Happy Hockey Day, St. Cloud!

Plenty of festivities and great games are going to take place around Lake George Saturday. The staff has done an excellent job setting up and the weather looks to be much more comfortable than the sub-zero stretch we've had. If you are able, please take in the event.
Your St. Cloud State men's hockey team (14-4-3) don't get to play in the outdoor game, but they do play host to the Minnesota State Mavericks in the final non-conference game of the season. The game will take place on FSN-plus and will have a 5:07 puck drop from the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center.
The two teams met in the season opener in Mankato, which saw the Huskies skate to a 4-0 victory. The game was a lot closer than that, as the Mavericks had a lot of chances. Husky goaltender Jeff Smith stood tall and made 42 saves en route to his second shutout of his collegiate career.
Defenseman Jimmy Schuldt had a goal an an assist. Jon Lizotte, Jacob Benson and Jack Poehling all added goals for the Huskies.
On the coaches show after that game, Huskies head coach Bob Motzko talked about the differences in preparing for one game versus a two-game series. He said you can ride your top defensemen a little bit harder knowing you don't have a second game. I expect either Jimmy Schuldt or Jon Lizotte to take the ice for every defensive draw (barring
icings).
The Mavericks are 17-7-0 on the season and, much like the Huskies, have been rotating goaltenders all season. Jason Pawloski started in the opener, so I'd imagine Connor LaCouvee will get the nod. He is 11-3 on the season and a 1.90 goals against average.
While both goalies have solid numbers goals against average, the save percentage is a different story. Pawloski's is at .895 and LaCouvee at .909 on the season. Those numbers aren't eye-popping by any stretch.
So, how have they been able to do it? Tremendous defense. The Mavericks have allowed 536 shots on goal, which is the lowest amount out of any non-Ivy league school (having played eight fewer games) and have averaged giving up only 22.3 shots on goal per game. That is staggeringly low compared to the Huskies 30.1 average shots against per game. The Mavericks are able to limit quality chances and let the goaltenders to make easy saves.
The Huskies will have to make the most of the chances it gets. Much like how I said how the Huskies will rely on Schuldt and Lizotte, the Mavericks will look at junior Daniel Brickley. The free agent defenseman is a hot NHL prospect and can contribute on both ends of the ice. If the Huskies get a chance, they need to bury them.
The Huskies defense will have to keep C.J. Suess off the scoresheet, which is no easy task. The Winnipeg draft pick has 30 points and 13 goals on the season, both leading the team. Suess has been a consistent scorer for the Mavericks and is having the best season of his career, just one point off his career high which he scored last season.
This is one of the few series during the season where the Huskies don't have a large depth advantage. The Mavericks have six players with more than 20 points on the season, compared to just three for the Huskies. Both teams will roll all four forward lines and see what team comes out on top. It will be back and forth action that is sure to please on Saturday's
celabration of hockey.
David Hrenak didn't finish the game last Saturday after ending up on the wrong end of a nasty collision, but he has been practicing all week. Since Smith started the opener, I would expect Hrenak to get the nod. However, there is something to be said about going with a goalie that shutout a team earlier in the season. Huskies should be in good shape either way.
Final note to fans: Enjoy this weekend. As much as outdoor games have been spoon-fed to us over the past decade or so, there is always one constant. Everyone says how fun the event is in person. Personally, I'll be watching the St. Cloud State women's team battle Minnesota Duluth then heading over to the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center. I've always loved Duluth as a city, but hate them as a college. That will be a competitive games as the Huskies look to avenge a pair of tough losses earlier this season. The women's team participated last season on Hockey Day Minnesota and earned an exciting 3-3 tie over Minnesota State. The shootout went in favor of the Huskies.
Here's to the purple cows falling short to the Huskies again.
#GOHUSKIESWOOOOO

 

This blog is the opinion of Travis Weldon, College hockey fan and frequent guest on Granite City Sports. You can read more from Travis on Twitter @MoarClappers.