|Credit: Karl Gehring, The Denver Post|
DU Head Coach Jim Montgomery said after that series, "In my three years, that's (North Dakota) the best I've seen a college hockey team play." Anything that could have gone wrong went wrong in Grand Forks. Denver's execution was bad and North Dakota was well-prepared from the moment the first puck dropped on Friday night.
This weekend, DU will be looking to turn the tables and take their frustrations out on their next opponent, but the task is not any easier as St. Cloud State is a very talented, dangerous team. It seems that every weekend, the Pioneers are running into great goaltending and this weekend, that trend will continue. Huskies goalie, Charlie Lindgren, has been nothing short of phenomenal so far this year. He's 11-4 with a 2.03 GAA and .926 SV%. He also started the year on an absolute tear when he recorded a shut out in 3 of his first 4 games.
Beating Lindgren will certainly be a tough task, but it's not impossible. Last weekend, he gave up 4 goals in the first 34 minutes of St. Cloud's Saturday matchup with Omaha before he was pulled in favor of backup, Rasmus Reijola. Even in front of Lindgren, the Pios will have difficulty scoring. The Huskies are ranked 12th nationally defensively as they've given up just 2.12 goals per game.
Offensively, St. Cloud is extremely talented as well. The Huskies boast seven different players who have double digit point totals through their first 16 games. Two of them, David Morley and Kalle Kossila, are averaging more than one point per game as well. While St. Cloud does not have a line that rivals NoDak's CBS line (Caggiula, Boeser, Schmaltz), the Huskies' scoring depth is going to cause some serious defensive matchup issues for the Pioneers. In fact, SCSU is ranked #5 in the country in total offense with an impressive 4.12 goals per game (yes, they're beating their opponents by an average of two goals). Even North Dakota isn't scoring as many goals per game (3.56).
Essentially, St. Cloud State is going to be a tough team to solve for the Pioneers this weekend. However, with the exception of last weekend's awful showing in North Dakota, the Pioneers have played very good hockey this year. They didn't lose in November (4-0-2) and they haven't lost at Magness Arena this year (4-0-0). Last weekend exposed a number of issues with this team (size, size, and size), but the Pioneers still have more than enough talent to compete at the NCHC level.
Having Will Butcher and Gabe Levin in the lineup for the whole weekend will give the Pioneers some much needed leadership on the ice. Butcher was suspended for game one against the Fighting Hawks and Levin sat out of that game to rest before taking the LSAT the next day. Their absences had noticeable effects on the Pioneers both nights. The Pios never hit their stride on Friday and neither player seemed able to settle into a rhythm on Saturday.
With a healthy, full starting lineup, there is no reason why the Pioneers can't come out of the weekend still undefeated at home. When this team is playing true Denver hockey, they can skate with any team in the country. If they play "relentless" hockey this weekend, the Pios should come out with a couple of much-needed victories and put themselves right back in the early Penrose Cup conversation.
The Pioneers are not ranked well statistically (due in part to their smaller sample size), but in this case, the numbers do lie. The Pioneers are better than their statistics indicate. Prior to the NoDak trip, two of the Pios' three losses came in overtime (AFA and BU) and the other came with just 36 seconds left on the clock (BC). DU is a hard team to beat. If Denver can get back to their pre-North Dakota ways, the Huskies will be in for a very tough weekend.
Coach Montgomery said it best after Saturday night's 4-0 loss to the Fighting Hawks, "We need to get better." St. Cloud better be ready to play a motivated, angry group of Pioneers. This weekend is going to be different, you can count on it.
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St. Cloud State Huskies
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