NCAA Frozen Four Semifinal Preview: St. Cloud State vs. Quinnipiac

Thurs., April 11 • 8 p.m. ET ESPN2

BY THE NUMBERS

Overall
Conference
Home
Away
Neutral
SCSU
25-15-1
18-9-1 (T-1st)
15-7-0
8-7-1
2-1-0
QU
29-7-5
17-2-3 (1st)
15-4-3
11-1-2
3-2-0
Goals/Gm.
GA/Gm.
PP Pct.
PK Pct.
PIM/Gm.
SCSU
3.41 (2nd)
2.41 (T-15th)
17.6 (28th)
82.1 (33rd)
8.3 (1st)
QU
3.07 (18th)
1.63 (1st)
14.7 (42nd)
90.6 (1st)
15.9 (56th)

HOW THEY GOT HERE

ST. CLOUD STATE: Midwest Regional fourth seed
St. Cloud State 5, Notre Dame 1
St. Cloud State 4, Miami 1

QUINNIPIAC: East Regional first seed
Quinnipiac 4, Cansius 3
Quinnipiac 5, Union 1

UP FRONT

The Bobcats rely on scoring by committee—12 forwards have scored 10 or more points this season, but no one has more than 30 points. That makes shutting down the Quinnipiac attack a full-time job for opponents, since nights when point production is dominated by a couple of players or one line are rare. Matthew Peca’s three-goal outburst in the East Regional final against Union is the exception; more common are efforts like the Bobcats’ showing in its regional semifinal win against Canisius where nine players notched at least one point.

St. Cloud State is, in reality, a more amped-up version of Quinnipiac on offense, with exceptional scoring depth up front and a better nose for the net. Playmaking center Drew LeBlanc, the WCHA Player of the Year and a Hobey Baker Award finalist, gets most of the attention, but he’s not the team’s most dynamic offensive threat; that honor goes to Jonny Brodzinski and Ben Hanowski, the Huskies’ leading goal scorers. Against Notre Dame and Miami, two sound defensive teams, SCSU’s forwards had great success in finding the soft spots in their opponents’ schemes.

ON THE BLUE LINE

Quinnipiac’s quartet of senior blueliners—Loren Baron, Zack Currie, Mike Dalhuisen, and Zach Davies—are college hockey’s version of grizzled veterans, each logging more than 141 career games. Throw in junior Zach Tolkinen, who’s three games shy of 100 for his career, and you’ve got a group of players who know their roles and comfortable with one another. At 6-foot-3, Dalhuisen, a native of Holland, has good size and reach, an active stick, and moves the puck quickly. He’s got eight goals this season, four more than he scored in his previous three seasons with the Bobcats.

Much of the Huskies’ success in Toledo was a result of terrific team defense. On the rare occasions opponents were able to gain the offensive zone with speed, St. Cloud State’s blueliners forced the puck carriers to the wall, leaving them no choice but to throw the puck toward the cage at a bad angle or dump it behind the goal. Led by junior Nick Jensen, the WCHA Defensive Player of the Year, the Huskies’ rearguards aren’t flashy, but they’re smart, efficient, physical, and make few mistakes.

BETWEEN THE PIPES

What more can be said about Quinnipiac’s Eric Hartzell? A finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, the ECAC Hockey Player of the Year, and a sure-fire first-team All-American, Hartzell has an NCAA-high 29 wins and ranks among the country’s best in goals against average and save percentage. At 6-foot-4, Hartzell doesn’t give opponents much of an opening. On those rare occasions he offes a glimpse of open net, the athletic Hartzell quickly slams the door.

Ryan Faragher doesn’t have the gaudy statistics of Hartzell or UMass Lowell’s Connor Hellebuyck. In fact, Faragher’s .916 save percentage ranks 41st among the 76 NCAA goaltenders who’ve played in more than 33 percent of their teams’ games, but he’s not asked to carry the Huskies on his back. Certainly, Faragher is capable of stealing a game but his focus is making the first save, a duty he played to near perfection in St. Cloud State’s wins against Notre Dame and Miami in Toledo.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Why only one paragraph in this section? Because the two teams’ success in this area is intertwined. The Bobcats’ and Huskies’ power plays are middle of the road as evidenced by the above statistics. Where the paths diverge, however, is in the penalty kill. Quinnipiac’s PK is the best in the nation and just one of three in the country to operate at better than 90 percent. It’s a necessity, though—the Bobcats rank fourth to last in the country in penalty minutes, averaging a tick under 16 PIMs per game. And while St. Cloud State’s penalty kill is the nation’s 33rd best with a success rate of little more than 82 percent, the Huskies are the least penalized team in Division I at just 8.3 PIMs per match. If your plan is to play SCSU to a draw at even strength and win the game with special teams, you may not get the chance with the Huskies’ disciplined style of play.

BEHIND THE BENCH

Rand Pecknold is the only coach in this year’s Frozen Four field who is not an alum of the school he’s leading to Pittsburgh, but he’s been at Quinnipiac so long (19 seasons) that he’s become an institution in Hamden. The Bobcats have obviously bought in to his message, but his confidence in his team is evidenced by his willingness to let his players fight through the few bumps they’ve encountered this season and not micro-manage. Pecknold’s not a hands-off guy, but he trusts this group to find its way back on track. The results speak for themselves.

Minnesota State’s Mike Hastings was named WCHA Coach of the Year, but the award could’ve been given to St. Cloud State’s Bob Motzko and no one would’ve done a double take. Expectations for the Huskies coming into the season were modest at best, but Motzko’s taken basically the same cast that finished .500 last season and guided them to a share of the WCHA regular-season title and the first Frozen Four trip in school history. The Huskies are a talented, tough, physical team. They’re also smart and disciplined, which reflects well on Motzko’s efforts.

HOW WE SEE IT

There’s a very good chance this might be the best game of the weekend. These teams are quite similar and watching the chess match between Pecknold and Motzko should be a treat. The hunch here is this game will hinge on whether the Huskies can slow the Bobcats’ forwards like they did against Notre Dame and Miami in the Midwest Regional and whether Quinnipiac can maintain its poise should it fall behind—something it did to perfection in its East Regional opener against Canisius. If Eric Hartzell is the best player on the ice, the Bobcats win, but the Huskies’ discipline and depth will carry the day.

THE PICK: St. Cloud State 3, Quinnipiac 2

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