Something a little different – instead of traditional weekend previews, check this space on the CHN blog each Saturday for developing mid-weekend NCHC storylines and observations from Friday night games.
Friday’s results: road wins by St. Cloud State (5-2 at Western Michigan) and Denver (3-0 at Minnesota-Duluth), and a dominant home win by North Dakota (6-2 over Miami).
1. Highlight Reel
Thanks in large part to a quick start from North Dakota (two fourth-minute goals, separated by 20 seconds), the ultimate result in the UND/Miami game in Grand Forks last night was essentially decided long before a pair of highlight reel third period goals, one by each team. Check them out here. But those goals are also notable for typifying the remainder of the game. First, for Miami, Josh Melnick scored his fourth goal of the season (second-most on the team) to pull the RedHawks within three — it was an impressive individual play below the left circle for the sophomore, who corralled the puck while falling down and sniped a wrist shot into the top left corner behind UND netminder Matt Hrynkiw.
Taking nothing away from Melnick’s outstanding goal, it typified Miami’s play on Friday by highlighting the reliance on individual plays, without few signs of the teamwork displayed just a week ago in the RedHawks’s sweep of Western Michigan. Less than 90 seconds later, Nick Schmaltz finished off a spectacular four-player passing play to punctuate UND’s win — after a dizzying series of five passes between Schmaltz, Brock Boeser, Troy Stecher, and Drake Caggiula. All night, UND played well as a unit — routinely situating two players in front of the Miami goaltenders (Jay Williams and Ryan McKay), and that teamwork was highlighted again with Schmaltz’s highlight-reel goal.
2. Jimmy Murray
After scoring 13 goals as a sophomore, Murray scored five last season in his junior year at St. Cloud. Murray has one of the best wrist shots in the NCHC and showed it off last night during the Huskies’ 5-2 win in Kalamazoo. Murray opened the scoring in the first and then extended St. Cloud’s lead to 3-1 with another goal in the third. On each goal, the Darien, Ill., native collected the puck below the faceoff dots — first below the left faceoff circle and second below the right faceoff circle — and made it look easy. More impressively, Murray held the puck for a less than a second — on the two goals combined. St. Cloud is now 7-2-0 overall and 3-0-0 in league play, on pace for another strong 20+ win season. Western Michigan, meanwhile, has dropped three straight and will likely turn to senior goaltender Lukas Hafner tonight in game two.
3. Turning Point
In Denver’s 3-0 shutout of Minnesota-Duluth, heroes on paper included freshman Jarid Lukosevicius, who scored the first two Pioneer goals, and junior goaltender Evan Cowley, who stopped all 27 Bulldog shots to earn his fourth shutout of his career. But the turning point in Denver’s win came late in the first period. With 1:50 left in the period, Denver’s Dylan Gambrell was called for a five minute major penalty for boarding after checking Austin Farley. UMD managed five shots on the five-minute power play, but no “Grade A” chances to speak of. Denver played its PK with desperation and thwarted UMD effectively over the power play that bridged the first and second periods. To compound the frustration for UMD, Denver scored two power play goals in the game.
All of a sudden, UMD has the worst offense in league play among NCHC teams, and Denver has stopped all nine opponent power plays in conference games. Denver’s 89.7 percent penalty killing percentage is also the eighth-best mark in the nation. The battle of special teams promises to be an important sub-plot in tonight’s rematch in Duluth.