UND set to take on college hockey's most efficient power play on record
St. Cloud State is converting at 38.1 percent this season, nearly 10 percent higher than anyone in the country.
GRAND FORKS — College hockey statistics have been compiled and maintained online for the last two decades by collegehockeystats.net.
The best power play on record is the 2015-16 Michigan team. That top power-play unit featured Kyle Connor and Zach Werenski, who will both play in the NHL All-Star Game next week, as well as Hobey Baker finalists Tyler Motte and J.T. Compher, and forward Alex Kile.
The Wolverines converted at 32.0 percent that season.
This year's St. Cloud State team is currently converting at 38.1 percent.
Yes, the Huskies are on pace to obliterate the best power play mark on record in college hockey as they head to Grand Forks for a two-game series against UND at 7:07 p.m. Friday and 6:07 p.m. Saturday.
They're almost a full 10 percent ahead of the next closest team in the country. The nation's second best power play, Providence, is at 28.3 percent. Third-place Michigan Tech is at 27 percent.
Last weekend against Miami, St. Cloud State scored on four of its five power-play chances. The only one it didn't was a shortened power play because of overlapping penalties.
Since UND visited St. Cloud State in early December, the Huskies are 9-for-14 on the power play (64.2 percent). In one of those five missed opportunities, the Huskies scored four seconds after the power play ended.
"They have two very good units," UND coach Brad Berry said. "Sometimes, a team usually has one unit, then the second unit doesn't have as much firepower. They have two pretty good units that have good ability there. Discipline is going to be a huge thing, not taking a bunch of penalties. There's got to be a focus there."
What's St. Cloud State's secret?
"It's definitely not scheme," Huskies coach Brett Larson said. "Our scheme is really no different than a lot of teams in the league. We're running the 1-3-1. We're running certain breakouts that everyone else is running. Our faceoff plays aren't much different than everybody else. So, I think a lot of power play comes down to chemistry, understanding where the other players are and understanding how to read off each other."
The Huskies brought back virtually their entire roster from last year's NCHC and national runner-up team, leaving their power-play units in tact.
Last season, they were at 21.9 percent with the man advantage. This season, there's been a big increase in production on the unit coached by Huskies assistant Nick Oliver, a Roseau High graduate.
"The one thing I think we have on the power play is chemistry," Larson said. "We've got pretty much nine of the 10 — and 10 of the 11 because we mix guys in — have worked on it together for two years."
Both units have been potent.
St. Cloud State has a similar setup with both of them. The Huskies keep right-handed shots on the left side, and left-handed shots on the right side, so they have players who can one-time the puck on each side of the ice.
U.S. Olympian Nick Perbix runs the first unit from the top, while fifth-year senior Seamus Donohue runs the second one. On top of the crease, both Easton Brodzinski (first unit) and Kevin Fitzgerald (second unit) are active.
"I think it's just chemistry," Perbix said. "It builds throughout the year and we got a lot of reps on it last year, so you can see what it's amounted to at this point."
Larson also credited his team's ability to improvise.
"Instead of looking for the set play all the time, our guys are good at reading off that and looking to attack and make plays off those pucks that are maybe 50-50 that you win," Larson said. "Long story short, I think these guys have just built a pretty good chemistry together over the last year and a half on the power play, and I think it's helping them."
A challenge for UND
St. Cloud State's special teams units — the Huskies have scored more shorthanded goals (eight) than five college hockey teams have scored power-play goals (Dartmouth, Brown, UConn, St. Lawrence and Yale) — will provide UND a big challenge.
Last weekend at Western Michigan, special teams cost UND the series.
UND and Western Michigan each scored just one even-strength goal on the weekend. But Western Michigan won the special teams battle 4-0 and swept the series.
"We really worked on our special teams here throughout the week and really dialed in on it (Wednesday)," UND forward Louis Jamernik said.
The first key against the Huskies is not taking penalties, which has been an issue at times this season for the Fighting Hawks.
"That's probably the No. 1 most stressed thing we've talked about," Jamernik said. "We've been meeting every morning. We had a penalty kill meeting this morning. We're really dialed in. That's one of the biggest messages. They have outrageous numbers. Step 1: Don't take penalties. But if it happens, we're battling to kill it off."
During UND's 8-1 loss to St. Cloud State in December, the Fighting Hawks handed the Huskies seven power plays, including a five-minute major. St. Cloud State scored three times on the advantages.
The next night, UND cut that down to four Husky power plays, killed all of them and won 5-3.
"We've been watching a lot of video on them," UND defenseman Jake Sanderson said. "Obviously, they're running at a very high percentage right now, so we've got to respect them. Jax (UND associate coach Dane Jackson) does a great job with our PK, so in practice, we're doing a lot of reps."
The only statistical category UND has an advantage on St. Cloud State entering this weekend is faceoffs. The Fighting Hawks are at 54.1 percent, slightly ahead of the Huskies' 52.8 percent.
Berry said winning draws on special teams will be a big key.
"I think winning the draw initially and getting the puck down the ice is a huge, huge deal," Berry said. "If you get hemmed in your zone against that power play, they're going to get their looks."
NCAA men's top power plays of last 20 years
38.1 percent — St. Cloud State 2021-22** (Zach Okabe, Kevin Fitzgerald, Easton Brodzinski)
32.0 percent — Michigan 2015-16 (Kyle Connor, Zach Werenski, Tyler Motte)
31.6 percent — Wisconsin 2020-21 (Cole Caufield, Dylan Holloway, Ty Pelton-Byce)
31.6 percent — Ohio State 2016-17 (Nick Schilkey, David Gust, Mason Jobst)
31.1. percent — St. Cloud State 2001-02 (Ryan Malone, Mark Hartigan, Mike Doyle)
30.8 percent — Colorado College 2002-03 (Tom Preissing, Peter Sejna, Brett Sterling)
**Season in progress
St. Cloud State at UND
When: 7:07 p.m. Friday, 6:07 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Ralph Engelstad Arena.
TV: Midco Sports (GF Ch. 27/622 HD).
Radio: The Fox (96.1 FM).