Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Gopher Hockey Christmas List, and What Santa Left Under the Tree

Hello fellow Gopher Puck lovers! Let me regale you with a story of Little Donny Lucia and his Christmas miracle.

Little Don Lucia awoke on Christmas morning to a surprise. There were presents under the locker room tree! He had left Santa Claus a long wish list, and we can only wait and see if Santa delivered.

Little Donny’s list was long indeed. First on that list was...

1. Goal Scoring
  • The Gophers score a dismal 2.50 goals per game and have already been shut out four times on the year. Jay Barriball, one of the team's most consistent scorers, is out for the remainder of the season. Jordan Schroeder, the preseason WCHA player of the year, has stalled out at four goals and eight assists through the season's first 18 games. The power play is connecting at 13.7%, and the Gophers have scored more total goals than only two other WCHA teams (Alaska-Anchorage and Michigan Tech). This team's problem more than anything is goal scoring.
  • Santa, however, left the Gophers a great gift under the tree this year. The Gophers will welcome in transfer Jacob Cepis, a waterbug-type forward with a knack for bulging the twine. Cepis should slot into the top line, and Don Lucia needs to hope that he can unlock the struggling Jordan Schroeder, and that the combination of Cepis-Schroeder-Hoeffel can jump start the anemic offense.
2. Consistency
  • The Gophers are a team that is something of an enigma. They can beat Bemidji State 4-1 one night and lose 6-2 the next. They can lose to Michigan 6-0 and beat Michigan State 2-1 the next evening. This team has shown that they can play up to an elite level when they want to... they just need to do it more often.
  • Santa brought Little Donny a present to help the team's consistency, but he needs help from his friends from across the street Johnny Hill and Grant Potulny in order to open it. The three friends need to work together to open it, and they need the rest of the team to buy into the idea that the coaches know what they're doing in order for the present to work to its full potential.
3. A Goaltending System
  • The Gophers have not been employing a believable goaltending rotation all season. Don Lucia said that he'd be rotating Kangas and Patterson all year, but then started Kangas nearly every game thereafter. Lucia got into a funk where he was playing the hot hand when Kangas won and showing confidence in his goaltender when Kangas lost.
  • Let's hope that Santa brought Little Donny the intestinal fortitude to play both goaltenders throughout the rest of the year. Lucia's Gopher Teams have been at their best when they have a goaltending tandem that is successful. When two goalies can compete at a high level, either one can take over for the other if there is an injury. This team will be a better team overall if and when both Kangas and Patterson are given minutes.
We'll see if Little Donny and crew opened Santa's gifts come Saturday evening, when the Gophers take on Bowling Green in the first game of the Dodge Holiday Classic. Bowling Green is Jacob Cepis' former team, so the tilt should be a big opening game for the Junior Forward. Let's see if the Gophers can continue their current three-game winning streak and get on a roll!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Gophers Split Home-and-Home with Mankato, Fall to 6-9-1 on the Year

The Gophers avoided a sweep last weekend after another vapid and uninspired Friday night performance at Mariucci Arena. The Gophers dropped the opening game of the weekend series against the Minnesota State Mankato Mavericks 3-1 before eventually winning the Saturday night tilt 6-2 in Mankato.

The Gophers got on the board early Friday night with a nice goal by Sophomore forward Jake Hansen. Hansen found himself in the slot with the puck and bulged the twine for his third goal of the season. The Mavericks tied it up late in the first with a tally by Senior forward Jerad Stewart.

Although the score was tied after the first period, the tide of the game was turned clearly in favor of the Mavericks. Holding an 18-4 shot advantage going into the first intermission, the Mavs controlled the pace and style of play in the opening frame.

The second and third periods were much more even Neither team scored in the second period despite putting up 11 shots on goal each. The third saw two goals, both for the boys in purple. The Mavericks scored the go-ahead goal and eventual game-winner on a 2-on-1 rush. Rylan Galiardi kept the puck himself rushing up the left wing and somehow beat Gopher goalie Kent Patterson beneath his blocker. The Mavericks would add an empty-net goal in the last minute of the game to put the nail in the coffin.

Notable Gopher performances in Friday night's game came from Josh Birkholz, who hustles and competes every night but had not yet found the back of the net (read on...), and Kent Patterson, who played very solidly and gave his team a chance to win.

Saturday was a completely different story for the Gophers, even though it had a similar beginning. Nick Leddy opened the scoring for the Maroon and Gold, putting one past Maverick goalie Austin Lee on a screen shot. This time, though, the Gophers were able to build on their lead thanks to the hustle of Josh Birkholz. Birkholz, who had up until this point been one of the unsung heroes and only bright spots on this Gopher team, scored the second and third goals of the game, the first on a shot from the left wing and the second on a nifty rush where he weaved around three Maverick players before top-shelfing a backhand past Lee.

The third goal of the game was one of the few times that the Gophers have gotten that "separation" goal that they have so desperately needed this season but as of yet had not been able to get. It turns out that they would have to do it twice Saturday. A late period goal by Tyler Pitlick in the first period and another goal by Pitlick halfway through the second had the Mavericks back within one, but the Gophers finally pulled away for good in the third. An early Gopher goal by Nico Sacchetti, followed by goals from Patrick White and Taylor Matson, salted the game away and gave the Gophers a 6-2 victory.

Three Gopher Stars of the Weekend:

3. Brian Schack

Schack only played in Saturday's contest, and only notched one assist on the weekend, but he gets a star for the weekend because he was able to play effective hockey without gooning it up or getting pummeled by the Mavericks. Remember, one of the keys to this weekend series was to be the physicality as the Mavericks were itching to avenge Schack's fights last year that resulted in Maverick captain Channing Boe's broken leg. Schack was able to stay out of trouble, play fairly solid defense, and contribute an assist to the cause, and that deserves a star this weekend.

2. Nick Leddy

Leddy's return means a lot of things for the Gophers. First and foremost, it means that they have seven active defensemen on the roster, so someone can take a breather each and every night. The roster is no longer spread so thin, which can only be a good thing for this team. Leddy also came up with a crucial goal on Saturday and contributed positively otherwise on both sides of the puck.

1. Josh Birkholz

This kid has absolutely blazing speed. I think he compares favorably with some of the fastest Gopher players that I can remember (Phil Kessel, Troy Riddle and Aaron Miskovich come to mind). His work ethic and grit, combined with the afterburners, make Birkholz an impressive player that can contribute offensively, defensively, and can come up with both the big hit and the big play. He would've been a star this weekend even without his two goal performance on Saturday. Birkholz did sustain an injury late in the game on Saturday, but Coach Lucia is "hopeful" that he'll play this weekend. I'm hopeful, too, that we'll see him suited up on Friday in Houghton, MI, as the Gophers take on the Michigan Tech Huskies in a weekend series.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Disappointing Gophers Force this Blogger to Take a Short Break, but We're Back in Action Now

Sorry about the hiatus, loyal readers (are there any of you out there?). The Gophers' recent 0-3 swoon including two heartbreaking losses against UMD (both of which yours truly was in attendance for) and a game against Michigan in which the Gophers lost 6-0 and just phoned it in had forced me to take a mental health break from the team.

However, the 2-1 win over then #7 Michigan State has brought me back from the edge, and I'm ready to preview the Gophers' upcoming home-and-home series versus the Minnesota State-Mankato Mavericks.

The Gophers, in 9th place at 3-6-1 in the WCHA and 5-8-1 overall, face off against the 7th place Mavericks (4-7-1, 6-7-1) tonight in Minneapolis and Saturday night at the Alltel Center in Mankato. This is a huge series for the Gophers, who have a chance to bank some key WCHA points before the Christmas break with Mankato this weekend and Michigan Tech next weekend.

Mankato is a team paced by its upperclassmen. Senior forwards Jerad Stewart (6-6-12) and Zach Harrison (4-8-12) lead the team with 12 points scored on the season, with Juniors Ben Youds (0-10-10) and Rylan Galardi (3-6-9) are next on the team in scoring. In fact, the Mavericks have only 27 points total from the 11 Freshmen and Sophomore skaters on the roster. The fact that this team is very experienced will definitely play a role in the series, as the Mavs should be itching to avenge last year's fight instigated by Gopher defenseman Brian Schack. The fight resulted in a pileup, during which Channing Boe broke his leg and ended his season last year.

Schack may not need to suit up for the Gophers this weekend, though, as Freshman defenseman Nick Leddy is likely to return to action against the Mavs. Leddy's return should give the Gophers seven available defensemen, a welcome respite for a team that was thin on players due to the Leddy and Barriball injuries as well as the Lofquist departure.

I expect the Gophers to build on their big win over the Spartans last Saturday and get two more key wins this weekend against one of Minnesota's biggest in-state foes. The Gophers will win a fairly close 4-2 game Friday, and Saturday's game in Mankato will get chippy towards the end as the Maroon and Gold pounds the Mavericks 6-1. Expect both Alex Kangas and Kent Patterson to get a start in goal for the Gophers this weekend.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back: Gophers Win Friday, Lose Saturday to Bemidji State

The Gophers played with grit, heart and determination to earn a much needed 4-1 victory Saturday night against the previously undefeated Beavers of Bemidji State. Unfortunately, they forgot that the weekend series was two games long.

The Beavers trounced the Gophers Sunday evening, scoring six goals against the hapless goaltending tandem of Alex Kangas and Kent Patterson to beat their Minnesota Gophers team 6-2, despite the fact that the Gophers held a sizable lead in the shots on goal statistic.

All the momentum and excitement the team generated during their dramatic and exciting victory in the first game of the series was drowned out by sloppy play, devastating turnovers and, quite frankly, an attitude that lacked the fire and desire to win that we've seen with great Gopher teams in the past.

Saturday's game got off to a bad start, however. A bad bounce on a breakout pass by Tony Lucia led to a 1-on-0 opportunity that Beaver forward Jordan George capitalized on, quickly making the game 1-0 Beavers in the first. However, the Gophers answered right back, getting a goal-line scrum goal from sophomore forward Nico Sacchetti. The Gophers and Beavers played each other tough throughout the second period, with Mike Hoeffel netting the eventual game winner on a 5-on-3 power play. The Gophers got some insurance late in the third period on goals by Jordan Schroeder and Mike Carman.

The 3 Gopher Stars from Saturday:

3. Nico Sacchetti

Nico was crashing into people all night and played a great combination of smart-physical hockey. He was very visible throughout the game, making quality plays nearly every time he stepped onto the ice. He also scored the first Gopher goal of the game right after Bemidji had scored their first goal, which provided the Gophers a much needed shot in the arm at a critical juncture of the game. Sacchetti also assisted on Jordan Schroeder's goal.

2. Alex Kangas

Kangas was lights out again Saturday night, making some terrific stops in the crease. Perhaps the most critical portion of the game was the Beavers' own 5-on-3 power play chance, and Kangas came up huge making several spectacular saves to stonewall the Beavers' scoring chances.

1. Jordan Schroeder

Schroeder would've been in the 3 Stars tonight even if he didn't have any points. He played that solid of a game and was the best player on the ice for either team whenever he was in the game. He was stickhandling very well and always seemed to find the open man for a great scoring chance. It was nice to see him get his first goal of the season - he's been due for that and hopefully Schroeder scoring goals is a trend that we'll see continuing.

Sunday's game started in a similar fashion as Saturday's game. Another patented David Fischer pass to the opposing team in our own slot led to the Beaver's first goal. This time, though, the Beavers continued to pile on the goals. Matt Read scored on a disputed goal with less than a minute to play in the first period. The start of the second period saw sophomore goaltender Kent Patterson take the place of Alex Kangas, despite the fact that neither of the Beavers' two first period goals were Kangas' fault.

The Gophers finally got on the board halfway through the second when Jordan Schroeder rifled a one-timer past Beaver goaltender Mathieu Dugas on the power play.

However, a series of plays soon after the Schroeder goal would doom the Gophers chances of completing the sweep. A questionable (at best) checking from behind call on the Gophers Zach Budish led to a 5 minute power play for Bemidji State. Just a handful of seconds after Tony Lucia hit the crossbar on a shorthanded breakaway Bemidji put one behind Patterson and into the net to effectively seal the game.

The momentum swing was palpable inside Mariucci Arena after that series of plays. A dumb penalty by Jordan Schroeder at the end of the second period gave the Beavers all the boost they needed, as they converted a power play goal, a Pat White turnover and a Jordan Schroeder turnover all within the first 3:04 of the third period to put the score at 6-1 and turn this game into a laugher.

Although the Gophers did have several flurries in the middle of the period, including a Jake Hansen goal, the game was all but in the bag.

The 3 Gopher Stars from Sunday night's game:

3. Joey Miller

Miller was the catalyst to some of the late game flurries. He played like he either didn't know or didn't care what the score was - he played gritty and hard. I like those kinds of players, and Miller deserves credit for playing his heart out all the time.

2. Zach Budish

I know Budish was out for half of the game, and his penalty was the turning point of the game, but you've gotta love how this kid competes game in and game out. That penalty call was a joke, he was battling hard and should have gotten two minutes at worst. If Budish was in the game, I think we would have seen a different outcome, and at the very least a more competitive Gopher team in the second half of the game.

1. Tony Lucia

Lucia continues to find ways to contribute positively to this Gopher team, whether that be on the stat sheet or just with consistent effort and solid play. Now, if only he could shoot the puck a little bit lower...

The Gophers welcome the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs to Mariucci Arena this Friday and Saturday, with game times at 7:00 both nights. I expect to see a better effort from the Gophers next weekend!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Gophers to Face Off this Weekend Against Bemidji State Beavers

The newest addition to the WCHA may continue the Gophers' woes as they attempt to continue a very tough opening schedule this weekend.

The Gophers open a weekend series versus the 7th ranked Bemidji State Beavers tonight. Bemidji, who is joining the WCHA next season, is tearing up its final year in the CHA, posting a 7-0-1 record through eight games to make them the only remaining undefeated team in college hockey. Although they have not played much serious competition (their opponents are a combined 13-22-2 overall) they haven't lost yet, and you can only beat the team that is suited up on the opposite bench every night.

This weekend's series should be a good test for both teams. While I do think Bemidji is a pretty good team, I'm not sure they can compete week in and week out at the level they have been playing against top teams in the WCHA like Minnesota and North Dakota. This also should be a good test for the Gophers, who haven't won many games but have played top competition. We should see which team can win and which team maybe is just overachieving.

This week also saw a bevy of rumors about players leaving the team. First came the rumor - and eventual departure - of sophomore defenseman Sam Lofquist. Just a day later, rumors on the internet swirled over sophomore forward Jordan Schroeder leaving the team to go to the NHL's Vancouver Canuck system. In a rare response to message board rumors, the University of Minnesota issued a press release stating that Schroeder would stay at the U and that he was fully committed to the team. While I don't fully buy that excuse, it's nice to see the U attempt to quash that rumor right away.

I see the Gophers getting at least 3 points this season. I'll go for a 3-3 tie on Saturday night and a 5-1 Gopher win on Sunday, although I wouldn't be all that surprised if the Gophers get a sweep or if Bemidji wins a game and the two teams split.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Adding Insult to Injury, Gophers D-Man Sam Lofquist Quits Team for OHL

Gophers' sophomore defenseman Sam Lofquist has decided to forgo the remainder of his University of Minnesota career to play in the Ontario Hockey League.

Lofquist, who had played in 3 games this season, has withdrawn from his classes at the U.

The sophomore's departure leaves the Gophers with only six healthy defensemen. Minnesota will now be playing Kevin Wehrs and Brian Schack on a regular basis until freshman defenseman Nick Leddy has recovered from a broken jaw that he sustained in the game against Alaska-Anchorage a couple weeks ago.

Wehrs and Schack were the Gophers' 7th and 8th options on defense coming into the season, with defensemen Cade Fairchild, Aaron Ness, David Fischer, Nick Leddy, Seth Helgeson and Lofquist ahead of them on the depth chart. Although both Wehrs and Schack have looked surprisingly good this year in the limited time we've seen them on the ice, each makes their share of mistakes and will need to play attentive defense to be a compliment to this team as a whole.

One thing to watch for is the roster for the United States' World Junior team to be released. The Gophers seemingly always have two or three players gone for four to six games in the middle of the season due to their being selected to participate on the World Junior team. I would guess that Aaron Ness would be selected to play on the team and, if that were to be the case, the Gophers would only have five healthy defensemen on the roster while Ness was absent. The team might need to look at moving a forward back to the point in order to field the customary 12 forward, 6 defenseman lineup.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Gophers Ride Kangas' Big Game, Beat Badgers 5-2 to Earn Split

The Gophers righted the ship on Saturday by defeating the hometown Wisconsin Badgers 5-2. The game was won mostly on the back of junior goaltender Alex Kangas, who made 45 stops en route to earning a much needed two points.

Conspicuously absent from the starting lineup was junior forward Mike Hoeffel. Hoeffel, who had an allergic reaction prior to the game, sat out. The Gophers had already lost scoring threat Jay Barriball to knee surgery, so it was interesting to see how they would do with not one but two of their top scorers out of the lineup.

Even with a depleted roster, the game started in the exact opposite fashion to Friday's contest. This time, it was the Gophers that jumped out to an early lead. Tony Lucia shot the puck past Badger goalie Brett Bennett on a 2-on-1 at just 1:17 of the first period giving the Gophers a 1-0 lead. Only 5 minutes later, Zach Budish tipped in a Tony Lucia pass to make the game 2-0 Gophers. Despite multiple Badger power plays, the Gophers held their 2-0 lead into the first intermission. Kangas came up huge in the first period and all night, stopping 17 Badger shots in the opening frame. The Gophers mustered 6 shots in the first.

The Gophers again got on the board, this time late in the second period, when Patrick White knocked the puck into a nearly open net on a broken play, making the game 3-0 in favor of Minnesota. The Gophers were again outshot in the second period to the tune of 15-10. Many of those 15 Badger shots were difficult saves for Alex Kangas, including one near the end of a Badger power play. On an across-the-goalmouth pass, Kangas made a toe save on a seemingly wide open goal and kicked it away, preserving what at the time was a shutout bid.

Any Gopher-Badger game has to have some excitement, and this game was no exception. Jake Gardiner scored at 28 seconds of the third period to bring the Badgers within two goals at 3-1. The Gophers seemed to shell up after the Gardiner goal, content to chip the puck out of the zone and get frequent line changes to keep the players fresh. Brian Schack added another Gopher insurance goal at 8:31 of the third period. His shot from the point snuck its way into the back of the Badger net.

That appeared to be the nail in the coffin, but the Badgers came storming back. Ryan McDonagh knocked a puck out of midair into the back of the Gopher net at 12:14 of the period to again bring the Badgers within two goals of the Gopher lead at 4-2. There were several flurries after the McDonagh goal in which Alex Kangas had to come up with critical saves to preserve the victory, but Zach Budish's empty-net goal at 18:59 of the third period all but sealed the Gopher win.

The Gophers did not score on their power play and are now 2-35 on the season. I know that they're not a 5.7% power play unit so they must be a little snakebit, but nothing they do with the man advantage leads me to believe that they will have a best-in-the-nation type of power play this year. They do too much passing and try to make the perfect play far too often. The Gophers need to stop trying to make the perfect play and start looking for second-chance opportunities to score on the power play.

Also of concern is the staggering shot totals the Gophers are allowing this year. After being outshot by Wisconsin 47-28 last night, the Gophers are averaging a defecit of 7.5 shots per game to their opponents. The Gophers have always been a team that drubs the opposing team in shots, so I'm curious as to where our cautious shooting is coming from this year. I understand that the last two games were against Wisconsin, who plays a very defensive-oriented system and prides itself on not allowing many shots on net, but to be outshot by an average of 7 shots per game over 8 games so far does not bode well for the rest of the year. Part of the problem may be the team's willingness to score goals causing defensive lapses, especially early in the year against Denver. Let's hope that this is more of the issue than the fact that the Gophers don't have a good team defense this year. You cannot expect your goaltender to make 40+ saves every game and be a very good team.

Tonight's 3 Gopher Stars of the Game:

3. Tony Lucia

Lucia tacked another solid game to his year, tallying the first goal of the game as well as a couple assists. Lucia now has four goals and five assists in just eight games, and leads the team in goals, assists and total points.

2. Zach Budish

Budish was solid in Saturday's contest, scoring the second goal of the game as well as the last goal. While it is great to see Budish find some of his scoring touch, it was his work in the corners and in front of the net that caught my eye. Budish is a big body at 6'3", 220 lbs., and he's beginning to use that size to his advantage. He is a physical presence in front of the net as he asserts himself and can begin to bang in rebounds, and he cannot be moved off of the puck in the corners.

1. Alex Kangas

The man stopped 45 Badger shots on Saturday. Not much else to say. He made saves on breakaways and odd-man rushes, and he made the key saves when they counted. He was excellent, and gave the Gophers an outstanding effort to record his third victory of the year.

The Gophers face off against the Bemidji State Beavers this upcoming Saturday and Sunday, with Saturday's opening faceoff scheduled for 7:30.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Wisconsin Plays Tough D, Beats Gophers 4-2

The University of Wisconsin Badgers played their usual brand of stifling defense and opportunistic offense to take care of the University of Minnesota tonight in Madison, downing the visiting Gophers 4-2.

Wisconsin controlled the style of play for nearly all of the game, forcing the Gophers to take outside shots and blocking many of their chances. The strategy showed itself in the final shot tally, as the Gophers only mustered 18 shots to Wisconsin's 32. The Gophers finally showed up in the third period, carrying the bulk of the play and giving themselves a chance to win in the final 10 minutes until Ben Street's goal at 18:08 of the third.

In goal for the Gophers was Junior Alex Kangas. Kangas gave up four goals - two of which were on the soft side - but all four were due to misplays by the Gopher forwards. The first Badger goal occurred because the Gophers couldn't clear the offensive zone, the second goal was due to a Patrick White fanned pass in his own defensive zone, and the third goal was due to a Tony Lucia bad pass. This Gopher team played a very sloppy game tonight, and were lucky that Alex Kangas played brilliantly enough other than the soft goals to keep them in the game.

To be fair, the Badgers did take advantage of lots of Gopher mistakes. If this team wants to be playing at Mariucci and the Xcel Energy Center come playoff time they really need to limit these miscues and start playing better hockey. I noticed the Gopher defensemen pinching in and leaving a Badger odd-man rush far too often. I know they're trying to create some more offense with Barriball out, but there's a time to push harder and there's a time to play smart, and it seemed like the Gophers were pushing a little too hard all game.

The Gophers got goals from Mike Hoeffel on a nice pass from Jordan Schroeder and a power play goal from Patrick White, who played a pretty good game apart from his miscue that resulted in the second Badger goal.

Three Gopher Stars of the Game:

3. Jordan Schroeder

Schroeder was all over the ice on the offensive end tonight, giving the Gophers tons of quality scoring chances that he either took himself or set up for his teammates. He had the first assist on the Hoeffel goal, but he needs someone else to step up on the team and start putting the puck in the net (or he needs to start doing that himself).

2. Aaron Ness

Ness again was brilliant, putting in a great effort on the defensive end and again finding himself in great situations on offense. This kid is a great passer and can skate around anyone else on the ice. He's got to start getting some confidence in his own shots - he often times passes when he has a wide open shot on the net.

1. Josh Birkholz

I really noticed Birkholz tonight. He was wreaking havoc in the Wisconsin zone and was a thorn in their side all game long. He might be the fastest player on this Gopher team, and, if he can find a little bit of a scoring touch, he'll be a menace on the ice for a long time coming.

Tomorrow's game against the Badgers faces off at 7:00 PM. Hopefully the Gophers will put forth a better effort than they did tonight.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Gophers @ Badgers - Series Preview

The University of Minnesota Golden Gophers will hop on the bus to Mad Town this weekend to take on the hometown University of Wisconsin Badgers. Any time the Gophers take on the Badgers, there's lots of bad blood and ill feelings between the two squads, which is part of what makes the rivalry so great.

The Badgers play a very defensive style of hockey. Their goal is to clog up the shooting lanes with sticks and limbs and force the opposing team to settle for long shots from the outside. They very rarely have a defensive breakdown and sport a very solid corps of D-men lead by Ryan McDonangh and Jake Gardiner. While the Gophers are coming off a much needed sweep of Alaska-Anchorage, the Badgers are coming off their own convincing sweep of the University of New Hampshire. Many coaches picked Wisconsin to finish third in the WCHA this year, so they are expected to contend and be a solid team.

I would not be surprised to see a split in the series this weekend. I think that the Gophers will win Friday night 4-2, while the Badgers will win a much tighter game on Saturday 2-1. Let's see how the Gophers will fare without Senior winger Jay Barriball, who was hurt in practice this week and will not be making the trip with the team.

Drop the puck!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Barriball Hurt in Gopher Practice, Out For the Season?

I have just heard from a few sources (Hammy's Twitter and confirming reports from the U) that Senior Forward Jay Barriball was injured fairly severely in practice and may be out for the season. I do not know yet what type of injury Barriball has incurred, but any time a player has a potential season-ending injury you always think that it has to do with a torn knee ligament.

Let's hope that this report is false, but I doubt it. The sources I've heard from are pretty trustworthy. This would leave the Gophers two men short as Freshman Defenseman Nick Leddy is out for the next two months with a broken jaw.

The good news is that Barriball, a senior, would be able to appeal to the NCAA for a medical hardship waiver and another year of eligibility. This means he may be able to come back next year if he is truly out for the rest of the year. Right now, though, this seems like a pretty thin silver lining in an otherwise horrible blow to this Gopher team. On a team that struggles to score, Barriball was one of the players we had come to count on to put the puck in the net. He had just reached the 100 career point milestone in Friday's game against Alaska-Anchorage with an assist. Barriball became only the 79th player in Gopher history to have recorded 100 career points. Hopefully he'll be able to record many more in his Gopher career, either this year or next.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Gophers Wake Up, Sweep UAA Handily in Weekend Series

Maybe all the Gophers needed was a spark.

An injury to one of the team's up-and-coming players propelled the Gophers to a pair of convincing wins this weekend over the visiting University of Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves. The Gophers won handily both nights, defeating the Seawolves 5-1 Friday while prevailing 4-1 in a Sunday rematch between the two teams.

Perhaps the biggest turning point of the season so far came in the first period on Friday. With the game tied 1-1 late in the period, Freshman Defenseman Nick Leddy took a heavy hit up around his chin area as he was cutting across the ice just inside the offensive zone. Leddy, who had released a slapshot on the net, was hit hard by Jade Portwood. There has been some speculation as to whether the hit was late - in my opinion it should have been a penalty simply because it was a hit to the head. Leddy went down hard with a cracked jaw and possible concussion and will miss the next 6-8 weeks. This was a big blow for the Gophers, as Leddy was one of the bright young players on this team, but they've got to be glad that his injury A) wasn't a season- or career-threatening injury, and B) came early in the year rather than at the end. Leddy should be back right around the Dodge Holiday Classic, which is also when we'll see newcomer Jacob Cepis for the first time.

In the meantime, the Leddy injury really seemed to rally the Gophers into the rest of the weekend. They outscored Alaska-Anchorage 3-0 in the second period and 8-1 from the second period of Friday's game to the end of the game on Sunday. Tony Lucia had a great night on Friday, coming up with the go-ahead goal on a shorthanded breakaway and adding another shorthanded goal in the third period to put the Gophers up 5-1. Also scoring Friday were Kevin Wehrs and Zach Budish. Both goals were the players' first collegiate goals. Congratulations to Kevin and Zach! The other Gopher goal scorer on Friday night was Aaron Ness, who scored the first goal of the game.

Flying a little under the radar all weekend was Gopher goaltender Alex Kangas, who was impressive both nights in limiting the Seawolves to just two goals on 55 total shots over the two-game series. Kangas was solid between the pipes in both games, while at times showing flashes of brilliance in coming up with critical stops at key points in each game.

The three Gopher stars from Friday's game are:

3. Alex Kangas

Kangas, as mentioned above, made all the saves he needed to make and probably a few that he shouldn't have Friday night. Kangas was a crucial component of the Gophers' penalty killing efforts, and his solid play was the foundation that the Gophers built their Friday win upon.

2. Taylor Matson

This kid is in the three stars every night because he deserves to be. He puts in outstanding effort for 60 minutes every night. Matson made the play that resulted in the first Lucia goal, and he was making plays on the ice every chance he got.

1. Tony Lucia

Lucia scored two shorthanded goals on Friday night while adding the lone assist in the Wehrs goal. Lucia was his usual gritty, grinding self, and he was rewarded for it with a pair of goals and a three-point night overall. Scoring the very important second goal of the game for the Gophers, Lucia was the #1 star for the team.

Near the end of the game, some skirmishes broke out as some UAA players repeatedly took runs at Jordan Schroeder. While I hate fighting in hockey, it was good to see players like Mike Hoeffel, Jay Barriball and Seth Helgeson step up and defend their teammates. I think the Gophers got some momentum from these scuffles and brought it into the game on Sunday.


While the Gophers dominated the score of the Sunday tilt winning 4-1, the play was not nearly as crisp as it was on Friday. Other than the many penalties the Gophers took, Friday's game saw a relatively sharp Gopher team - passes were tape-to-tape, players were skating hard, etc. Sunday's game, though, was sloppier than I'd like to see. This kind of blurry around the edges play will not hold up against good teams like Wisconsin, Denver and North Dakota.

That being said, though, the Gophers did find a way to put the puck in the net, which is something that had been sorely lacking this season.

Patrick White scored his first goal of the year and has surprisingly looked an all-around better player of late, Tony Lucia added another goal and assist to his burgeoning point total, and again Alex Kangas was quietly very effective, allowing only one goal on a tip in that the referees had to review to see if it was played with a high stick (it apparently was not).

I also really liked the play of Sophomore Defenseman Aaron Ness. Now, I am a big Ness fan and am very happy about the maturation process he's undergone offensively, but a comment made recently on one of my earlier blog postings has had me looking especially at Ness' defensive abilities this weekend. I saw Ness battling for the puck in the corners and behind the net, using his quickness and exceptional hands to make up for any size or strength advantage he may give up to opposing players vying for the puck. He did leave some lanes for opposing players to skate into, but Ness always had his eyes on the play and was stepping into the play before it happened, just not at the first instant that he could have. I thought that was more because Ness was a patient defender than because he was soft. All-in-all, I could not be happier with Ness' development thus far. He's dramatically improved on offense by injecting himself into the play far more often than he had been last year, and he's quick enough and smart enough to be a competent if not very good defender too.

Here are the three Gopher stars from Sunday's game:

3. Aaron Ness

I noticed Ness a lot on Saturday, and not just because I was looking for him especially. He was controlling the puck down along the halfwall and even behind the goal line at times on the power play, and he never seems to make a stupid play. I believe that Ness has the quickness, skill, hands and smarts to become one of the great Gopher defenseman in recent history, and if he stays four years he could join the ranks of Gopher greats like Jordan Leopold, Paul Martin, Keith Ballard, Mike Crowley, Todd Richards, etc.

2. Jordan Schroeder

Schroeder picked up a couple assists in the Gophers' 4-1 win on Sunday, but his play the entire game led me to believe that he's on his way back to last year's form. Schroeder controlled the game when he had the puck, skating circles around defending players and showing his unique ability to skate around until he can make a pass that will give the receiving player a great chance to score. Schroeder still needs to shake the rust off of his shot - he continually shoots the puck high and wide - but once that happens Schroeder and the Gophers will see a boost in scoring.

1. Patrick White

White scored his first goal of the season Sunday, and it happened to be the all-important first goal of the game. More importantly, though, White played a very positive game both Friday and Sunday and made his presence felt on the ice. It appears that White has finally made that jump in development and is able to rein in some of his own prodigious potential. Once White can start garnering some confidence, I firmly believe that he will have a breakout year this season and score lots of goals for this Gopher team.

The Gophers travel to Madison to take on a tough Badger team this upcoming weekend. Look for a preview of that series tomorrow night!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Gopher 0-fer: Gophs Fall 3-0 Twice to Visiting Pios

Perhaps the Pioneers really are the team that garnered nearly all of the first place votes in this year's preseason poll. Or perhaps the Gophers just aren't that good.

I think it's a little of both.

The Gophs fell 3-0 on two separate nights to the Denver University Pioneers this weekend. Sorry for the delay in the posts - I was in Palo Alto on business and not able to watch the games. I taped them both and just finished watching the end of the Saturday game. I wish I had just allowed last weekend to evaporate into thin air and had not known about the Gophers' ineptitude over the series. Alas, somewhere my sadistic psyche had to intervene and forced me to follow minute after painstaking minute.

But, I digress.

I actually thought the Gophers played pretty well in the first game, clearly winning the first period and playing the Pioneers about even in the second period despite being outscored 2-0. I would say that the third period was about even again, and I would give the complete edge in the gameplay to the Gophers in Friday's contest. They hustled and played with the consensus pre-season MacNaughton winners. Alex Kangas played well, stopping 31 of the 33 shots he faced, despite coming away with another tough-luck loss. The Gophers have now scored 0 goals in front of Kangas this year.

The Saturday game saw the Pioneers take the game to the Gophers a little more. I would give the edge to the Pioneers in every period of the game. The Gophers had a few sparks of life in opportunities by Aaron Ness and Mike Hoeffel, but just could not get the puck past Denver goalie Marc Cheverie, who stopped 30 shots each night for the visiting Pioneers en route to the first consecutive shutouts against the Gophers since 1930.

Since I don't want to go through the hours-long task of finding three Gopher stars each night for this horrendous weekend's 3 stars feature, I'll provide a three Gopher stars of the whole weekend. That way we can quickly get the series behind us and focus on the upcoming series with Alaska Anchorage.

3. Patrick White

I thought White did a nice job of injecting some hustle and providing an offensive spark, especially in the Saturday game. White was (unusually) visible over the weekend, and hopefully he can remain that way for the rest of the season.

2. Aaron Ness

Ness had a couple great rushes over the weekend, and even once found himself the recipient of a one-time pass right in the slot which he fired on target (Cheverie saved it, of course). However, the point is that Ness, now a 19 year old Sophomore, would never have been seen in the slot last year. Ness, maturing offesnively as a hockey player, has always been an excellent skater and passer. Seeing this kind of spark from Ness shows me that this kid is for real, and will be an important contributer to this Gopher hockey team.

1. Mike Hoeffel

Hoeffel again proved to me that he has to score for this Gopher team to put the engine into gear. Hoeffel had plenty of grade-A chances this weekend (a positive sign), but has to finish some of the chances if the team is going to get going offensively. Hoeffel is the type of player that can take over a game by himself, and he has shown some signs this year that he can be that go-to player that the Gophers so desperately need right now. He just needs to step it up and start finishing on his chances.

So far, Don Lucia's "scoring by committee" approach has not yielded great results: the Gophers have scored in one of four games this season, and only two different Gophers have scored goals (both top line players). I also believe it is Lucia that runs the Gophers special-teams operations; a special teams that has not scored on 18 power plays (they're actually negative total goals on the power play this year as North Dakota scored a shorthanded goal against the Gophers in the first game of the year) and has not been as effective on the penalty kill as the team had been over the past several seasons (one of the few shining strongsuits of the teams from the last several years, in my opinion). I'm not saying Donny should be packing his bags here, but I do think that Coach Lucia should be in the hot seat if the Gophers miss the NCAA tournament for the second straight year. Hopefully it won't come to that.

As mentioned earlier, the Gophers face the University of Alaska - Anchorage this weekend. The games will take place on Friday and Sunday as the Gopher football team plays host to the Spartans of Michigan State Saturday night at TCF Bank Stadium. Here's hoping for four HUGE points - or at least a couple goals - against the Seawolves this weekend.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Gophers Salvage 1 Point out of Grand Forks Weekend, Tie Sioux 3-3 Saturday

The Gophers played a much better game Saturday night, coming away with a 3-3 draw against the hometown Sioux of the University of North Dakota.

The Gophers got on the board first, with Jay Barriball beating UND goalie Brad Eidsness high glove side on a two-on-one rush. Barriball elected to take the shot himself and put the puck past Eidsness. The goal, the Gophers first of the year at 6:20 of the period, was unassisted. Don Lucia went with sophomore goaltender Kent Patterson in the second game of the series. Patterson came up strong in the first period, stopping all 13 shots he faced.

The second period has been tough for the Gophers over the past couple years, and it was looking to be that way in this game as well. North Dakota came out firing, and drew an early power play which they capitalized on when Chay Genoway scored at 2:46 of the period on a shot off of Aaron Ness' kneecap, tying the game up at one goal a piece. Assists to Danny Kristo and Christian VandeVelde. The Sioux took the momentum of that goal right to the Gophers and drew another penalty just a few minutes later. On the ensuing power play, Chay Genoway struck paydirt again, tucking in his own shot that glanced off the pipe and behind Gopher goalie Patterson. It was Genoway's third power play goal of the year, and it came at 6:55 of the period. The Sioux continued their dominance, drawing yet another penalty at about the midway point of the period. This time, however, the Gophers struck back. The opportunistic Taylor Matson chipped the puck past a Sioux defender and rushed it up the rink, feeding Mike Hoeffel for a one-time shot that beat goaltender Eidsness and tied the game up at 2-2. The goal was a nice boost for the Gophers, who rode the wave of momentum the rest of the period and looked much better from that point on in.

The Gophers really came out firing in the third period, and took it to the Sioux. They had a lot of nice offensive-zone posession and several nice scoring opportunities. It was a period with a lot of up-and-down action, with the Gophers getting the better of the chances. The Gophs finally captialized when Mike Hoeffel knocked in a Patrick White rebound off the endboards, giving the Gophers a huge 3-2 lead. Ryan Flynn was credited the second assist at 11:52 of the third period. The Sioux, down but not out, did not give up, and at 13:10 tied the game up on a seeing-eye shot that somehow found the back of the net from Jake Marto. The assists went to Darcy Zajac and Mario Lamoureux.

The rest of the third period was action-packed, including several great scoring chances. The Gophers had a shot at an empty net with about a minute to go, but a Sioux defenseman was able to kick the puck away in the crease.

The game moved into overtime, where neither team really had a great scoring chance. It ended in a 3-3 tie, with the final shot total ending up at 34-19 in favor of the Sioux. The Gophers got one point out of the weekend with a loss on Friday and a tie on Saturday.

Last night's 3 Gopher Stars of the Game:

3) Jay Barriball

Barriball scored the all-important first goal of the game and, more importantly, the first Gopher goal of the year. The Gophs needed a spark to get this game off on the right foot, and Barriball provided it, putting a great shot past Eidsness for the goal. All-around nice performance from Barriball.

2) Mike Hoeffel

Hoeffel scored the Gophers' second and third goals of the game, but other than that the big winger seemed pretty invisible on the ice. No doubt the goals were huge boosts for this Gopher team, but Hoeffel will need to assert himself in every aspect of the game - mucking it up in the corners, being an asset in front of the net, playing keep-away on the penalty kill - if he can carry this Gopher team on his broad shoulders.

1) Taylor Matson

Matson was once again the best Gopher skater on the ice last night, providing great uptempo skating and a much needed burst of energy. Matson did all the work on Hoeffel's shorthanded goal, and on the power play, penalty kill and 5-on-5 he took control of the game. Matson is a real treat to watch and, if his energy level and desire to win can be infectious, he should be able to spark the Gophers to a great season.

The Gophers next face Denver at Mariucci Arena. The games are this upcoming Friday and Saturday. The puck drops at 7:00.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Pathetic Display from the Gophers in a 4-0 loss to the Sioux

It was not a good night to be a Gopher Hockey fan.

The Gophers fell 4-0 to arch-rival North Dakota Fighting Sioux, and looked outmatched in nearly every facet of the game. North Dakota won what seemed like every one-on-one puck battle, and had a large edge in the face-off column. The Gophers were outshot 43 to 22.

The Sioux got on the board early with a power play goal from Jason Gregoire. Gregoire picked up a loose puck after a broken play in front of the Gopher net and stuffed it home for a 1-0 Sioux lead.

The Gophers held the Sioux to just a 1-0 lead going into the first intermission, in large part thanks to some stellar saves by goalie Alex Kangas. Kangas' most memorable save in the first period came with just 5 seconds left. He stopped a partial breakaway chance by Christian Van de Velde with a nice glove save, and led the Gophers into the locker room.

The Gophs opened up the second period by earning a key power play. However, the Gophers were ineffective and seemed lost at times, and the Sioux took advantage, with Derrick LaPoint scoring shorthanded to give the Sioux a huge 2-0 lead that they would take into the second intermission. Again, Kangas came up huge for the Gophers and kept the team in the game, even though they were getting beat to every puck. One Gopher player that did not come up so large was David Fischer. Fischer looked terrible tonight. I had high hopes for him this year (he's in my players that need to step up blog post), but he appears to have regressed. He still made terrible decisions with the puck, and he still looked like someone poured concrete in his skates.

The game went downhill fast for the Gophers in the third.

Chay Genoway scored a power play goal, and Mario Lamoureux tacked on another goal on a 2-on-1 to give the Sioux a 4-0 lead. Brad Eidsness was solid in net for the Sioux, stopping all 22 Gopher shots he saw. The Gophers didn't have many great chances, as the team was lethargic and did not get to the front of the net at all.

The Sioux definitely were the more physical team, but the physicality wasn't the difference in this game. North Dakota was simply quicker to the puck and quicker with the puck than any Gopher player tonight. It often seemed like the Gophers were standing still and the Sioux were running around them all night.

In honor of Glen Sonmor, I'll provide a 3 Gopher Stars at the end of every game. After games like this one it's tough sometimes to come up with 3 stars, but I'll do my best:

3) Nick Leddy

Leddy had a solid game, and, being his first collegiate game, he was very poised and cool in the face of what had to be a tremendous amount of adversity. Factor in that he had to attempt to make up for what was an abysmal performance by his defensive partner David Fischer. All in all, a nice night for Leddy, who looks solid and should have a good year wearing the "M".

2) Taylor Matson

Matson was the only Gopher forward that looked like he belonged in the Maroon and Gold tonight. He battled for every puck and was perhaps the only Gopher player that looked like he could keep up with the Sioux quickness. He looks like a shot in the arm for the Gophers this year, and if the rest of the players can follow his lead the Gophers should play better tomorrow night.

1) Alex Kangas

Kangas was stellar tonight. He allowed four goals, but he stopped 39 shots and kept the team in the game all night. Not one of the four goals Kangas allowed were "his fault" - defense is a team thing and the defensemen and forwards did not give Kangas much help on any of the four Sioux goals. All the same, though, this is an impressive opening performance for Kangas, and it should bode well for the rest of the season.

Don't give up hope yet, sports fans! One game down and lots more to go, the season is young and there's (hopefully...) LOTS of room for improvement!

Gophers @ Sioux - Middle of the 2nd Period Friday Reaction

Wow. The Gophers look really flat. Lots of standing around, nobody moving their feet. David Fischer has got to sit down, he gets beat every time the puck comes near him. Get Wehrs or Schack in there.

As for the Sioux, they're into the game. They're winning every little puck battle and are thoroughly dominating the game.

Fortunately for the Gophers, the score's only 2-0 right now. If the Gophs score the next goal they're right back in the game and that could be the spark that they need! I'm not giving up yet :)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

My WCHA Top 5

Here is my WCHA preseason ranking. Notes and reasons why I picked a team where I did are provided.

1. Denver University Pioneers

Denver was the near consensus preseason #1 pick by both the coaches and the media, and I see no reason to disagree. Denver returns one of the best young goalies in the conference in Marc Cheverie, as well as a solid scoring core of Rhett Rakhshani, Anthony Maiani and Tyler Ruegsegger. Denver also boasts stellar defensemen like Luke Salazar and Patrick Wiercioch. Yes, Denver lost Tyler Bozak in the middle of the season last year, but, barring any mid-campaign defections this year, look for Denver to be hoisting the MacNaughton at the end of the season.

2. University of Minnesota Golden Gophers

This might be a homer pick. The coaches and media picked the U to finish 4th in the WCHA this season, but I think that's too low. The Gophers lost Ryan Stoa, the team's leading scorer, but they didn't lose much else. They'll be returning what is a very experienced team with 12 upperclassmen returning. If Alex Kangas plays with the confidence he found in his freshman season, expect to see the Gophers in contention for the WCHA title come March.

3. University of Wisconsin Badgers

The Badgers return a vaunted defensive corps this year, and many think they have a squad that will contend for the WCHA title. I'm still not sold on whomever the Badgers decide to play at goaltender, but if he's solid between the pipes the Badgers should be a lock for home ice in the first round of the WCHA playoffs.

4. St. Cloud State University Huskies

The Huskies return key players Ryan Lasch and Garrett Roe, two big-name players who can bulge the twine. The question mark is at goalie, where newcomer Mike Lee from Roseau will battle old hand Dan Dunn for the starting spot. I expect St. Cloud to find a servicable enough goaltending situation to sputter into fourth place at the end of the regular season

5. University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux

The Sioux always find a way to get it done, and, while I think they'll finish in a fairly poor (for their standards) fifth place this year, they never seem to have an "off" year. The key to the Sioux' success this year will be the play of the team's underclassmen - a full 10 freshmen and 7 sophomores. Experienced this team is not. However, Dave Hakstol always seems to get his boys to play come crunch time, so look for the Sioux to be playing in Grand Forks in the first round of the playoffs.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Gophers @ Sioux - Thoughts

A huge series to start the season for the Gophers, as they take on the North Dakota Fighting Sioux in Grand Forks this weekend. I expect both teams to fight hard and to look a little sloppy this early in the year. I don't think supporters of either team will come away from this series entirely happy, as the teams will not be in mid-season form and the play probably will not be of the highest quality. Still, though, it will be a very entertaining series and, as always, some blood will boil over between two teams that really do not like each other.

Alright, on to the fun part - predictions! The Gophers go down early in the first game but storm back to win behind a great game from the top line. Gophers win 4-2, goals by Hoeffel (2), Barriball, and Fairchild. Saturday, the Gophers jump out to the early lead but North Dakota hangs around and wins the game on a goal in the third period. Sioux 2-1, Gopher goal by Tony Lucia. Kangas and Patterson split the series with Kangas starting the Friday game.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

5 Players that Need to Step Up

In my view, the Gophers need a few key players to step it up in order for the team to become a national championship contender in 2009-2010. Here they are:

1) Alex Kangas

This Gopher team is one that goes as Kangas goes. He did seem shaken at times during last year's campaign, but Kangas also showed flashes of the brilliance that he displayed during his freshman season. Although I do believe that much of a goaltender's stats are heavily dependant on how the defense performs in front of him, I see a Kangas resurgence in net as the primary key to the Gophers' chances of advancing to the Frozen Four in Detroit this year. If Kangas can play with confidence like he did his freshman year, I can see the Gophers as a national championship contender.

2) Mike Hoeffel

In order for the Gophers to get to the NCAA tourney this year, they're going to need to pick up a lot of the scoring that Ryan Stoa left on the table when he turned pro. Stoa led the team in scoring last year with 24 goals and 46 points. Those are not small holes to fill, and although Don Lucia mentioned a "scoring by committee" system in this year's media day I still believe that it will be up to Hoeffel to carry the burden of the scoring for this Gopher team. He should be playing on the top line with Jordan Schroeder and Jay Barriball, two players that have shown the ability to finish but are more known for their excellent puck-handling ability and their ability to make great passes to an open finisher. Hoeffel has shown the potential to be a Stoa-type player in his early career with the Gophers. He can dominate the game when he's on the ice, which is why Lucia has not been hesitant to play Hoeffel on the penalty kill over the last couple years. If Hoeffel can step up and score north of 18 or so goals this year, look for the Gopher team to be in the national title conversation.

3) Dave Fischer

Fischer is a player with a great pedigree that just has not grabbed his full potential for one reason or another. He always seems to be the player that is having a great game but makes one or two critical mistakes that result in turnovers in the Gopher zone and great scoring chances for the other team. If Fischer can avoid those disatrous turnovers and play a solid stay-at-home defense this year, he can be a leader on the ice and we won't see Alex Kangas getting scored on so much.

4) Cade Fairchild

Here's another player that needs to step it up on the defensive side of the puck. People are expecting great things from Fairchild offensively this year (some even going so far as to put him in contention for the Hobey Baker award), but his goal-scoring midset often led to too many offensive chances for the other team in the past couple years. If Fairchild can lead dynamic offensive rushes this year while still getting back to help out the defense on an attack the other way, we'll see less goals against and more wins for the Maroon and Gold.

5) Patrick White / Jake Hansen

Both White and Hansen were touted as goal-scorers out of high school. White led Grand Rapids to two state tournament finals and Hansen was the key piece in White Bear Lake's successes over the past few years. White, now a junior, has not done much in either of his first two campaigns wearing the "M", while Hansen had a disappointing 2 goals and 7 points overall. If either or both of these players is able to make a positive impact on the team's goal scoring this year, expect to see a much more dominant Gopher team come March.

I could go on, but these five players are some of the keys to the season this year. If we see improvements from all five, I would be surprised if the Gophers weren't making the trip out to Detroit for the Frozen Four this year. Let's hope that comes to pass.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Thoughts on the exhibition vs. the University of British Columbia

The Gophers' first game comes up this Sunday, October 4th, against the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds. The Gophers played the T-Birds in an exhibition to open the 08-09 season as well, winning that game 3-1.

This game is just an exhibition, and it will be a good chance for Coach Lucia to get a look at a lot of players before setting the starting lineups. Of course, we all remember how last year turned out, so don't think that the Gophers will be slacking in this game. I'm sure Coach Lucia and the newly-minted Coach Potulny have been getting on all the players about giving 60 minutes of hard effort each and every night. With more players on this year's roster than any other Gopher team in recent memory, roster spots will be at a premium and playing time will be something to be won by effort in practice and in games. This exhibition should be a good chance for the whole team to prove themselves and fight for some valuable ice time.

I would expect the Gophers to come out firing in this game, and although they most likely will not be as sharp as they would be several months into the season, I see the Gophers playing with something to prove, having missed the NCAA tournament after an all-around disappointing year last season.

It will be interesting to see how the freshmen adjust to their first time stepping onto the ice wearing the "M". I'm looking forward to Nick Leddy leading some coast-to-coast rushes out of the defensive zone, Zach Budish jostling for position in front of the net like a certain Mr. Potulny did in four illustrious seasons in the Maroon and Gold, and Seth Helgeson restoring a hard-nosed defensive posture to the D-corps.

I'm also looking forward to seeing how much Kent Patterson improved over the offseason. Not that I think he will challenge Alex Kangas for the starting job, but having two goalies that you can count on throughout the season just in case something were to happen is a huge component in any championship-caliber team. Patterson appeared a little shaky at times but pretty solid as a whole during his appearances between the pipes last season. We'll see if the experience he gained playing on some pretty big stages last season has helped his development.

More next time as I profile a couple players I'm looking to take it to the next level this year!