St. Cloud and Miami will meet this weekend in St. Cloud for the first time as conference rivals, but these two teams are no strangers to each other. They faced off less eight months ago, when St. Cloud beat the RedHawks 4-1 in the Midwest Regional final to advance to their first ever Frozen Four.
St. Cloud is coming off a huge weekend sweep at North Dakota last weekend that has them in an early tie for first place in the NCHC. Miami, meanwhile, swept Canisius at home last weekend to bounce back from a difficult weekend at Providence in which they only picked up a single tie. It's still early in the season, but these two teams are the early favorites to be competing for the first ever NCHC league title at the end of the year, and the results of this series could have a big impact on the championship chase.
Leading the way for Miami is the formidable duo of Austin Czarnik and Riley Barber. The two are tied with each other for the lead in the national scoring race with 14 points each. Barber is a draft pick of the Washington Capitals, while Czarnik is an NHL-free agent. New Jersey draft pick Blake Coleman rounds out the top line, with a very respectable ten points. Those three have combined for 19 of Miami's 34 goals on the season.
St. Cloud is a little more balanced up front. They're led by senior captain Nic Dowd, who has seven points in six games this year, including having a hand in two critically important goals last Saturday against North Dakota. Sophomores Kalle Kossila and Jonny Brodzinski are also dangerous scoring threats for the Huskies.
On the blueline, both teams rely more on smaller, puck-moving defensemen. Miami's Matthew Caito is just a sophomore, but already developing a reputation as one of the most reliable puck-movers in the country. St. Cloud's Niklas Nevalainen is stepping in nicely to the role occupied by All-American Nick Jensen last year. Sophomore Ethan Prow has also made serious strides in his development since his rookie year last year.
In goal, the RedHawks have continued to split time between their pair of sophomores Ryan McKay and Jay Williams, with McKay consistently putting up slightly better statistics. Each goalie is likely to start one game with this weekend. St. Cloud also has an embarrassment of riches in net. Freshman Charlie Lindgren was one of the top goalies in junior hockey last year, and looked promising in his first career start with the Huskies, but veteran Ryan Faragher has played so well this year, there has been no reason to give Lindgren more opportunity. Faragher likely sees both starts this weekend, unless he has a rough outing on Friday night.
These should be two pretty exciting games from teams that like to play an up-tempo style of hockey. Last year, St. Cloud's strong neutral zone defense was able to slow down Czarnik and Barber and keep them off the scoresheet. That could prove to be a tougher task this time around, on the Olympic-sized ice at St. Cloud. St. Cloud was able to use their depth at forward, getting all four goals from their third line, including a goal just five minutes into the game that gave St. Cloud a lead, and really set the tone in the Huskies favor.
The only television coverage for these games will be locally in Minnesota. Subscribers to Charter Cable can find the games on channel 823/426 while Comcast subscribers can find the games on channel 999.
We'll also have live coverage of the Friday night game here at SBN College Hockey as well. Follow @SBNCollegePuck and @ChrisDilks on Twitter for updates from the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center.