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DU Pioneers weekend preview: Staring down #1

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Denver takes aim at a regular season conference title in big weekend series

NCAA Hockey: Frozen Four-Denver vs Minnesota-Duluth Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Fresh off of claiming the Gold Pan against rival Colorado College, the #3 Denver Pioneers were given no time to celebrate. Not with a trip to play #1 St. Cloud State, perhaps the most consistent team in college hockey this season, on the schedule for this weekend.

The teams are solidly in position as the top two in the NCHC standings with four games each left to play. Two regulation wins would clinch the regular season title for the Huskies, who sit five points ahead of Denver. In turn, that five point separation means that Denver still controls its own destiny and would claim the title if they win out.

The Huskies have lost just four NCHC games in regulation this season, two of which came at Magness Arena in November. That remains the only weekend sweep SCSU has suffered all season. Neither game was particularly close, as DU’s formidable scoring offense was firing on all cylinders to the tune of nine goals to SCSU’s three.

After both teams went through a brief slump in December-January, Denver and SCSU both appear to have gotten hot at the right time. The Huskies come into the series on a seven game winning streak while DU had their eight-game streak snapped Saturday against Colorado College.

The Huskies are perhaps one of the few teams who can match DU’s depth in terms of offensive production. They boast three 30-point scorers — forwards Robby Jackson (14 G, 20 A), Mike Eyssimont (14 G, 17 A) and star defenseman Jimmy Schludt (7 G, 24 A) — and three more with at least 20. It is no surprise that the team ranks well nationally in team offense, currently in second at 3.90 goals per game.

SCSU is one of the rare teams with two effective options at goaltender. Freshman David Hrenak has been quite good in his first season, posting a .933 save percentage and a 1.80 GAA. His worst full game of the season came against the Pioneers, who pounded him with 37 shots and five goals. Sophomore Jeff Smith has posted good but slightly inferior stats (2.62 GAA, .910 save percentage) to Hrenak but fared no better against the Pioneers the first time around.

On special teams, the Huskies rank ninth nationally on the power play (23 percent) and 34th on the penalty kill (81 percent).

Both teams saw one of their own competing for the United States at the Winter Olympics in Pyongchang. As of Thursday night, Troy Terry, who saw extensive playing time for Team USA and recorded five assists, is reportedly a game time decision to play in the weekend series. SCSU defenseman Will Borgen, who curiously received no playing time in Pyongchang, will play in the series.

Friday’s game is a 6:37 MT start and can be seen on CBS Sports, while Saturday is a 6:05 start.