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Preview: UND at No. 3 St. Cloud State

The Fighting Hawks will close the first half of the regular season with back-to-back road trips.

CarsonAlbrecht.jpg
UND junior forward Carson Albrecht battles with St. Cloud State defenseman Spencer Meier and screens Husky goalie David Hrenak during a game last weekend in Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald
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ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Goaltending was supposed to be a big question mark for St. Cloud State this season.

The Huskies lost five-year starter David Hrenak after last season and entered the year with a pair of goaltenders who had been up-and-down during their careers — Jaxon Castor and Colorado College transfer Dominic Basse.

Castor posted an .890 save percentage last season; Basse was at .888.

But both goaltenders are having unbelievable starts to the season, carrying St. Cloud State to an NCAA-best .933 team save percentage. They've also led St. Cloud State to the best team defense in college hockey at 1.71 goals-against per game.

Castor, who has been playing Fridays, is at .923. Basse, who has been playing Saturdays, is at .948.

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Basse was named both the National Collegiate Hockey Conference and Hockey Commissioners' Association national goaltender of the month for October.

The goalies have had some help from a veteran defensive group, too.

It includes fifth-year senior Brendan Bushy of Thief River Falls, fifth-year senior Spencer Meier, fourth-year senior Dylan Anhorn, fourth-year senior Ondrej Trebal, junior Brady Ziemer, sophomore Jack Peart, sophomore Josh Luedtke, freshman Cooper Wylie and freshman Mason Reiners.

The Huskies are allowing 25.5 shots on goal per game, which ranks 11th nationally. But the goaltending has been even more impressive.

That should make this weekend's series a good one with strengths going against strengths.

UND's offense ranks No. 7 nationally with 3.67 goals per game and its power play ranks third, converting at a 29.2 rate.

"Obviously, they're a good team," UND defenseman Luke Bast said. "We're excited to go into (the National Hockey Center). It's a hard place to play, but we're looking forward to it."

Tale of the tape

UNDStatSCSU
3.67 (7th)Off3.29 (14th)
3.00 (37th)Def1.71 (1st)
29.2 (3rd)PP22.4 (19th)
85.7 (9th)PK85.5 (10th)
52.5 (22nd)Pos50.9 (30th)
54.7 (7th)FO51.6 (21st)
.877 (57th)SP.933 (1st)

National rank in parenthesis. Categories are offense, defense, power play, penalty kill, possession (Corsi), faceoffs and team save percentage.

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Injury update

St. Cloud State: D Spencer Meier (out), F Chase Brand (questionable), F Kyler Kupka (questionable).

UND: D Ethan Frisch (out, lower body), F Dane Montgomery (out, upper body), F Nick Portz (probable), D Brent Johnson (probable), D Cooper Moore (probable).

The focus: F Grant Cruikshank.

UND has seen plenty of Grant Cruikshank over the last four years. He was on Colorado College's roster for three seasons, then Minnesota's for one. Cruikshank is playing the best hockey of his career right now, though. He already has tied his career high in goals with 11. They have not been backdoor tap-ins either. His goals have been as impressive as they come, beating goalies from beyond the dot with his high-end release. Cruikshank gives St. Cloud State a unique threat on the power play. He plays between the dots, which is not a normal spot in college for top goal-scorers (they're usually in one of the dots). UND's top-10 penalty kill will have to be aware of that threat this weekend.

Pick to click: F Owen McLaughlin.

St. Cloud State is one of the few places left in college hockey still with an Olympic-sized ice sheet. The Herb Brooks National Hockey Center is 100 feet wide, compared to 85 feet on NHL sheets like Ralph Engelstad Arena's. That sometimes means extra time and space. The player who could thrive the most with that is UND freshman forward Owen McLaughlin, who is adept at turning time and space into scoring chances for linemates. Who knows? Maybe this will be the spot for him to score his first college goal, too.

The call: Split.

UND played at St. Cloud State in 18 of the previous 20 seasons. Only one of those series ended up in a sweep. In November 2016, UND posted back-to-back shutouts in the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center, winning 4-0 on the opening night (behind a Shane Gersich hat trick and a Cam Johnson 26-save shutout) and 3-0 in the nightcap (36-save Johnson shutout). Of the other 17 series, 11 were splits and six were wins and ties (four for UND, two for St. Cloud State). History says the wise pick here is split.

Friday: SCSU 4, UND 2
Saturday: UND 3, SCSU 2

Schlossman has covered college hockey for the Grand Forks Herald since 2005. He has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors as the top beat writer for the Herald's circulation division four times and the North Dakota sportswriter of the year once. He resides in Grand Forks. Reach him at bschlossman@gfherald.com.
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