Taking a look at what each NCHC team can give thanks for this time of year

nchcIn the spirit of the holiday, USCHO.com takes a look at what each NCHC coach has to be thankful for as they set their tables.

We’ll go in alphabetical order by team.

Colorado College

Tigers coach Mike Haviland is happy to (finally) have scoring. In Haviland’s first three years as coach, the highest scorer he had was Cody Bradley in 2014-15 when Bradley had 30 points. No other CC player that year had more than 19. In the years since then, the scoring has been even more anemic. Hunter Fejes’ 22 points led the team in 2015-16, and last season Maron Bergh’s 24 points was tops.

It’s entirely likely that those numbers may be eclipsed before the first half of the season is done. Sophomore Nick Halloran leads the team with 19 points in 14 games, and Bergh is right behind with 18. Junior Trey Bradley has 12 points. Halloran and Bergh are both in the top 10 nationally for scoring right now; CC hasn’t had someone that high in scoring since 2012-13 when Rylan Schwartz finished as the nation’s top scorer with 53 points, averaging 1.29 points per game

To put it in perspective, Westin Michaud, who is fourth on the team in scoring right now with nine points in 14 games, is on track to eclipse the points that Fejes had two years ago.

This increased scoring is a prime reason that CC is currently at .500, with almost as many wins (seven) at Thanksgiving as the Tigers had all last season (eight).

Denver

Pioneers coach Jim Montgomery’s team is currently ranked first in the USCHO.com poll, and has been there for most of the year. The Pioneers aren’t winning with defense; they currently give up on average 2.83 goals per game, which is 29th in the country, a huge come-down for a team that ranked first defensively last year, giving up only 1.82 goals per game.

Minus Hobey Baker Award winner Will Butcher, and with captain Tariq Hammond missing most of the season so far as he recovered from the injury he suffered in the national championship game last year, Denver has found other ways to win, namely with offense.

Montgomery is thankful that Denver currently has the top two scorers in the country in junior Troy Terry (23 points) and sophomore Henrik Borgström (22 points). Junior Dylan Gambrell is 10th with 17 points. Borgström leads the country in goals (13) and Terry is second in assists (16). Denver’s offense is second nationally with 4.17 goals per game, and its power play, after a slow start, is tied for first in the country with a 30.51 percent success rate.

Miami

The RedHawks have been hovering a game under .500 since they started play, and are at that mark both in conference (2-3-1) and overall (5-6-1). Miami coach Enrico Blasi is thankful for a strong power play (22.41 percent, 18th nationally), and timely scoring that often comes late in periods or early in periods.

For instance, in a 3-2 OT win over Colorado College, Miami tied the game with an extra-attacker goal with 51 seconds left, and got the game-winner 2:37 into the OT. In its tie with North Dakota two weeks ago, Josh Melnick scored an extra attacker goal with 1:24 left. In its 3-2 win over Minnesota Duluth last weekend, Caron Meyer scored at 18:21 of the second to give Miami a 2-1 lead entering the third, and Josh Melnick then scored at 2:52 of the third for the game-winner.

This trend started with Miami’s first win of the year, a 7-5 win over Maine, as the Redhawks got three goals in the final 3:41 of the second period, and then another just eight seconds into the third.

Knowing that even when they are down they still have the opportunity to rally late gives the RedHawks life, and means they are in almost every game they play.

Minnesota Duluth

By some measures, a 6-6-2 overall record and 2-4 conference record for last year’s NCHC Frozen Faceoff champions and national runner-up is a disappointment. However, given who the Bulldogs lost from last year’s team, coach Scott Sandelin is probably thankful that the Bulldogs have the start they do have.

Four of Duluth’s top five scorers from last year either graduated or left early for the pros. In addition, goaltender Hunter Miska left after his sensational rookie campaign. Given that departure of talent, in some ways Duluth is outperforming expectations, and Sandelin is thankful for not only that, but the potential upside. Freshman defenseman Scott Perunovich leads the team in scoring with 11 points, and three players are tied for second with eight points.

Meanwhile, Joey Anderson, who was third on the team in points as a freshman with 37, has started slowly as a sophomore with three points in eight games in October, and has been out since suffering an upper body injury against Maine on Oct. 28. Senior Karson Kuhlman has also started slowly, with four points in 14 games after scoring 22 points last season.

Sandelin knows that if his players get healthy, Duluth will be in the hunt for the NCAA tournament again.

North Dakota

After a slow start that saw the Fighting Hawks go to overtime twice against Alaska Anchorage, North Dakota has found its scoring touch, and prior to last weekend hadn’t lost in November. They looked impressive in the split with Denver over the weekend.

Coach Brad Berry is thankful for the scoring of freshman Grant Mismash, and the play of freshman goalie Peter Thome, who has played the last six games since senior Cam Johnson suffered an injury.

Mismash has so far twice been honored as NCHC rookie of the week. He has 11 points in 13 games, and prior to the Denver series hadn’t been held without at least a point in a weekend. Most of Mismash’s points have come at even strength.

Thome started his first game against Wisconsin on Nov. 3. He wasn’t expected to play much this year with Johnson back for his senior year, but in his first start he made 36 saves against the Badgers and earned the win. He made 22 the next night in a tie with Wisconsin, and then made 27 and 20 against Miami. While Denver scored against him four times in both games, the rookie has a .911 save percentage and 2.60 GAA.

Omaha

It’s his first season behind the bench, but coach Mike Gabinet is thankful for more than the opportunity to coach at his alma mater. He is thankful for a strong offense (3.30 goals per game, 14th in the country) and power play (28.89 percent, fourth in the country).

Senior David Pope leads the way for the Mavericks with 12 points, and senior Tyler Vessel and junior Mike Morelli each have nine points. In fact, the Mavericks have a very balanced offense, with seven players averaging .7 points per game or better.

That is plenty for a rookie coach to be happy with and thankful for. Unfortunately for the Mavericks, their defense is one of the worst in the country, giving up 3.7 goals per game. Evan Weninger’s save percentage is only .887, and his GAA is 3.51, both well down from his sophomore year, and Kris Oldham is no better with a .882 save percentage and 3.44 GAA.

If Gabinet can coach the defense to improve, he will likely have much to be grateful for in the second half.

St. Cloud State

Coach Bob Motzko’s Huskies started the year 7-0, so he has plenty to be thankful for. They rebounded from getting swept by Denver by sweeping Colorado College last weekend.

Coach Motzko has plenty to be thankful for, including the best goal differential in D-I hockey. The Huskies average 4.27 goals per game (first) and only give up 2.18 goals per game (sixth), the only team in the country with a goal differential above two.

Junior defenseman Jimmy Schuldt continues to lead the way, providing leadership on both the offensive and defensive sides of the puck, averaging 1.45 points per game and leading St. Cloud’s potent offense, which has 10 players averaging .7 points per game or better.

Motzko is also thankful for the play of Jeff Smith in net. The sophomore has picked up where he left off in the second half of the year last year, posting a 1.86 GAA and .931 save percentage.

Western Michigan

Entering the season, coach Andy Murray could have been forgiven for feeling a little down after his team’s top two scorers from last year departed early for the pros. On top of that, the third-leading scorer graduated.

No matter, because Murray has found even more scoring, and has four players averaging over a point per game, led by junior Colt Conrad, who has 1.38 points per game. The team averages 3.77 goals per game (fifth nationally).

Sophomore goalie Ben Blacker is another player Murray can be thankful for, as the netminder has a .922 save percentage and is one reason Western Michigan ranks 18th nationally in team defense, giving up only 2.54 points per game.

Lastly, coach Murray is thankful that nine of the team’s first 13 games have been at home, where Western is 7-1-1. If the Broncos develop into an equally tough road team, Murray will have more to be thankful for before the season is out.

NCHC players of the week

Offensive player of the week ⸺ Henrik Borgström, Denver: Borgström had five points on the weekend, including four in Denver’s 4-1 win Saturday. He leads the country in points per game at 2.00, the only player at that mark. He assisted on Denver’s second goal Friday, and then opened the scoring on a power play Saturday and added one more goal and two assists. Both goals were power-play strikes. He finished the game plus-1 and was named the game’s first star.

Defensive player of the week ⸺ Scott Perunovich, Minnesota Duluth: Perunovich had three points in the Bulldogs’ split with Miami. Friday, he had two points, assisting on Duluth’s first goal and a late goal in the third period while finishing plus-2 and earning the game’s second star. Saturday, he again assisted on Duluth’s first goal and finished plus-2, going plus-4 on the weekend and blocking two shots.

Rookie of the week ⸺ Easton Brodzinski, St. Cloud State: Brodzinski had his best weekend of the season. After having only one point all year, he broke out with four on the weekend. Friday, he had a goal and an assist and finished plus-2, while Saturday, he scored the game-winning goal on a power play in the third period and assisted on another power-play goal. He finished the weekend plus-2 with four points.

Goaltender of the week ⸺ Jeff Smith, St. Cloud State: Smith helped St. Cloud sweep Colorado College. He only allowed one goal in each game, and both goals were on the power play. Friday, he made 21 saves, and he added 22 saves on Saturday, posting a .956 save percentage on the weekend and a 1.00 GAA.

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