In place 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 action saw St. Cloud State (5-2 at Denver) and North Dakota (3-0 at UMD) win on the road, while Western Michigan broke out of its prolonged offensive drought with a 7-3 home win over Colorado College. All three series conclude tonight, the final NCHC conference action of 2015.
1. Cam Again
Cam Johnson’s 18 save shutout in Grand Forks over Denver last week was impressive, but the North Dakota Fighting Hawks netminder’s performance last night — 40 saves in UND’s 3-0 win — was exceptional. Johnson is now undefeated in five starts since returning from injury, and North Dakota — led by opportunstic offensive talent of the likes of Drake Caggiula and Nick Schmaltz — looks downright scary. Johnson had 15 saves in the third period and held the Bulldogs off the scoreboard repeatedly, most notably on power play opportunities that clearly left the UMD players frustrated. Kasimir Kaskisuo didn’t play poorly per se on the other end, but may have to be perfect in tonight’s rematch if Johnson continues to stay locked in. UND is 15-2-2 overall and three points clear of St. Cloud at the top of the NCHC standings.
2. That Escalated Quickly
Coming off a 7-2 loss to Omaha, things weren’t looking terrific for St. Cloud State halfway through its game in Denver last night, trailing 2-0. The Pioneers then gave the Huskies their only power play opportunity of the night, which St. Cloud converted to cut the lead to 2-1… and the rest of the game looked as though St. Cloud had a man advantage. The persistence paid off in the third period when things completely fell apart for Denver. Joey Benik, Kalle Kossila, and David Morley all scored in span of 1:33 to turn a 2-2 deadlock into a comfortable 5-2 Huskies win. That trio of seniors, in addition to classmates Jimmy Murray and Ethan Prow, are arguably the top upperclassmen group in the country in terms of overall talent. They’ve also become impressive leaders on the ice, no longer making defensive lapses that cost the Huskies last year, and St. Cloud — like UND — has the look of a team ready to make a serious NCAA title run. Denver, meanwhile, has lost three straight behind an anemic offense, and their response tonight will be telling, one way or the other.
3. About time
Western Michigan shook off weeks of frustration with last night’s 7-3 win over CC, and the Broncos clearly wanted the win desperately — they forced turnovers, were quicker to loose pucks, and were determined in all phases. The final score isn’t as reflective of how close the game was for two periods, but things fell apart for CC late in the second period when the Broncos forced a turnover at the blueline from Tigers sophomore defenseman (and Nashville Predators draft pick) Teemu Kivihalme. Michael Rebry scored his first of the season to give the Broncos a 4-2 lead at the time, and Kivihalme contributed to another defensive zone turnover in the opening minutes of the third period — again leading to a Western Michigan goal. Truthfully, Western Michigan looked like a different team with renewed energy and purpose, while on the other end, it’s disappointing to see the Tigers regress after sweeping Miami last week — especially against a team that had to be desperate after entering the weekend with eight consecutive losses. Still, CC can climb out of the NCHC cellar with a win tonight since Miami is idle.