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Rinkside: SCSU prepares for defending national champion Denver in showdown between top 2 teams in NCHC

The Rink Live's Mick Hatten and Brooke Purowitz discuss this weekend's series in a video preview. Also, Brett Larson on his keys to the series.

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The Rink Live's Mick Hatten (left) with Husky Productions ice-side reporter Brooke Purowitz.

ST. CLOUD, Minn. — If you look at the PairWise Rankings , this is a matchup between two of the top five teams in NCAA Division I men's hockey.

Denver (10-2 NCHC, 19-5 overall), the defending national champion, is leading the NCHC by six points over St. Cloud State (8-4, 16-6). The Pioneers are No. 4 in the PairWise, which try to mimic the criteria used by the NCAA committee to pick the 16-team national tournament field. The Huskies are No. 5 as the teams get ready to play at 7:30 p.m. Friday and 6 p.m. Saturday (both on FOX 9+) at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center.

"It's as big as it gets and these are the (series) that, as a hockey player, this is why you play college hockey," Huskies coach Brett Larson said. "They're a rival for us. We had two great games with them out there where both teams played really well. We know we've got a big challenge coming in, which makes it exciting."

The Pioneers and Huskies played one another Nov. 4-5 in Denver with the Huskies picking up a 4-3 overtime win and the Pioneers answering with a 3-2 win in Game 2.

Denver has won three straight games and scored seven goals in each game. The Pioneers are tied for third in the country in goals-per-game (3.9), eighth in shots-per-game (33.6) and has 12 NHL draft picks on its roster.


"For us, it's going to be a very similar game plan that we used against Minnesota, which has a ton of skill," Larson said, referring to a series two weeks ago, in which, the Huskies allowed two goals in two games. "We have to be really smart with the puck. We have to defend well and we have to capitalize when we get our opportunities."

Defense and goaltending have been strengths for the Huskies this season. St. Cloud State is the second-toughest team to score on in the country (2.0 gapg) and leads the nation in save percentage (.924) with goalies Jaxon Castor and Dominic Basse splitting time.

Denver senior goalie Magnus Chrona is 15-5 with a 2.07 goals-against average and .918 save percentage. He stopped all 40 shots he saw last weekend in a sweep at Miami.

"Chrona is big (6-foot-5), so we've got to get bodies in front of him," Larson said. "We've got to try to get him moving east to west with a lot of traffic around. That's usually the recipe when you're trying to score on a big goalie. That traffic and movement is going to be critical."

Here's another key: Don't let the Pioneers get a lead. Denver is 15-0 when it scores first, 9-0 when it leads after the first period and 15-1 when it leads after the second period.

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Mick Hatten is a reporter and editor for Forum News Service and helps manage TheRinkLive.com, a website dedicated to hockey. He began working for Forum Communications in November 2018 and has covered St. Cloud State University hockey since 2010. A graduate of St. Cloud State, he has more than 30 years of experience as a journalist and has been a youth hockey coach since 2014. mhatten@forumcomm.com

For more coverage of St. Cloud and the surrounding communities, check out St. Cloud Live.
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