHA players of the week
Offensive: Minnesota-Duluth senior forward Jack Connolly
Connolly assisted on two goals and scored twice himself to have a hand in half of the WCHA’s hottest team’s eight goals in its weekend sweep of Alaska-Anchorage. Connolly’s 17 points (6 goals, 11 assists) ties him for second in overall scoring among WCHA players. His goal and assist in each game against UAA extends Connolly’s point-scoring streak to 10 games.
Defensive: Minnesota-Duluth senior goaltender Kenny Reiter
This marks the second consecutive week Reiter has earned this honor. Reiter recorded his second consecutive shutout and third in four games in Friday night’s 5-0 UMD win. His shutout streak reached a school-record 166:45 before Alaska-Anchorage’s Eric Scheid scored at 5:18 of the first period on Saturday. Reiter stopped 60 of 61 shots in the series and is 6-0-2 with a 1.23 goals against average and a .955 saves percentage in his last eight games.
Rookie: Nebraska-Omaha freshman forward Josh Archibald
Archibald notched a goal and an assist in each game last weekend as the Mavericks tied and won (3-3, 5-1) at Bemidji State. The Pittsburgh Penguins prospect was also a plus-5 in plus/minus rating against the Beavers and has a four-game point-scoring streak to his credit.
“Josh Archibald’s a good two-way player, never hurts you defensively, physical when he has to be and he’s got a pretty good scoring touch,” Blais said on his radio show. “Obviously, to be second in the state of Minnesota in scoring tells you right away that he’s got that ability, although we didn’t think he’d be scoring at this pace right now being a freshman right out of high school.”
USCHO covers the WCHA all week long on the WCHA Blog, with weekend recaps on Monday, picks on Friday, and updates during the week.