Home is where the heart is
No. 1 St. Cloud State split with No. 10 Minnesota in a state rival series, with each team winning at home. On Saturday in front of a sold-out crowd of 5,714 at Herb Brooks National Hockey Center, the Huskies emerged with a 5-2 win in a game that marked the return of coach Bob Motzko to the team after his absence with Team USA at the World Junior Championship. After falling behind 1-0, the Huskies reeled off four goals, with Blake Winiecki starting the barrage. Mikey Eyssimont assisted on that power-play goal, and then Eyssimont scored just 40 seconds in the second period. Eyssimont also scored just 1:27 into the third to put St. Cloud up 4-1. Goalie Jeff Smith made 21 saves in the win.
Sunday on the road, St. Cloud fired 34 shots, but was blanked by goalie Mat Robson in Minnesota’s 2-0 win, which broke a five-game losing streak to the Huskies. Darian Romanko scored at 3:10 of the third period, and Mike Szmatula added insurance at 19:21. The Huskies have had success of late against the Gophers, as has fellow NCHC team Minnesota Duluth. Since the 2013-14 season, when the Gophers won twice against St. Cloud, including in the NCAA tournament quarterfinals on March 30, 2014, St. Cloud had won five of the last six between the two entering the weekend, and the Huskies had swept the Gophers each of the last two years. Duluth meanwhile, has won eight straight against the Gophers, including the win earlier this year.
Miami moving up
With a split with No. 4 Denver, the Miami RedHawks have vaulted into fifth place in the conference. Goaltender Ryan Larkin made 44 saves in Friday’s 4-3 win over the Pioneers, where Denver gave up a goal just 1:10 into the game and never quite recovered. Larkin has a history of playing well against the Pioneers, as last season in Denver he helped Miami earn two ties, keeping Denver to three goals in two games. Miami got two goals on the power play in the third period to prevent Denver from rallying, including one from Casey Gilling, who also opened the scoring for the RedHawks. Miami now has the fourth-best power play in the country, one that clicks at a 25.88 percent success rate. Also important to Friday’s win was Miami’s penalty kill, which is 16th in the country with an 83.52 percent success rate. Miami killed off five Denver power plays.
Denver continues to struggle with consistency. The power play, which is eighth in the country, could only get one goal in 10 chances total. Defensive lapses continue, as in its two Friday games of the second half, Denver has given up seven goals. Also of note are the ongoing offensive struggles of Troy Terry, who had an assist in each game. Since the beginning of December, Terry has a goal and three assists in 10 games, well down from his usual scoring prowess.
Omaha starting strong in second half
In recent years, fans of the Omaha Mavericks were always waiting for “Swoonuary,” when the Mavericks would start to fade in the second half after a strong start in the first half. Dating back to the WCHA, Omaha failed to win a playoff series, and they have never advanced to NCHC Frozen Faceoff.
It’s still only January, but Omaha has shown life in the second half this season, starting 3-1, with all wins coming over ranked teams. This weekend’s road split with No. 6 North Dakota showed a little “Jekyll and Hyde,” but Friday’s 4-1 win showed a lot of positives for the Mavericks. After giving up a tying goal on a penalty shot in the first period, Omaha came out strong in the second with two power-play goals, one from Luke Nogard and one from David Pope. Evan Weninger made 34 saves, including one on a breakaway early in the third period when North Dakota was trying to rally.
Unfortunately for Omaha, Friday’s win was followed by a lackluster effort Saturday in a 7-0 loss. Kris Oldham made 25 saves in the loss, while the offense could only muster 15 shots on Peter Thome. The win was important for North Dakota, moving the Fighting Hawks into a tie atop the NCHC standings with St. Cloud State, though the Huskies have two games in hand.