Analysis: Coaches see little separating deep, veteran Quinnipiac, St. Cloud State offenses

Thursday’s second Frozen Four semifinal pits a pair of Hobey Baker Award Hat Trick finalists in the Quinnipiac Bobcats’ Eric Hartzell and the St. Cloud State Huskies’ Drew LeBlanc, as well as a pair of teams that have never made it this far.

Perhaps more interestingly, however, this game matches a pair of deep, veteran offenses with little seemingly separating the two.

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Since the Bobcats made the move to Division I in 1999, they have never won fewer than 15 games a season. This season’s iteration has already proven to be the best in school history, having won 29 games, two more than the 27 they posted in their first season of Division I hockey.

Much of the Bobcats’ success begins with discipline in their own end. Hartzell, a senior goaltender, benefits from their dedication to working hard in their own end, as he posted a career-best 1.55 goals against average and a .933 save percentage. Because of that success, the Bobcats give up a paltry 1.63 goals against per game.

“They are a strong, defensive-minded team,” said one opposing coach. “They are very difficult to play against. They rolled through the regular season by winning close games.”

In fact, the Bobcats were involved in 13 one-goal games this season, losing just three times.

Part of the reason they have been so tough to play against is the sheer number of upperclassmen who play important roles. Eight of their top nine scorers are juniors or seniors.

“They don’t beat themselves,” said another opposing coach. “They are deep throughout their lineup. They are mature. Their juniors and seniors have played key minutes throughout their careers. There’s a calmness to them because of that experience.”

The Bobcats will continue to lean on the line of Matthew Peca, Connor Jones and Kellen Jones. The trio notched six goals and 13 points in the East Regional. Peca posted a hat trick and four points himself in a 5-1 victory over Union.

“Their first line of Peca, Jones, and Jones is as good a line as any in the country, even though they don’t have the numbers to prove it,” said one coach. “They are dynamic and hard-working.”

Penalty killing has been a strength of the Bobcats all season. They lead the country at 90.6 percent, and it begins with Hartzell, whose poise feeds the rest of the team.

However, they also have a knack for spending large portions of the game down a man, averaging 15.93 penalty minutes per game, which could backfire in a tournament game.

“They have an outstanding penalty kill and great goaltending,” said one coach. “They take a lot of penalties. In a one-and-done situation, a lot of penalties can cost you.”

The other weakness, if you can call it that, is their power play. The Bobcats have gone just 29-of-197 (14.7 percent) on the advantage this season, which ranks 42nd in the country.

They will be tasked with stopping the nation’s second-best offense in the Huskies. The WCHA’s regular season co-champions sit second only to the Minnesota Golden Gophers, scoring 3.41 goals per game.

Much of that offense is led by the nation’s seventh-best scorer, LeBlanc. The fifth-year senior has 50 points in 41 games and has outstanding chemistry with Nic Dowd, who is second on the Huskies with 39 points.

“They are the best non-conference team we played,” said one opposing coach. “They have a lot of high-end forwards. I would say their top two and a half lines are very skilled. If you give them time and space, they will pick you apart.”

Much like the Yale Bulldogs, who will play in the other semifinal, the Huskies look to pounce on opponents’ mistakes. Defensemen Nick Jensen and Andrew Prochno are both good at seeing the ice and finding open wingers in motion once the puck possession changes in their favor.

“They have a very mobile defensive corps,” said one coach. “They get the majority of their offense off the rush. They like to use a lot of crosses and drops, especially with players like LeBlanc and [Ben] Hanowski.”

With all that offensive ability, one might think that the Huskies are not as committed in their own end. That is simply not the case, as the Huskies’ dedication to the close checking helps keep opponents from getting comfortable in the offensive zone.

“They are physically-committed, especially considering that they are an Olympic-sheet team,” said one opposing coach. “They are sneaky-good defensively. They are really undervalued for how well they play in their own end. They don’t give up many shots on goal.”

The Huskies come into Thursday night’s game tied for 14th in the country in goals against at 2.41. Among the four teams remaining, only Yale has a higher average against.

Part of the reason the Huskies are not higher on that list is Ryan Faragher. In his first full season as the starter for coach Bob Motzko, the sophomore has a 2.22 goals against average and a .916 save percentage.

“Faragher is perhaps the weakest goaltender left,” said one coach.

The other potential problem that has cropped up for the Huskies of late is lack of readiness at the start of games. Since March 1, the Huskies have scored first five times in nine games. Of the other four games, they won only a March 8 game at Wisconsin.

Neither team has made it this far before, but this matchup sets up to be a hard-fought one between two teams with little that separates them.



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