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.

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