Seven of the NCHC’s eight teams — all but a struggling Western Michigan — head into Thanksgiving feeling thankful for experiencing at least one win (two each for Miami and Denver) this past weekend.
Now, a quick look back at three of the many take-home points from an eventful weekend:
Benik on the goal line
St. Cloud State and North Dakota played one of the more entertaining series in recent memory within league play, and it was fitting that this one concluded with a weekend split, with the Huskies taking the first game before UND rebounded to win on Saturday. Friday’s most memorable moment, for me, was the Jonny Brodzinski power play goal that put St. Cloud State up 3-1 in the third period — memorable most of all because of Joey Benik’s impressive goal-line stickhandling around the typically sure-footed Paul LaDue, UND’s sophomore defenseman. Benik drew two more penalty killers to him before sliding the puck across the top of the crease to a wide open Brodzinski, who one-timed the eventual game-winner past UND’s Zane McIntyre for his second of the game and team-leading seventh of the season. Benik continued to play well Saturday, despite the loss — again from the goal line, scoring over McIntyre’s right shoulder on an almost impossible short-side angle, pulling the Huskies at the time to within a goal. Benik seems to benefit playing on a line with Brodzinski and classmate David Morley, as the Andover, Minn., native is proving to be a critical component of St. Cloud’s offense. Benik has six goals thus far this season.
In this series, both goaltenders played well, but did so especially — strange as this may sound — in the games they lost. On Friday, McIntyre made several key saves to keep UND within striking distance of St. Cloud, and on Saturday, the Huskies’ Charlie Lindgren did the same. Saturday’s biggest save for Lindgren, arguably, came when he stopped a 3-on-0 breakaway featuring UND’s Michael Parks, Connor Gaarder, and Brendan O’Donnell.
Denver offense versatile
The Pioneers followed up their 8-1 win over Colorado College with a 7-0 drubbing of another in-state rival on Friday night, this time Air Force. DU then toppled Wisconsin, 3-2, on Saturday. Sure, the last three games for Denver have come against three of the worst teams in the country (a combined 7-23-2 and among the bottom in most statistical categories), but regardless, Denver’s offense has been notable not just for the sheer number of goals scored but also for the versatile manner in which they’ve been scoring. It’s clearly been a focus, too, to turn last season’s No. 6 league offense into what’s now the No. 1 offense in the league and the No. 4 offense in the nation (3.64 goals per game, trailing only Robert Morris, UMass-Lowell, and Boston University). One consistent part of the offense has been the ability for DU players to find room behind the net, below the goal line, and be able to keep their heads up to see open players streaking into the slot, or at the top of the crease. Combined with quick hands by its veteran forwards around the net, and lightning-fast passes in odd-man and power play situations, Denver has clearly found a nice rhythm in the offensive zone. It doesn’t hurt, either, when your players can make moves like Quentin Shore did on Friday (a toe drag around a helpless Air Force defender who was then used as a screen on a shorthanded goal) or like Daniel Doremus did on Saturday (a behind the back pass while lying flat on stomach, right to leading scorer Trevor Moore). Shore, an Ottawa Senators draft pick, was named the NCHC’s Offensive Player of the Week after amassing five points, including a natural hat-trick in the second period of Friday’s shutout win.
Sticking with one
Until this point of the season, we’ve seen a few goalie platoons on display in the league — for instance, Jay Williams/Ryan McKay (Miami), Lukas Hafner/Frank Slubowski (Western Michigan), and Tyler Marble/Chase Perry (Colorado College). Elsewhere, an anticipated rotation between Denver sophomore Evan Cowley and freshman Tanner Jaillet hasn’t come to fruition because of how outstanding Cowley (6-3-0 with a 1.85 goals-against average and .929 save percentage) has been so far — though DU coach Jim Montgomery is more than laudatory any time Jaillet’s name comes up. This weekend saw the Miami, Western Michigan, and Colorado College coaching staffs all stick with the goaltender who’s played better until this point in the season — Miami’s Williams, WMU’s Hafner, and CC’s Perry — with each getting both weekend starts.
The move worked for Miami, where Enrico Blasi (despite historic tendencies to suggest otherwise) may be forced into sticking with Williams, who’s been in net for all 10 of the RedHawks wins this season. Unfortunately for CC and Western Michigan, the votes of confidence didn’t go as smoothly — especially for the Broncos, who lost both their games at Miami with Hafner in net each time. Perry, meanwhile, earned a win on Friday over Wisconsin — a game that showed improved effort from the Tigers as a team — but lost Saturday to Air Force. In Miami’s case, they seem to have found their No. 1 for the season, while the search has been less clear for Western Michigan and Colorado College.
As an aside, the other four teams in the league have had a clear-cut No. 1 established starter, and all have been successful in the early going this season (Kasimir Kaskisuo for Minnesota Duluth, Zane McIntyre for North Dakota, Charlie Lindgren for St. Cloud State, and Ryan Massa for Nebraska-Omaha).
Coming soon: Check CHN before this weekend’s games for feature articles on North Dakota’s Drake Caggiula and Miami’s Sean Kuraly. And on Friday, we’ll preview the North Dakota/Nebraska-Omaha series, Western Michigan’s trip to South Bend for the Shillelagh Tournament, and St. Cloud State’s upcoming two-game series at Bemidji State.