Sunday, December 12, 2010

Missed Opportunities for Gophers and Bulldogs Result in 2-2 Tie

Coming off a surprising 3-2 victory over the #2 University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs, the Minnesota Golden Gophers had a rare chance to sweep the 12-3-2 Bulldogs, who had not been swept all year. Friday's Gopher victory stemmed from a 60-minute effort... could they give another solid effort and steal yet another win from the Bulldogs?

Sunday: 2-2 Tie

Alex Kangas did not dress for Sunday's game, so Kent Patterson got another start in net. Rightfully so, as well, since Patterson was the player of the game in Friday's contest. Patterson didn't have much to do in the first period, though, as the Gophers dominated the action.

Outshooting the Bulldogs 15-6 in the first period, the Gophers had tons and tons of scoring chances but could not convert. Perhaps the best of these chances was a Taylor Matson breakaway, but Bulldog goaltender Aaron Crandall made a big save to keep the game at a 0-0 tie. Minnesota finally did cash in on a powerplay opportunity late in the period, when Jake Hansen tipped a Justin Holl slapshot from the point, giving the Gophers another 1-0 lead. The goal came at 17:26 of the period and gave the Gophers a well-deserved lead. However, just like Friday night's game, the Bulldogs scored a last-minute goal to even the game. Duluth's high-powered scoring line struck again, as Jack Connelly sniped a shot into the upper corner of the net at 19:23 of the period to tie the game.

Friday night's game saw the Gophers come out strong in the second period despite giving up a late game-tying goal. Sunday was a different story, however. The Bulldogs absolutely and thoroughly controlled the second period from beginning to end. Duluth outshot the Gophers 22-5 in the middle frame, but Minnesota limited the damage nicely, giving up only one goal on Mike Seidel's near-perfect shot from below the circle on a strung out two-on-one attempt. Kent Patterson and the defense could do nothing to stop that shot, but other than that the Gopher defense stood tall, with lots of help from Patterson.

The Gophers kept the game within reach heading into the third, and capitalized on a great individual play from Jacob Cepis when the gritty senior forward stole the puck from a Bulldog defender and slid the puck through Crandall's five-hole to tie the game at two goals to two. After the Gopher goal at 5:24 of the period, both teams settled into their game-plans, for the first time matching each other up and down the ice. The game was very much in the balance until about the ten-minute mark of the period.

At that point, the Gophers drew a penalty when Jacob Cepis once again hustled and got tripped. Just ten seconds later, the Bulldogs cleared the puck down the ice, and Kyle Schmidt stole the puck from the Gopher defender and beat Kent Patterson. However, Schmidt's steal was ruled a hooking penalty by the referees, and the call gave the Gophers a 5-on-3 powerplay for nearly two whole minutes. Although the Gophers had a plethora of quality scoring chances, Aaron Crandall and the Bulldog defenders stiffened and turned back the Gopher attack.

Less than a minute after the Bulldog penalties expired, Max Gardiner checked a Bulldog player hard in the back, and was whistled for a five-minute major for checking-from-behind. The Bulldog powerplay now had five whole minutes to try and score against one of the worst penalty kills in the country. However, the Gophers came up with a big penalty kill and shut down the Bulldog attack. The third period finished 2-2, and the teams headed into overtime.

The overtime was fairly evenly played, and there were not too many big chances until Jacob Cepis again drew another big penalty which gave the Gophers just under two minutes of powerplay with a chance to win the game. Again, though, the Bulldog defense stopped the Gopher attackers, and both teams skated away with a hard-fought tie.

Gopher Player of the Game: Kent Patterson

Kent Patterson is again the Gopher player of the game, surrendering only two goals (on two impossible-to-save shots) on 43 Minnesota-Duluth shots. Patterson was the most important cog in keeping the game within reach once again, stopping numerous quality Bulldog chances, including all six of Minnesota-Duluth's powerplays opportunities. Without Patterson's consistent goaltending the Gophers would have been in trouble from the get-go, and Patterson was instrumental in the Gophers stealing one point tonight and three points on the weekend.


The Gophers go into the winter break at 9-7-2 overall and 6-6-2 in the WCHA. Minnesota is in a three-way tie for fifth place in the conference at 14 points, tied with Wisconsin and Colorado College. The Gophers are behind only Nebraska-Omaha (17 pts), UMD and Denver (20 pts) and North Dakota (22 pts).

I think that Minnesota has a great chance to make up some points in the standings in the second half. This team has won in the first half on talent alone. Goal scoring cannot be coached, and the Gophers have it. One would think that the defense will tighten up as the season moves along and the players learn more from their coaches as well as the very young defensive corps gains valuable WCHA experience. I can see this team pulling off a North Dakota-like run in the second half and being primed for a playoff run when the regular season is over.

The Gophers play next in the Mariucci Classic, with games against Union College and Ferris State. Both Union and Ferris State are ranked teams, so this non-conference series should be a very important for the Pairwise rankings which determine the NCAA tournament field. Let's hope the Gophers can pick up a couple wins on their way to a really good second half run!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Gophers Win a Thriller Versus #2 Minnesota-Duluth

The Minnesota Gophers face a tough challenge this weekend in the University of Minnesota-Duluth. The Bulldogs, ranked #2 in the country with a 12-2-2 record coming into the series, are a tough team with a high-end offense that is led by their first line. Mike Connelly, Jack Connelly and Justin Fontaine has combined for 27 of the team's 65 total goals (42%). The UMD powerplay has hummed along at just over 25% on the season, and with the Gophers sporting the nation's third-worst penalty kill (at 73% on the season) as well as a penchant to play poor defense in their own zone, this game looked like a blowout on paper.

However, we've seen the Gophers step up and beat good teams when they give a solid effort for a full sixty minutes. The Gophers beat a very good Michigan squad with maximum effort for three whole periods. Could they bring that work ethic against a very good UMD squad?

Friday: 3-2 Gopher Win

Don Lucia gave the nod to Kent Patterson in goal, and with the aforementioned firepower UMD possesses, Patterson would likely need to come up big if the Gophers stood a chance in the game. It would also be important for the Gophers to get on the scoreboard early. The Gophers have only won one game this year when giving up the first goal (a 2-1 win against St. Cloud State), so it was imperative that the team get off to a good start.

And they did. Just three minutes into the game, Nick Larson tipped a Seth Helgeson slapshot from the point past Bulldog goalie Kenny Reiter to give the Gophers a 1-0 lead. Shortly after, defenseman Cade Fairchild took a Bulldog check and went into the boards hard, appearing to dislocate his shoulder or break his collarbone. Fairchild did not return to the game, and his status for the rest of the season remains in doubt.

Minnesota skated with Duluth all period, at times looking like the better team, until a late powerplay gave UMD a chance to take advantage of the Gophers' lackluster penalty kill. The potent Bulldog powerplay clicked with just under 14 seconds remaining in the period, as Jack Connelly put a screened shot past Patterson to tie the game. Although Duluth had just scored, you got the sense that the Gophers still had the momentum going into the break. The fact that Minnesota had skated toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the country through twenty minutes seemed to embolden the Gophers.

The second period was a very even affair. Both teams had quality scoring opportunities, but the goalies came up big. Patterson especially made quality stops, stoning Bulldog attackers left and right with plenty of help from the short-handed defensive corps. About seven minutes into the period, Nico Sacchetti cut to the slot in the offensive zone and fired a wrister into the corner of the net, to give the Gophers another lead at 2-1. This goal really fired up the Maroon and Gold, who played with passion and vigor, generating chances and keeping Duluth on their heels. Midway through the period the Gophers drew a Bulldog penalty, and after all the bad puck luck from last year's UMD-Minnesota series (at least two UMD goals scored off of Gopher skates) the Gophers were due for a break. They got one, when a Reiter rebound bounced off of Bulldog defenseman Dylan Olsen and into the back of the net. The goal at 13:36 of the period, was unassisted to Barriball, but the Hockey Gods definitely got an assist on that one. The Gophers finished the period strong, and had a two-goal cushion going into the third period.

Scott Sandelin's intermission speech must have been pretty good, because the Bulldogs came out strong in the third period. The Gophers played into the Bulldogs' plans, going into the prevent defense and crawling into their shell. Minnesota-Duluth was piling on the offense, taking shot after shot after shot at Kent Patterson. Patterson was up to the challenge, making high degree-of-difficulty saves on shots from UMD's best players. Duluth got a boost when a questionable Mike Hoeffel high-sticking call sent them on the powerplay, and they again took advantage of a bad Gopher penalty kill. A Justin Faulk rocket slapshot hit the absolute top corner of the goal, and with just over five minutes left in the game the Bulldogs were right back in the game.

The Bulldogs put on the full court press for the last five minutes, and the Gophers could only try to hold on for dear life. Duluth pulled their goalie with just under 90 seconds left, and many mad flurries in front of the Gopher net were handled with aplomb by Patterson. However, a cross-ice pass with 20 seconds left set up Justin Fontaine with a wide open net to shoot at. Fontaine's shot was right on the money, but Kent Patterson dove from the other side of the crease and his outstretched blocker got in the way of the twine-seeking puck and batted it to the corner. The Gophers cleared the puck out of the zone and celebrated a 3-2 victory.

Gopher Player of the Game: Kent Patterson

Patterson made 37 shots on the night, none bigger than the diving save on Fontaine's snipe with the game on the line. Patterson gave the team a chance to win, and without his stellar play at the back the Gophers' three goals would never have stood up. Patterson's performance stole a huge game for the Gophers, and gives them a chance to sweep a huge series going into the winter break.

The Gophers will go for that sweep Sunday afternoon at 4 PM. I'll see you there!

Gopher Hockey Snowmageddon Update: 12/11 Game Postponed

I have just received word that the Minnesota Gopher / Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs hockey game scheduled for 7 PM tonight (12/11/10) has been postponed due to this week's version of the storm of the century. The make-up game is due to be played at 4:00 PM on Sunday, December 12th.

Hope everyone drives safe today!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Disgraceful Gophers Swept in Mankato

On a weekend that was supposed to mark a new beginning in the University of Minnesota athletic department, the feelings of woe and despair surrounding the Gopher hockey team remained uncomfortably the same.

The hiring of football Coach Jerry Kill could not overshadow the hockey team's abysmal performance, as the Gophers was swept over the weekend by the Minnesota State University - Mankato Mavericks.

Friday: 3-2 Gopher Loss

The Gophers were shorthanded before the puck was dropped. Mike Hoeffel missed the game due to a bout with the flu, and was replaced on the top line by the wildly ineffectual Patrick White. Alex Kangas got the nod between the pipes from coach Don Lucia, who was expected to go towards more of a goalie rotation than in the recent past.

Both teams played well in the opening period of the game. The play was up-and-down the rink and fairly even throughout the period, and even the goals scored were more a result of the open, flowing play than of one team dominating the other for significant stretches of the game. Mankato struck first, on a hard shot through loads of traffic by defenseman Ben Youds. Youds pulled a very familiar Mike Vannelli-like move, faking a shot at the point and sidestepping his man to find an open shooting lane. The goal, at 6:12 of the period, gave the Mavericks an early lead, and as we all know the Gophers have only won one game this year when they give up the first goal. The game they won, though, was one in which they struck back right after giving up the lead, and the Gophers did that again Friday as Nick Bjugstad fought through a defender to reach the puck lying open in the crease and nudged it across the goal line to tie the game at one goal a piece less than two minutes after the Youds marker. However, Mankato took full advantage of a Gopher penalty kill that ranks in the bottom three in the nation and scored a power play tally at 13:11 of the period to re-take the lead. The play continued to be fast and even for the remainder of the period, and it did not appear that one team was much better than the other. Surprising, considering the Gophers were 5-4-1 in the WCHA prior to the weekend slate while Mankato was 2-6-2. The Mavericks always seem to step up their game versus the Gophers, but eventually the Gophers edge in talent would surely wear away at the Maverick will. Right?

The second period saw a little bit of a Gopher letdown. The defense softened enough to let Maverick forward Adam Mueller to walk out of the corner with the puck, and Alex Kangas softened up quite a bit in letting Mueller's weak backhander get through the five-hole and into the net, giving the Mavericks an important two goal cushion. Nick Larson and Nico Sacchetti hooked up past the midway point of the period to get the Gophers back within one and a little more jump into their steps. Sacchetti's long shot from the blue-line was kicked aside by Mankato goalie Phil Cook, but Nick Larson beat his man to the rebound and fired it past Cook to get the Gophers within one goal again. There were no more goals the rest of the period, but the Gophers stepped their games back up to the same level as Mankato, who had showed no signs of letting down throughout forty minutes.

The Gophers really started to put the pressure on in the third period, firing shot after shot at the Maverick's Cook. Cook, however, was equal to the task. The Gophers had plenty of chances in the period, including several powerplay opportunities and a 6-on-4 advantage for the last minute of the game, but Cook stoned Minnesota to lead the Mavericks to victory.

The Gopher player of the game Friday has to be Nick Larson. Larson again scored a big goal to get the team back into the game. His hustle has always been the most prominent aspect of his game, but if he can mix a little scoring punch in like he has been the last couple weekend he could become a very valuable player to the Gophers shortly.

Saturday: 2-1 Gopher Loss

The result of this game ended up being the same as Friday night, but the feel of the game was completely different. The Gophers dominated every facet of the game, but their inability to finish and terrible special teams doomed them to a zero point weekend.

Kent Patterson got the start in net and again looked like he was the veteran goalie of the Gopher tandem. Patterson played well, stopping 30 shots in total, but the real story was Phil Cook, who stood on his head and amassed 49 saves during the game.

The first period was another fast paced one, but the play favored the Gophers. Jay Barriball and Jake Hansen each had breakaway opportunities that were stopped by Cook (or, in Hansen's case, he lost control of the puck before he was able to get a shot on goal). Nick Bjugstad's can't-miss one time attempt was thwarted when the freshman's stick broke on the shot attempt, and Bjugstad had another goal disallowed when Nate Condon was in the crease and impeded Cook's path to make the save. Kent Patterson was solid if not spectacular, and Mankato was lucky to get out of the period with a 0-0 tie given the amount of quality scoring chances the Gophers piled up.

The second period was very similar to the first. The Gophers put tons of shots on goal and had numerous good opportunities, but again Cook stopped everything the Gophers threw at him. A late powerplay gave the Mavericks a chance to take the lead going into the third period, and they did not disappoint, with Rylan Galiardi scoring at 19:11. The way Phil Cook was playing, it appeared that the one goal might be all Mankato would need.

However, the Gophers put on the full-court press in the third. Minnesota recorded 23 shots on net during the period, and got another breakaway opportunity from Jay Barriball (who missed). Mankato's Kurt Davis gave the Mavericks that all-important two goal lead when he scored on a half-breakaway by firing a rocket from the left circle past Patterson's glove side and off the inside of the post before settling into the twine. Davis' goal did not break the backs of the Gophers, as Cade Fairchild tucked a bouncing puck into the net just 39 seconds after the Davis goal to get the Gophers back within one.

Mad scramble would be a good way to define the Gophers charge to the finish, with Minnesota putting chance after chance at goaltender Cook. Again, though, Cook steered aside all the Gopher chances. A Cade Fairchild slashing penalty at 19:47 ended the Gophers chances and sealed the victory for the Mavericks. The Gophers finished with 50 shots on goal, but only one of those shots made it past Cook, who was outstanding in the victory.

The Gopher player of the game Saturday was Nick Bjugstad. Bjugstad is really starting to come into his own over the past couple weekends, using his large frame to play with a physical edge as well as his tremendous skill to stickhandle through opponents and put himself in a position to score. Bjugstad should have scored twice on Saturday, and I don't think it's any fluke that he's picked up his scoring over the past month.

Three Gopher Stars of the Weekend

Third Star: Mike Hoeffel

Although Hoeffel didn't play in Friday's game, he made his presence felt in Saturday's contest. Hoeffel is at his best when he's in the corners, scrumming for the puck and digging it out to continue the offensive rally. A healthy, productive Hoeffel could be the cure for what ails the Gophers moving into the second half of the season.

Second Star: Kent Patterson

Patterson has moved up to the #1 goalie on Minnesota's depth chart, and rightfully so. He rarely gives up soft goals and plays solid positionally all the time. Having two solid goaltenders is a good thing, and Patterson continues to show that he is a viable option as a starting goalie.

First Star: Nick Bjugstad

Bjugstad really impressed this weekend, using size and skill to put himself in position very frequently to help out the team. Bjugstad should have scored two goals on Saturday, and his goal on Friday was all hustle. The Gophers will need his scoring punch if they look to rebound from the sweep at the hands of the Mavericks.


The Gophers head into their toughest series yet, at home against the visiting Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs. Duluth has only lost two games so far this year, and they could steamroll a unsure Gopher team. If the Gophers can steal two points this weekend I think that should be considered a success. Frankly, my money is on one point for the Maroon and Gold.

See you at the rink!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

College Hockey Showcase: 3 Gopher Stars of the Weekend

Here are the three Gopher players who shined during the College Hockey Showcase:

Third Star(s): Nick Larson and Taylor Matson

Both Larson and Matson provided great effort in both games of the showcase, and both Larson and Matson scored huge goals. Matson's goal brought the Gophers to within one goal of Michigan State at 3-2, and Nick Larson put the Gophers up 2-0 in the game against Michigan. Their effort and goal scoring nab Larson and Matson the #3 stars of the weekend.

Second Star: Erik Haula

Haula was instrumental in the 3-1 Michigan victory, getting many scoring opportunities of his own while providing many more opportunities for others. Haula scored the biggest goal of the game, the separation goal that made the game 3-1 right after Michigan had scored to narrow the Gopher lead to one. Haula's offensive output nets him the #2 star.

First Star: Alex Kangas

Kangas allowed three goals on the weekend in five and a half periods of action, and a case could be made that none of those goals were his fault. Kangas made the stops that he needed to make and kept the Gophers in both games on the weekend, including a big shorthanded breakaway stop against Michigan in the third period. The Gophers need Alex Kangas to be as good as he can be, and hopefully this weekend will springboard Kangas back to the level of play that we're used to out of him. A Kangas-Patterson rotation should be solid for the Gophers down the stretch. Kangas's solid, steady play gets him the weekend's #1 star.

Gophers Play Best "Full" Game of the Season, Beat Michigan 3-1

As if an ugly loss Friday night at the hands of then 4-6-3 Michigan State wasn't bad enough, the Gophers were set to host the then-#8 Michigan Wolverines (8-3-4 overall coming into the game) in the last ever game of the College Hockey Showcase on Sunday afternoon. Would the Gophers give a good effort and play like they're capable of, or would they again mail it in and allow Michigan to walk all over them?

Sunday: 3-1 Gopher Win

I was actually quite nervous after the first ten minutes of the game. Michigan had tilted the ice and was constantly on the attack. However, the Gopher defense played a superb game all around, and goalie Alex Kangas was up to the task, stopping all 11 Michigan shots that came his way in the first. The Gophers did a nice job weathering the Wolverine storm before taking advantage of an offensive opportunity of their own at 14:50 of the period. Nate Condon and Jacob Cepis darted into the Michigan zone on a two-on-one, and Cepis slid a perfect pass through a Michigan defender to Condon, who made a nifty move and put the puck past Bryan Hogan for a 1-0 Minnesota lead. After the goal, the Gophers settled down and started to dictate the pace of the game. This would last until the last several minutes of the game.

The Gophers came out in the second period much like the last five minutes of the first, controlling play (for the most part) and getting several good chances. However, an Aaron Ness checking from behind call at 10:03 of the period put the Wolverines on a five minute powerplay. Great penalty kill efforts by nearly all the Gopher team allowed Minnesota to kill off the major, and one of the loudest roars of the season thus far in Mariucci Arena was heard when the Gophers returned to full strength. The penalty kill gave the Gophers all the momentum in the world, and it didn't take long before the team capitalized, with Nick Larson rocketing a slapshot past Bryan Hogan to give the Gophers that all-important two goal lead. The goal, at 17:10 of the period, was followed up quickly by Michigan's first goal of the game at 18:05, an effort goal that saw Scooter Vaughan take the puck from behind the net and jam it twice into Alex Kangas before getting it to squeeze past the Minnesota goalie and into the net. However, just seconds later Michigan had taken a penalty, and with only 16 seconds remaining on the clock Erik Haula took a goalmouth pass from Mike Hoeffel and roofed it for the Gophers' third goal of the game. A huge goal, it gave the Gophers another separation goal as well as the momentum heading into the locker room.

A solid Alex Kangas third period was all she wrote for the Wolverines. Kangas shut down Michigan, stopping 11 shots in the period to seal the victory. Michigan outshot the Gophers 11-4 in the period, and their desperation was obvious throughout the last 15 minutes of the game. However, Kangas and the Gopher defense were up to the challenge. You have to especially appreciate the effort of the Gopher defensemen, who had to play the second half of the game without Aaron Ness, who is arguably the best defensive defenseman on the team. All of the remaining defensemen (Kevin Wehrs, Cade Fairchild, Seth Helgeson, Mark Alt and Justin Holl) played good games to keep Michigan off the board in the third.

Gopher Player of the Game: Alex Kangas

Kangas stopped 35 Michigan shots to grab the victory for the Gophers. He was stellar when the Gophers needed it the most - in the first ten minutes of the game and the last ten minutes of the game - when Michigan was attacking hard. For his rock solid effort between the pipes, senior alternate captain Alex Kangas earns the Player of the Game honors.


Strange weekend for the Gophers. They lose horribly to a bad Michigan State team, and then come back and put together a great win against a very good Michigan squad. The key to this team is effort. If the Gophers play 10 good minutes of hockey like they did in the MSU game, they can lose to just about anybody. If, however, they play 50 good minutes of hockey, they can beat just about anybody. A win over Michigan WILL be big in the Pairwise rankings at the end of the year, and such a complete effort will hopefully be something the team can build on. Let's see if the Gophers can get two wins in Mankato this weekend and really turn the corner.

Friday Blues Continue at Home as Gophers Lose 5-2 to Michigan State

The Minnesota Gophers entered the final year of the annual College Hockey Showcase riding high. They were winners of two straight and had gone 5-1-1 in their last seven. The Michigan State Spartans, on the other hand, had lost three straight contests and were 1-6-0 in their last seven games.

None of that seemed to matter Friday night at Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis, though, as the Spartans scored three goals in the first ten minutes of the game to take a lead they wouldn't relinquish, winning 5-2.

The Gophers actually came out of the gate looking like the better team, racking up 12 shots on goal despite not having any powerplay opportunities. However, a combination of poor defensive-zone coverage and bad puck luck doomed Minnesota in the first. Michigan State's sophomore captain Torey Krug struck first with a powerplay tally from the point that ping-ponged through several defenders before trickling over the goal line behind Gopher starter Kent Patterson and into the net. The goal, at 2:26 of the period, was followed quickly by another just 22 seconds later, this on a two-on-one rush that saw Dustin Gazley deposit a Daultan Leveille pass past Patterson. Not even three minutes into the game and the Gophers were down 2-0 already, and things would get worse before they got better. A Brett Perlini goal which was very nearly waived off due to being played with a high stick gave the Spartans a 3-0 lead only 8:48 into the period, and it gave the Spartans a lead which would prove insurmountable. After this goal Alex Kangas came off the bench to relieve Patterson, and played solidly the rest of the frame.

The period concluded with no more goals scored, but the damage was already done, and the Gophers entered the locker room with a sizable hole to climb out of, like they've done every Friday home game thus far with the exception of the very first game of the season. The Gophers have played five Friday home games so far, and have trailed 3-0, 4-0, 5-0 and 6-0 at some point four of those five games. The coaching staff needs to prepare this team better to come out and play on Fridays at home - it's tough to win when you're down three-plus goals right out of the chute. It seems like the Gophers just give up when they allow the first goal. The team, 8-5-1 on the year, is 7-0-1 when they score the first goal and 1-5-0 when giving up the first goal. The players need to realize that the game isn't over if they give up the first goal - good teams find a way to win, and this team needs to dig deep and find a way to pull themselves back into games. I'm sick and tired of watching the Gophers give up the first goal and knowing that more than likely they're going to pack it in for the rest of the game. Come back strong and compete!

Minnesota attempted to come back strong in the second period. The Gophers carried most of the play, and broke through on a Cade Fairchild powerplay goal. A shot from the high slot got through a screen and between Spartan goalie Drew Palmisano's legs to get the Maroon and Gold on the board. It actually looked to me like Jake Hansen got his stick on the puck just before it trickled over the goal line, and originally the goal was credited to Mike Hoeffel. The goal occurred at 5:46 of the period and gave the Gophers another burst of life. After generating several more quality scoring opportunities, Mike Hoeffel intercepted a Spartan cross-ice pass and was in alone on Palmisano. Hoeffel fired the puck right into the netminder's glove, though, and the score remained 3-1. The opportunity was not wasted, as just moments later at 10:19 of the period Hoeffel fed Taylor Matson on a two-on-one and Matson unleashed a slapshot from the middle of the right circle that beat Palmisano and drew the Gophers to within one at 3-2.

The Gophers and Spartans traded chances the remainder of the period, with the Gophers retaining the edge in quality opportunities, until the final two minutes of the second. Michigan State broke into the Gopher zone on a two-on-one, and bad luck once again struck Minnesota as Dustin Gazely's cross-ice pass deflected off of Seth Helgeson's stick and into the back of the Gopher net, giving Michigan State a crucial two-goal lead heading into the second intermission. The goal, at 18:10 of the period, completely deflated the team, whose comeback hopes were now put aback once again. The goal was also the first one that Alex Kangas had given up in the game, after having played solidly throughout the first and second periods. This goal was not Kangas' fault, as the puck glanced off of Helgeson's stick before coming to rest behind the Gopher goalkeeper.

The third period was an exercise in and of itself, with the Gophers showing relatively little passion. That passion was all but extinguished when Derek Grant, earlier given a 10 minute misconduct, pulled the puck out of the corner on the powerplay and walked all alone to the net before top-shelfing a shot to give the Spartans their fifth goal of the game. This goal wasn't on Kangas, either, as Grant had no Minnesota player within 15 feet of him.

The game ended at the score of 5-2, and the Gophers played like they deserved it. Only several players showed any will to win or passion, and only one of those players deserves the title of Player of the Game.

Gopher Player of the Game: Taylor Matson

Matson always shines in games when the team phones it in, because #9 ALWAYS plays hard. He's finally getting rewarded, too. Matson continues to see action above his usual fourth-line role, and has already scored six goals on the year, good for third on the team. Matson's goal in this game was a big one, too: it brought the Gophers back within one at the time. Matson's strong, consistent effort and his ability to get on the scoresheet net him the Player of the Game in this one.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Gophers Take on CCHA's Michigan, Michigan State in College Hockey Showcase this Weekend

This weekend the Gophers square off against Michigan State and Michigan in the College Hockey Showcase, the traditional Thanksgiving-weekend "tournament" that pits historic hockey rivals Michigan and Michigan State against Minnesota and Wisconsin. There are rumors circulating that this year could very well be the last year of the Showcase, as Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez has pulled UW from the showcase next year. While I'll be sad to see the showcase go, here's hoping what could be the last one goes Minnesota's way.

The Gophers will face off against Michigan State Friday night and will play Michigan Sunday afternoon (Gopher Football plays Iowa on Saturday, which explains the Friday-Sunday dates for hockey).

Michigan State is having a down year this year, carrying a 4-6-3 overall record and a 2-6-1 mark in the CCHA. They started off the season strong at 3-0-3 with three big points coming against now number 10 ranked Maine. However, the Spartans are reeling of late, having lost six of their last seven contests.

Michigan, however, is its usual solid self, currently sitting eighth in the polls after an 8-3-3 start including a split with Nebraska-Omaha. Red Berenson's team is always skilled and can always fly up and down the ice, so expect this game to be a shootout between the Gophers and the Wolverines.

The Gophers, of course, are riding a little momentum of their own, having swept Michigan Tech in Houghton, MI last weekend. One of the big mysteries is whether or not senior goaltender Alex Kangas will be between the pipes at all this weekend, as Kent Patterson has played surprisingly well in usurping the starting job from the perennial favorite Kangas. My money is on the goalies splitting duties this weekend, with Kangas getting the Michigan State game and Patterson between the pipes for the game against Michigan. I'll be at both games so I will be able to provide the recaps and insights that you've come to expect this weekend!

Go Gophers!

Minnesota Gophers Win Both Games in Houghton, Sweep at Michigan Tech

Last weekend the Gopher Hockey team went up to Houghton, Michigan to face the Michigan Tech Huskies. Although the Huskies have been cellar-dwellers in the WCHA for the past fifteen years, they always are tough at home and teams don't often come back from Houghton with four points. The Gophers, powered by Mike Hoeffel's four goal weekend, won two important games (Friday 6-4 and Saturday 4-1) and netted four big points to stay in the hunt for the WCHA title.

I was not able to see the games, as Fox Sports North did not carry them from Houghton, so I will refer you to the USCHO recaps of the game. Friday night's recap is HERE and Saturday night's recap is HERE

I was able to listen to much of the games, though, and was able to form some opinions. Here were my thoughts:

1) I was very surprised that Patterson played both nights. He did get the win on Friday, but gave up four goals in the process. I would've expected Kangas to play Saturday. Maybe Coach Lucia is starting to trust Patterson? He's now 6-0-1 when backstopping the Maroon and Gold, so what's not to trust?

2) Mike Hoeffel had a big weekend, and it's about time. Hoeffel needs to be one of the big goal scoring threats on this team if the Gophers are going to have a chance to contend. With the four goal weekend, Hoeffel now has seven goals to his name this year and is fourth on the team in scoring with 12 points in 12 games. It's good to have another imminent offensive threat mixed into those top six forwards - that can only open up space for Jay Barriball and Erik Haula.

3) It sounded like Saturday night's contest was Nick Bjugstad's coming out party. He scored his first Gopher goal on an empty-netter with one second left in the game, but it was his stickhandling and playmaking abilities throughout the game that left Michigan Tech players in the dust. Coach Lucia put Bjugstad on the wing and kept Condon centering the second line (something I mentioned in my last post) which appeared to be good for all parties. Hopefully Bjugstad can continue to dazzle the rest of the season.

4) I don't care what anyone says about these being "easy" wins... there's never an easy win in the WCHA and the Gophers came away with four big points when they needed them. Minnesota is now sitting at fifth in the conference at 11 points, two points behind Nebraska-Omaha (who has played two less games than the Gophers) and three points behind North Dakota. I think the Gophers have done what they needed to do thus far to keep themselves in the race, and I think a second-half surge is possible given this team's scoring prowess (sixth in the country at 3.83 goals per game, which ranks third in the conference behind Nebraska-Omaha and Minnesota-Duluth). This is a team that could very well get better as the year goes on and be in prime position come playoff time.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Gopher Hockey Injury Update: Mono-Stricken Bjugstad, Parenteau Return to Health, Lineup

Don't look now, but there's actually good news hovering around the University of Minnesota Men's Hockey team this week.

After a string of unfortunate illnesses and injuries, Gopher coach Don Lucia stated in his weekly radio show Monday night that four players that had been out due to injury or illness would return to the lineup this weekend.

Most importantly, this weekend's slate of games against the Michigan Tech Huskies should be the first games back for Nick Bjugstad, who was forced out of the last five games with Mononucleosis. Bjugstad left as the center of the second line, but his return to that spot could be complicated with the emergence of Nate Condon, who has blossomed centering the number two line. Bjugstad struggled playing center on the second line in his five games, posting just one assist and playing fairly ineffectually on both sides of the ice. I would like to see him moved to the wing and have the second line feature Condon, Bjugstad and Jacob Cepis, but I have a feeling Coach Lucia will keep Bjugstad at center, forcing Condon down to the third line and Taylor Matson down to the fourth line.

Lucia also confirmed that Gophers Nick Larson, Patrick White and Jake Parenteau are all healthy and available to play this weekend. Larson was nursing an ankle injury suffered several weeks ago in practice. Expect him to play extended minutes this weekend, as Larson's penalty killing abilities were missed with him out. White had been suffering from the flu, but Coach Lucia stated that he should be back and healthy come the weekend. Parenteau is the real surprise here. He came down with mono just a week or two ago, but Lucia speculated that he may have had the disease before because his body was able to fight it off much more quickly than normal. So quickly that Parenteau is available to play this weekend.

Of course, Zach Budish is still out for the season with a torn ACL, but he will be able to apply for a medical redshirt so he should enter next season as a sophomore. Still, that is a big blow to a team that could have used the skills Budish brought to the table.

There is no television broadcast of the games this weekend, but an online stream can be found on Michigan Tech's website. The cost of the service is $12 for both of the games this weekend.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Gopher Hockey Recruiting Update: 2012 Class gets Boost from A.J. Michaelson Commitment

I have just learned that Apple Valley's A.J. Michaelson has verbally committed to the University of Minnesota.

This is a huge pickup for the Gophers. Michaelson is the most sought after 1994 DOB in the state, notching 19 goals and 16 assists in 24 games as a high school freshman last season for Apple Valley. He joins highly touted defenseman Brady Skjei in the incoming class of 2012, along with Travis Boyd of the US National Development Program out in Ann Arbor (formerly of Hopkins High School), Mike Reilly of Shattuck-St. Mary's Prep, and Adam Wilcox, who is the cousin of former UMD goalie Alex Stalock.

The 2012 class looks to be shaping up as a great one, with Michaelson and Boyd providing the scoring punch, Skjei as the big defensive defenseman and Reilly as the small Crowley-type guy, and Wilcox as a very well regarded goalkeeping prospect.

Up next is a look at the Gophers 2011 Class.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Border Battle: Minnesota's Three Stars of the Weekend

Here are the three Gopher Stars of the Weekend, as selected by yours truly:

Third Star: Taylor Matson

Matson's consistent effort has resulted in a move up the depth chart and an increased responsibility to score. Unlike many players over the past several years, Matson has accepted bearing more of the scoring load, and the early returns are good. Matson has been moved up to the third line center with the absence of Nick Bjugstad due to mono, and has responded with four goals in the past four games, including the all-important first goal of the game Saturday against the Badgers. Matson is an important player to this team because he provides both effort on the penalty kill and some scoring touch to the bottom-six forwards. Matson's all-around effort earns him the number three star of the weekend.

Second Star: Jay Barriball

I don't know how it happens, but Jay Barriball always seems to be in the right place at the right time. Barriball has keen hockey sense, and his awareness allows him to be in position to score whenever the puck squirts to him. Never was that more evident than in Saturday's overtime period, when he somehow found himself with the puck right in the slot. Of course, the Gopher captain did not bury the puck in the back of the net, but he does it pretty frequently. Barriball leads the country in goal scoring, and his high-octane offense is what the Gophers will need to compete this season. He scored a huge go-ahead goal in the second period on Saturday, and for that Jay Barriball earns the number two star.

First Star: Kent Patterson

Patterson is now 4-0-1 on the season as a starting goaltender. He boasts a .917 save percentage and a 2.36 goals against average. Patterson keeps the Gophers in games and rarely gives up a big lead which the team cannot come back from. Patterson kept the Gophers in the game Saturday, making big saves in the overtime period to preserve the tie and the single point. For that, Patterson gets the number one star on the weekend.

Wisconsin Ekes Out Tie on Late Goal, Departs Minnesota with Three Point Weekend

After their 6-0 drubbing at the hands of the rival Wisconsin Badgers on Friday night, the Minnesota Gophers were looking to get off to a quick start and avoid digging themselves another big hole to start the game. Would the Maroon and Gold be able to get themselves off the mat and play a good game against a good team?

Saturday: 3-3 Tie

Saturday's game saw another lineup change in goal, as junior Kent Patterson spelled alternate captain Alex Kangas after an abysmal performance by the senior the night before that saw the Gophers give up six goals and score zero. While the sting of a 6-0 defeat should have been enough to get the team motivated, it was Wisconsin that came out with energy and carried the play throughout the first few minutes of the game. Wisconsin controlled the puck for the first four minutes of the game and generated several quality scoring chances. However, the momentum swung in the Gophers' direction as Taylor Matson deked Badger goalie Brett Bennett on a Gopher odd-man rush and deposited the puck in the back of the net, giving the Gophers a 1-0 lead just 4:18 into the game. A Jacob Cepis powerplay tally at 11:41 of the period gave the Gophers a big separation goal and a 2-0 lead just half a period into the game. Wisconsin came roaring back with a powerplay goal of their own with just over two minutes remaining in the first, and the Badgers headed into intermission down 2-1 but very much in the game.

The second period opened with a quick strike from Wisconsin's Jordy Murray. The man-advantage goal evened the score at two goals apiece just 3:39 into the period. The next fifteen minutes of the second period were evenly matched, as both teams attempted to re-establish their game plans in what became essentially a 30 minute game. There would not be another goal until 18:47 of the period, when Jay Barriball took a Cade Fairchild pass from the high slot and fired a slapshot that beat goalie Brett Bennett to give the Gophers a 3-2 lead, which they held onto until the period expired.

The Gophers came out firing in the third period, generating several two-on-one chances and creating sustained pressure for the first five minutes of the period. However, Bennett stood tall and kept his team in the game, refusing to allow any goals to the Gopher attack. After the Gopher attack settled down, the game once again reverted to more of a "wait and see" mode. Wisconsin was content with playing solid defense and waiting to take their chances when they occurred. Finally, at 17:06 of the period, Jordy Murray scrummed the puck behind the Gopher net and it somehow squirted out and past Kent Patterson for a Wisconsin game-tying goal. Patterson was visibly upset with the ruling, believing that he had covered the puck long enough to merit a whistle. After review, though, the goal stood and the game was tied at three. Both teams battled hard but the game headed into overtime.

Wisconsin was the better team in the extra period, finding themselves on the receiving end of numerous grade-A chances. Gopher goalie Patterson made the key stops, though, and Brett Bennett made saves on the two Gopher scoring chances to preserve the tie.

Gopher Player of the Game

I liked the effort I saw out of Kent Patterson in this game. The Gopher netminder was rock solid between the pipes in the first several minutes of the game when Wisconsin came out hot. After that, Patterson didn't have to make all that many big saves in regulation, but Wisconsin was out for blood in overtime and Patterson kept the puck out of the net when he absolutely needed to. Good performance from the goalkeeper, who is now 4-0-1 in his five starts at goalie. This team will only go so far as defense can take them, and they need a goaltender who can keep them in the game. Over the first bit of the season, Patterson has been that guy.


I see this as a setback for the Gophers. Coming off of a big weekend in Colorado Springs that could have been a turning point, the team lost and tied at home to a Wisconsin team that has just as many question-marks as Minnesota. One thing I noticed, though, is that nearly all of Wisconsin's goals were created by the Badger players driving to the net. The Gophers have very few players capable and willing to do that, and one of them (Zach Budish) is now out for the season. The Gophers need to get grittier and need to be okay with getting their noses dirty if they want to score goals in the WCHA. They need to find a couple more guys that are willing to do the dirty work if they want to count themselves as one of the upper-echelon programs in the country again.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A New Low: Gophers Trounced 6-0 by Visiting Badgers

All the talk about the Minnesota Gophers coming into this series with momentum and having turned a corner sure took a hit on Friday night, when the arch-rival Wisconsin Badgers manhandled the Maroon and Gold to the tune of a 6-0 score Friday night at Mariucci Arena.

There was lots of drama leading up to the game. Along with deciding on new line combinations following the Zach Budish season-ending moped accident, Gopher head coach Don Lucia had a goaltender situation on his hands. The team had won three straight ahead of erstwhile backup Kent Patterson, but the Gophers's supposed number one goalie Alex Kangas has languished on the bench during that time. In his previous three games, Kangas had allowed the opposing teams to get off to early leads, surrendering 3-0, 4-0 and 5-0 starts before the Gophers could rally for a goal.

Friday: 6-0 Gopher Loss

Lucia went with Kangas on Friday night, hoping to let him shake off the rust and get back to form. Early on in the game, Kangas looked solid, stopping quality shots and keeping the team in it. Solid offensive zone play by Gopher forward Mike Hoeffel led to several chances, but goaltender Scott Gudmandson stopped all nine first period shots the Gophers launched. The visitors got on the board with a late first period tally by Wisconsin's Michael Mersch. That goal would turn out to be all the offense that the Badgers needed.

Wisconsin scored early and often in the second period, with a 1:50 tally by Derek Lee giving the Badgers a two goal lead, followed by goals from Jordy Murray, Michael Mersch and Mark Zengerle to give the Badgers a commanding 5-0 lead. Coach Lucia stuck with Alex Kangas throughout the night, but when it was all said and done a mid-third period goal by Wisconsin's Tyler Barnes gave the Badgers a 6-0 lead, which would be their final margin of victory. Badger goalie Gudmandson recorded the shutout, his first of the season.

Gopher Player of the Game

Tough to pick a player of the game in a 6-0 defeat, but I'm going to give it to Mike Hoeffel. Hoeffel looked good in the game, controlling the puck when he was on the ice and creating offensive chances. The Gophers will certainly need to capitalize on a few more of those chances tonight if they wish to compete with the Badgers.


In the weekend preview, I billed this matchup as a clash of systems. Could Wisconsin's defense-first style stop the Gophers' run-and-gun method of play? Last night's answer was a resounding "YES" Wisconsin was better than Minnesota for nearly the entirety of the game. The Gophers will need to tighten up defensively, something they did such a good job of in the second game of the St. Cloud State series and in the first game of the Colorado College series. The Gophers gave up 38 shots on goal to the Badgers Friday night. That has got to improve tremendously. The Gophers need to take a page from Wisconsin's book and start playing some good defense in front of their goaltender. Hopefully they can do that tonight as Kent Patterson will undoubtedly get the start. Two points and a split is all that the Gophers can hope for at this point. After such a drubbing, I'm guessing Minnesota comes out fired up and seeking a little revenge. Look for a more physical contest, as it seems like these two teams never play each other without a few little scuffles on the ice.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Gopher Hockey Injury Update: Budish, Nick Larson Hurt; Bjugstad and Parenteau Out with Mono

The Gophers cannot avoid the big injury over the last several years. Over the last three seasons, the Gophers have sustained season-ending injuries to key players on their rosters. In 2007-2008, Ryan Stoa went down with a knee injury after just two games. Taylor Matson tore up his knee in 2008-2009, and Matson went down again along with Jay Barriball in 2009-2010. In 2010-2011, Zach Budish has gone down for the season.

Budish was involved in a moped accident on campus this week. Preliminary reports indicate that Budish has torn his ACL and will be out for the remainder of the season.

This is a gigantic blow to the Gophers' chances this season. Budish was a player that was coming into his own. He was just learning to use his talent and his body to become a force out on the ice. The Gophers will likely replace Budish in the lineup with some combination of Patrick White, Tom Serratore, Jared Larson and Max Gardiner, but Budish's presence will be missed in the Gopher lineup.

Also on the Gopher injury report is forward Nick Larson. Larson took a puck to the ankle in practice several weeks ago and has been out of the lineup since. Larson is a solid third/fourth line forward who logs a lot of ice time on the penalty kill. Larson may be back for the Wisconsin series, but if not he'll definitely be back after the bye week the team as following their weekend set against the Badgers.

The Gophers have two other players out due to mono. Nick Bjugstad and Jake Parenteau both came down with the debilitating sickness and are likely to miss another 3-6 weeks. Bjugstad could be back as early as 3 weekends from now, but mono is an illness that takes its toll differently with different people. In any case, look to see both of these players out of the lineup for a substantial period of time.

The Gophers' supposed depth is going to be tested with three regulars and one important backup out of the lineup. The freshmen and the role players need to step it up if the Gophers can continue their winning streak.

Border Battle Preview: Gophers vs. Badgers

This weekend's series pits the Minnesota Gophers (5-3-0 Overall, 3-3-0 WCHA) against the Wisconsin Badgers (5-2-1 Overall, 2-1-1 WCHA) in a classic matchup of powerhouse teams. The two teams have 11 national championships between them, and both have a history of playing great hockey. The Gophers lead the all-time series 153-84-18, and Minnesota also leads the series 15-11-4 since the beginning of the 2003-2004.

Under head coach Mike Eaves, the Badgers always play good defense. This year is no exception. Despite losing three key defensemen in Ryan McDonagh, Brendan Smith and Cody Goloubef from last year's squad, the Badgers are still playing solid team defense. Wisconsin is giving up only 1.9 goals per game, and is scoring just under 4.3 per game. Their two losses on the year were in the first game of the year against a good Boston University team and at Denver. Wisconsin is coming off a home sweep of Michigan Tech. Prior to that series, the team lost and tied at Denver.

As we well know, the Gophers are a team with a high-octane offense thus far. They seem to be adept at scoring goals and not so good at preventing opposing teams from scoring. The Gophers score 4.1 goals per game and give up 3.4. Minnesota is on a three-game winning streak, with a good win over St. Cloud State prior to a dismantling sweep of Colorado College. The Gophers should have tons of momentum heading into this series.

This game should be a clash of coaching schemes. Can the run-and-gun offense of Minnesota break through the defensive wall of the Wisconsin defense, or does Wisconsin's stifling neutral-zone trap keep the Gophers off the board?

As always, the Minnesota-Wisconsin series should be a good one. It will be played with high energy and high emotion, and if either team comes out of this series with more than two points it could be a launching point into the rest of the season.

See you at the rink!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Gophers Erupt for 13 Goals, Rip Colorado College for Rare Away Sweep

The Minnesota Golden Gopher hockey team has shown flashes of brilliance amidst signs of mediocrity this year. The team has played lock-down defense for a period here and there during some games. They've exploded for multiple goals in several periods this year. However, the team has put both offense and defense together for a full game maybe once or twice in the past several years.

The Gophers were coming off one of those "put it all together" games last Sunday, a hard-fought 2-1 victory against a good St. Cloud State team. Could Minnesota bottle that effort and carry it into Colorado Springs for a tough two game series against the Colorado College Tigers?

Friday: 4-1 Gopher Win

With Kent Patterson getting his second straight start in goal, the Gophers looked to improve to 3-0-0 with the former Blake standout between the pipes. The first period got off to a cagey start, with both teams attempting to establish their game plans. The Gophers got on the board first at 10:53 of the period, with freshman center Erik Haula scoring his second goal of the season on a shorthanded odd-man rush. The tally was the Gophers first shorthanded goal of the season. The goal marked the first time the Gophers scored first in a game since the second UMass contest, when senior captain Jay Barriball scored a natural hat-trick in the first period and the Gophers held on to win 5-4.

The Gophers held the advantage in play during the second half of the first period as it seemed like Haula's goal allowed Minnesota to play the game at their own pace and tempo. The Gophers generated several scoring chances before Taylor Matson popped a long rebound past CC goalie Joe Howe to give the Gophers a two-goal cushion heading into the intermission.

The second period played out very similar to the beginning of the first, with both teams trying to establish their own game plans and neither team getting much traction in that effort. Midway through the period, however, Colorado College's Jaden Schwartz beat Gopher goalie Kent Patterson to bring the Tigers within one goal at 2-1. Both teams played well throughout the rest of the period, with Colorado College edging the Gophers in shots at 10-8, but as both teams skated into the locker rooms at intermission the score remained 2-1.

The third period was fast and tense. Colorado College generated several great scoring chances but Kent Patterson was up to the task, stopping quality shot after quality shot that he faced. The Gopher forwards and defensemen played a huge role in front of Patterson, clearing out rebounds and would-be CC goal-scorers from in front of the Minnesota net. The score remained at 2-1 until late in the third, when a botched CC clearing attempt resulted in an Aaron Ness slapshot from the point, which was redirected by Taylor Matson and past Tiger goalie Howe for a much-needed insurance goal. The tally was the nail in the coffin for the Tigers, who pulled their goalie but to no avail when Jay Barriball buried the puck in the back of the empty net to give the Gophers a 4-1 lead and a hard-fought road win.

Saturday: 9-4 Gopher Win

Puck luck is an interesting thing. It is elusive, and it has an uncanny ability to bite your team when it hurts the worst. One other important fact about puck luck is that the Gophers have had very little of it over the last several years. Goals bounce in off of your own defenseman's skates, shots hit the post and stay out on breakaway chances, you name it and the Gophers have had it recently. However, some of that ethereal puck luck finally found its way into the Minnesota dressing room Saturday night, where nearly every shot the team took found its way into the back of the net.

Kent Patterson was the starting goaltender again on Saturday, and he didn't have to wait long to be playing with the lead - just 53 seconds to be exact. Zach Budish put the puck past Tiger goalie Joe Howe to grab an early lead. Colorado College would even the game up soon after, though, on a Jaden Schwartz goal at 10:56 of the first. Minnesota responded right back with two quick goals - a Taylor Matson strike at 14:02 of the period and a Patrick White tally at 17:14 of the frame - to give the Gophers that all-important two goal cushion. However, a powerplay goal in the final ten seconds of the period by the Tigers' Jaden Schwartz cut the Gopher lead to one heading into the first intermission.

The Gopher coaching staff could not have been happy with the late-period goal that allowed CC right back into the game. Whatever they said in the locker room, I hope they remember it. Minnesota came out in the second period and scored three unanswered goals in the first four minutes of the period, getting the tallies from Jacob Cepis, Jay Barriball and Nate Condon to give the team a commanding 6-2 lead. Colorado College answered back less than a minute after the Condon goal, with Gabe Guentzel scoring to draw the Tigers back within three. Nate Condon's second goal of the period would come next at the 10:03 mark of the frame, and a Taylor Johnson powerplay goal for CC would complete the scoring in a wild second period in which six goals were scored. The Gophers had scored seven goals in the first two periods, but they'd given up four of their own, and the game was nowhere close to over.

Minnesota took an early penalty in the third peirod, and you got the sense that if CC scored on this early powerplay they would be right back in the game and would have a great chance to win. However, early in the powerplay Nate Condon and Cade Fairchild went on a 2-on-1 shorthanded for the Gophers. Fairchild took a pass from Condon and made a nifty backhand-to-forehand move to beat Joe Howe and score the Gophers' second shorthanded goal in as many nights. The goal gave the Gophers an 8-4 lead and demoralized the Tiger players, who just moments before had believed they had a great chance of winning the game. Tom Serratore would add a late goal to give the Gophers an insurmountable five goal lead at 9-4, which happened to be the final score of the game.

Throughout the contest, Gopher goalie Kent Patterson was good, not great. Fortunately, he did not need to be on his "A" game as the team provided enough offense to win the game. Patterson is now 4-0-0 on the year, and is near the top of the WCHA leaderboards in goals against average (2.37) and saves percentage (.920). Patterson's solid play of late has left coach Don Lucia no choice but to give Patterson more playing time. Having a solid 1-2 goaltender rotation is something that good Gopher teams have had in the past, and hopefully the Patterson-Kangas tandem can backstop the Maroon and Gold to the Frozen Four in St. Paul this spring.

Three Gopher Stars of the Weekend

Third Star: Kent Patterson

Patterson had himself a pretty good weekend. In front of him, the Gophers won two crucial games. Patterson shone brightest on Friday night when the team needed him the most, and his calm, consistent game might have been drowned out by more flashy play on the offensive side of the puck. Patterson is always in good position, and he seems to be a goalie who stakes his claim by eliminating unnecessary movement. Although he wasn't as sharp on Saturday, his timely saves kept the team ahead. For winning two important games, Kent Patterson receives the #3 star.

Second Star: Nate Condon

With all the talk about super-freshmen Erik Haula and Nick Bjugstad coming into the season, it's the fast, gritty play of Nate Condon that has me the most intrigued. Condon, a playmaker with the Fargo Force of the USHL, has utilized his speed and tenacity to the utmost while wearing the Maroon and Gold, and it's paid off for the Wisconsin native to the tune of three goals and three assists on the year. Five of those six points came in Saturday night's game, as the freshman tallied two goals and three assists to lead the Gophers past the Tigers in an old-time shootout. For a strong performance Saturday night, Nate Condon receives the #2 star.

First Star: Taylor Matson

Sometimes you don't know what you're missing until it's gone. That describes Taylor Matson's impact in the Gopher lineup in a nutshell. After missing nearly the entire season with injuries both his freshman and sophomore seasons, Matson is back with a vengeance in his junior campaign. Matson scored both the game-winning goal and the crucial insurance tally in Friday night's game before tacking on the team's second goal in the Saturday contest. Matson's value is even more apparent when watching him play. Fast and good defensively, Matson has moved up to center the third line and plays an important role on the penalty kill. For all-around contributions to the team, as well as a three-goal weekend, Taylor Matson receives the #1 star.


The Gophers certainly aren't the worst team in the country. While they may end up somewhere around the middle of the WCHA, this team has now shown that it can win both a high-scoring game and a defense-first type of contest. It has goaltenders who can stop the puck and it has forwards who can put it into the net. Defense is a team effort, and if the forwards can buy into helping out the defensemen, this team could post quite a few wins down the road.

The Gophers have the hated Badgers this upcoming weekend at home in Minneapolis. This should be a statement series for both teams. Wisconsin, the national runners-up last season, lost a ton of talent and are a big question mark heading into WCHA play. The Gophers can skate and score with anybody, but will Wisconsin's traditional stifling defense be able to keep the Gophers off the board for long enough to win? It should be an exciting weekend of hockey! Stay tuned :)

Monday, November 1, 2010

Gophers Continue Roller-Coaster Start to Season, Split Weekend Series with St. Cloud State

This year's Gopher Hockey team has made a living of playing about 30 good minutes of hockey per game. Last weekend against St. Cloud State (1-2-1 coming into the weekend), the Gophers played up to their average at about 60 good minutes of hockey on the weekend. Strangely enough, though, the 60 good minutes all took place during Saturday night's tilt. The Gophers escaped the series with their first two league points and first WCHA win of the season, but it didn't come easy.

Friday: 5-2 Gopher Loss

Not really much to say about this game. Alex Kangas started in net and gave up the first five goals of the game on 16 shots in the first and second periods before being pulled for backup Kent Patterson midway through the middle frame. St. Cloud did capitalize on several powerplays during that span, but Kangas was not the rock in net that we have come to expect from him. Patterson did a nice job in relief of Kangas, giving up no goals the rest of the way, but the damage inflicted by SCSU the first half of the game was just too much for the Gophers to overcome. Late goals by Mike Hoeffel and Taylor Matson cut the deficit to three, but the game finished as a 5-2 St. Cloud victory. The Gophers did have plenty of offensive chances, but St. Cloud goaltender Mike Lee made the big stops when it counted and his team held on to the victory.

This would mark the third game in a row where the Gophers gave up at least the first three goals in a game (down 4-0 and 3-0 against UNO a week earlier, and down 5-0 in the Friday contest against St. Cloud). Spotting your opponent a three-plus goal lead is not the way to win many hockey games. Would the Maroon and Gold be able to right the ship on Sunday afternoon and salvage a split?

Sunday: 2-1 Gopher Win

In short, yes.

Already down to 0-3 in WCHA play, the Gophers needed to play with some desperation and grit in order to avoid being swept at home two weekends in a row to start the conference season. Coach Don Lucia decided to give the Sunday afternoon start in goal to Junior Kent Patterson, who played well in relief of Kangas on Friday, stopping all 12 shots he faced after Kangas and the Gophers had handed St. Cloud a 5-0 lead midway through the second period.

Although the Gophers gave up the game's opening goal once again (a slapshot from the point by SCSU's Brett Barta at 6:12 of the first), they responded the very next shift, with Jacob Cepis walking out from beside the net and stuffing the puck past goalie Dan Dunn to even the score. The quick response seemed to give the Gophers a big confidence boost, or at least it staved off the deflation that the team must have felt from giving up three consecutive big leads before Sunday's game. The Gophers played the rest of the period strong, and capitalized on a late power play when senior captain Jay Barriball took a Cepis feed across the net-mouth and lit the lamp, to give the team a 2-1 lead heading into the locker room.

The three first period goals were all the scoring in the entire game. Amazingly for a team like the Gophers that gives up about 5 goals a game and scores about 5 goals a game, they played stout team defense and goalie Kent Patterson made numerous stops on good St. Cloud chances to seal the victory.

If Friday's game was one of the worst played full games the Gophers have had this year, then Saturday's game was one of the best. Forwards were backchecking and playing defense in their own zone, defensemen were solid and not caught behind the play, and the goaltender made key stop after key stop when his team needed him, and got help from all the players on his team playing in front of him. 60 minutes of good hockey is what it takes to beat a good team, and the Gophers put in an solid effort throughout the entire game to secure victory and the weekend split.

Three Gopher Stars of the Weekend

This section is (this week) also known as "Three Gopher Stars of Sunday's game" since there really wasn't much to shout about on Friday night. However, here are the Golden Gopher stars of the weekend:

Third Star: Jay Barriball

Barriball always seems to have a hand in the action. He scored the go-ahead goal in the Sunday game that would stand as the game-winner. Barriball is first in the WCHA in goals and second nationally, and his scoring has definitely given this year's Gophers a little firepower that it has sorely lacked the past several seasons. Game in and game out, Barriball makes good plays and finds himself in good position to bury the puck, which he does pretty frequently. The game winner gives him the #3 star on the weekend.

Second Star: Jacob Cepis

Cepis set up Barriball's game winner with a nifty goal-mouth pass, but it was his own goal, the Gophers' first of the game on Sunday and the game-tying goal, that nets Cepis the #2 star this weekend. Coming off a demoralizing 5-2 loss on Friday night, the Gophers could not afford to get down big yet again on Sunday. When St. Cloud scored the first goal just six minutes into Sunday's game, the odds were not in the Gophers' favor. However, instead of packing it in and getting discouraged, Jacob Cepis did what he has done his whole career in the Maroon and Gold: play hard, go to the net and create scoring chances. Cepis created his own chance when he took a nice feed from sophomore forward Zach Budish near the corner and went right to the net with the puck, slithering the biscuit through the legs of SCSU goalie Dan Dunn and into the back of the net. The Cepis goal came on the very shift after St. Cloud had taken the lead, and I think if Cepis doesn't score there the team has a good chance of getting discouraged and quitting on the game.

First Star: Kent Patterson

Patterson this weekend was the backstop that the Gophers have been hoping Alex Kangas would be: solid positionally, sound mentally and able to come up big when called upon. All told, Patterson stopped 37 shots on the weekend while only allowing one goal over four and a half periods of stellar hockey. Hopefully this type of performance can inspire Coach Lucia to play Patterson more often - having two solid goalkeepers is never a bad thing, and the more they can spell each other so that both are physically and mentally fresh when called upon, the better. Patterson gave his team a chance to win both nights this weekend, and for that he earns the well deserved #1 star.


This Gopher team is young. It's inexperienced, it's talented, but most importantly, it's learning. There is no other explanation how the team can play an absolutely horrible game on Friday night followed by their best game of the young season so far on Sunday afternoon. Perhaps the system is starting to click to the younger players. Maybe the freshmen are realizing that they belong in a league as rough-and-tumble as the WCHA. Whatever the reason, Sunday afternoon's game saw Gopher players playing team defense, completing tape-to-tape passes and not giving up on itself.

I think I fall victim to seeing turning points as much as anyone else, but Sunday's game was the first in a long time that a Gopher hockey team put together a complete 60 minute effort, and honestly I like what I see when it does. This team can score at will when it clicks, and we know the goaltenders are as solid as they come.

The question now as it was before the season started is this: can the small, young defensive corps keep the opposing team out of the high-percentage areas? The first five games of the year, the answer was a resounding NO. However, last night's game answered the question differently. Sure, the defensemen are still going to be prone to lapses, they're not perfect and they're not NHLers. But when the forwards can backcheck and clear the rebounds from in front of the goal, this team can give up one goal in 60 minutes when the night before it gave up five goals in 30. Let's see if the team can put together a couple more 60 minute efforts in Colorado Springs against Colorado College next weekend. If so, look out, because the Gophers might just be the Gophers again!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Gopher Relapse: UNO Turns Back Two Minnesota Comebacks, Sweeps in Minneapolis

This weekend's series against the University of Nebraska-Omaha was chock full of storylines. Had the Gophers finally turned their backs on the disappointments of the last several seasons? Could Nebraska-Omaha show that they can compete in the WCHA?

Perhaps the most compelling story of the weekend, though, was centered on the Nebraska-Omaha bench - specifically, the men wearing the suits. UNO's coaching staff includes former Minnesota player and Fighting Sioux head coach Dean Blais, former Minnesota player and Gopher assistant coach Mike Guentzel, and former Minnesota assistant coach Mike Hastings. Blais is many Gopher fans' wish for the next head coach of the Gophers over current coach Don Lucia, while Guentzel has desired the Minnesota head coaching job ever since being passed over in favor of Lucia after Doug Woog was fired. Could the UNO coaching staff get a couple wins in Minnesota's barn and exact revenge on their former team?

Both teams had considerable momentum coming into their respective WCHA conference opener. The Minnesota Gophers started the season last weekend with a sweep of the University of Massachusets Minutemen, and the Mavericks won the Maverick Stampede, their season opening tournament, by beating Clarkson 8-0 and Frozen Four participant RIT 5-3 in the championship game. Something had to give, and as it turned out, that something was the Gophers.

Friday: 5-4 Gopher Loss

One of the hallmarks of the last several disappointing seasons for the Gophers was the inability to put three full periods of solid hockey together. The Maroon and Gold simply could not avoid the "letdown" period that often sank the team. The Gophers had that letdown in the first period of Friday's game, as Nebraska-Omaha scored three goals (the first two of which on the power play) to grab an early 3-0 lead.

The letdown stretched into the second period, as Nebraska-Omaha scored their fourth goal just before the ten minute mark to stretch the lead even further. However, several undisciplined penalties gave the Gophers a chance to get back into the game, and Minnesota took advantage, with Nate Condon netting rebound goal on a 5-on-3 power play and cutting the lead to 4-1. Jake Hansen scored on another rebound in the slot in the final minute of the period to draw the Gophers to within two at 4-2. There was a buzz inside the arena, and the comeback was on.

The Gophers scored another quick goal on the power play at 2:43 of the third period to cut the UNO lead to one at 4-3. UNO was playing on their heels, content to play defense and limit Gopher chances. They did this successfully for about 15 minutes, until Jay Barriball weaved through the neutral zone at 16:46 and unleashed a slapshot that beat Omaha goalie John Faulkner to tie the score at 4 goals a piece. The Gophers showed great grit and tenacity to claw all the way back from a 4-0 hole to tie the game, but the Gophers' defensive lapses came back to haunt them, as a poor decision by senior Kevin Wehrs led to an Omaha 3-on-1, and UNO's Alex Hudson put the puck past Gopher goalie Alex Kangas and into the back of the net at 18:24 of the third period. The Gophers subsequently pulled their goalie, but could not get another goal and had to settle for a close 5-4 loss.

Saturday: 4-2 Gopher Loss

The intensity the Gophers showed in coming back from such a large hole on Friday night should have augured well for a turnaround on Saturday. However, the Gophers succumbed to another letdown period in the first on Saturday. Super-freshman Matt White scored his fifth goal in only his fourth career collegiate game at 3:10 of the first period, all but silencing a rowdy crowd and putting the Gophers on their heels. Zahn Raubenheimer added Nebraska-Omaha's second goal of the period, and the Gophers again trudged into the locker room for the first intermission looking up at a multi-goal deficit.

The Gophers couldn't get much going in the second period, either, and a Matt Ambroz goal late in the period increased the UNO lead to 3-0. Goalie John Faulkner once again stumped the Gopher offense, and Minnesota once again found itself needing a sizable comeback in the last period to avoid a weekend sweep.

The Gophers got on the scoreboard via a deflection off of an Omaha defender on a one-timer by defenseman Kevin Wehrs. Wehrs, the goat on Friday night whose mistake directly led to Omaha's fifth and game-winning goal, also assisted on the second goal by putting a slapper within deflection range of center Erik Haula, whose deft redirection fluttered past Faulkner and got the Gophers within one goal at 3-2 with just over three minutes remaining. Minnesota didn't put up much of a fight the rest of the way, and a late Omaha goal with Gopher goalie Alex Kangas pulled officially ended the scoring, as well as the Gophers' chances in the game. Nebraska-Omaha went on to win the game 4-2, outshooting the Gophers 48 to 31 in the process.

Three Gopher Stars of the Weekend

Tough to pick three standout players this weekend, but it's my job to do the tough work around here :)

Third Star: Nate Schmidt

Schmidt only played in Saturday's tilt, but he made an impression on me. A freshman defensemen, Schmidt was not afraid to launch slapshots from the point and played pretty consistent defense, both things that the Gophers have been sorely lacking recently. Also impressive is that Schmidt was said to have suffered some sort of injury in practice in the week before the game. Schmidt's tough-nosed defense and toughness in playing a good game even at less than 100% gets him the third star of the weekend.

Second Star: Alex Kangas

Although Kangas gave up eight goals on the weekend, he was hung out to dry numerous times by the porous Gopher defense. Kangas made lots of quality saves and kept his team in the game both nights. I think that Alex needs to do a better job of controlling his rebounds, as many of UNO's goals this weekend came on rebound chances. However, goals aren't only the fault of the goalie, and the defense in front of the Gopher net needs to clear the rebounds more efficiently. I also wonder whether Kangas' temper will harm the team in the future. As an alternate captain and a goaltender, Kangas needs to be a rock in net and project an attitude of calm to the whole team. His visible displays of anger and frustration after goals could be a sign that he wants to be better, or it could be a sign that he does not trust the team in front of him. A calming presence at the back could be a good thing for this inexperienced Gopher squad.

First Star: Nate Condon

Maybe the most impressive freshman this far into the young season, Condon is a quick player who isn't afraid to throw his weight around and go into the high-traffic areas to get control of the puck. Condon impressed this weekend with his hustle as well as his scoring touch, netting the first Gopher goal on Friday that helped jump-start the Minnesota comeback. Condon should be a fixture in the Gopher lineup this year as a bottom-six forward and on the power play. Great first weekend in the WCHA by Nate Condon.


Even though the Gophers came out of the series with the University of Nebraska-Omaha with two losses, I like what this Minnesota team is made of. The team fought back to make close games out of what looked like blowouts, outscoring UNO 6-2 in the final 23:30 of each game. However, as mentioned above, hockey games are 60 minutes long, and the Gophers cannot afford to take the first half of any games off if they want to make some noise this season. The defense needs to improve, true, but most importantly the whole team needs to play hard for three full periods every game. That is on the coaching staff and the upper-classmen: they are the ones that need to prepare the team to play with a purpose each and every shift of the game.

I don't know, but Dean Blais, Mike Guentzel and Mike Hastings might have popped the cork on a few bottles of champagne following the away sweep of the Gophers. They exacted almost perfect revenge on the University of Minnesota, and it was clear that their Nebraska-Omaha squad was better coached than their Gopher counterparts. If you're the UNO coaching staff, how sweet it is.

The Gophers take on St. Cloud State University next weekend. Both teams need wins, as St. Cloud has scuffled out of the gate following a gaudy preseason national ranking. It should be a battle of two desperate teams, although the Gophers and St. Cloud rarely need any excuse to get up for that matchup. Should be a fun weekend at Mariucci Arena!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

New Year, New Team: 10 Goals Propel Gophers to 2-0 Start Over UMass

If there was one thing the University of Minnesota Hockey team struggled with last year, it was scoring goals. Apparently, scoring troubles are a thing of the past. The Gophers came out firing, scoring ten goals over the weekend series to secure two wins against the UMass Minutemen.

Friday: 5-3 Gopher Win

The Gophers started off on their heels in the first period, as UMass had the better of the play. However, a late power play goal by Jay Barriball got the team on the board, and they took a shaky 1-0 lead into the locker room.

Mike Hoeffel got his first goal of the season just 12 seconds into the second period, taking his own rebound and sliding the puck past UMass goalie Paul Dainton into the back of the net. UMass's Michael Pereira got the Minutemen back within one goal with a power play strike at 9:12 of the period, but Gopher defenseman Seth Helgeson's slapshot from the point at 14:14 of the period gave the Gophers a two goal cushion, which they maintained heading into the third.

The third period was an up-and-down affair, with both teams getting plenty of opportunities to score. UMass scored first in the period, drawing within one goal on another power play tally by Darren Rowe at 4:29 of the period. Freshman defenseman Justin Holl scored the goal that put the Gophers on top for good, rushing down the left wing and firing a wrister that beat Dainton at 11:59 of the period. UMass wouldn't go down easy, though, scoring another goal at 14:39 of the period to put the score at 4-3 and make the closing minutes scary for Gopher fans. The final nail in the coffin was a Zach Budish empty net goal at 19:41 of the period, clinching the first win of the season for the Maroon and Gold.

Saturday: 5-4 Gopher Win

It was a weekend of firsts for the Gophers. If Friday was the first win of the season, then Saturday would be the first sweep of the year. The Gophers opened on Saturday with their best period in several years, manhandling the Minutemen behind the strength of a Jay Barriball natural hat trick and firing 17 shots on net to enter the intermission with a 3-0 lead. The first period also saw UMass goalie Paul Dainton leave due to an undisclosed injury, and backup Jeff Teglia came in to provide relief. Gopher goalie Kent Patterson stopped all seven shots he faced in the period.

The first period was one of the best Gopher periods in a long time, and the second was just as bad as the first was good. UMass bulged the twine three times, while the Gophers lone goal came at the hands of a Jacob Cepis breakaway. All in all, the Gophers were lucky to escape with a very tenuous 4-3 lead after two periods.

One thing the Gophers just could not seem to do last season was get a goal to expand the lead and put the game out of reach. While it didn't quite seal the victory, an early goal by Nico Sacchetti put the Maroon and Gold ahead by two goals, and although UMass scored with two minutes left to draw within one, the Gophers won comfortably by the final score of 5-4.

Three Gopher Stars of the Weekend

Yes, it's back: the Three Gopher Stars feature. After every weekend series, I will share the three stars of the weekend, the three players who made the difference in the game. Of course, since I have a staunch Gopher bias, all of the stars will be Gophers :)

Third Star: Jacob Cepis

Cepis was all over the ice against UMass (as usual), creating opportunities and generally hustling at 100% every shift. He is tenacious when he's on the ice and really has a knack of energizing the offense. A 1 goal-2 assist weekend gets Cepis the third star.

Second Star: Seth Helgeson

Helgeson played excellent defense in both games against UMass, and was a steadying force at the blueline all weekend. He was not afraid to throw his weight around, connecting multiple times with hard body checks. More importantly, though, Helgeson was not afraid to fire the puck, rearing back and unleashing heavy slapshots from the point multiple times during the series. Helgeson was the team's best defenseman against the Minutemen, and he could play a big role for the team this year if he can be a force on both sides of the ice. Excellent defense, coupled with a big goal in Friday's tilt, gives Helgeson the nod as the number two star.

First Star: Jay Barriball

This team goes as Jay Barriball goes. Never one to shy away from getting his nose dirty, Barriball scored the team's first goal this season on a garbage goal mucking at the side of the net, and proceeded to score three more goals in the first period on Saturday. Barriball represents a full 40% of the team's goals so far, and he's going to need to score if the Gophers are going to have a chance to make some noise this season. Four goals and one assist give Jay Barriball the first star of the weekend.


All in all, a good weekend for the Gophers. While the team defense definitely needs to improve, the offense, a huge stumbling block the past two seasons, burst onto the scene in a big way. After only scoring more than five goals eight times last season, the Gophers opened with a pair of five goal games to start the year. The defense definitely needs to tighten up, with Gopher goalies Alex Kangas and Kent Patterson bailing out the team often, but the offense is encouraging. If the defense improves, which it should throughout the course of the season, this team should definitely be better than the previous year's version!

Gopher Forward Preview: Healthy Barriball and a Full Season of Cepis should Energize Gopher Attack

While goaltending and defense are crucial aspects of Hockey, if your team doesn't score any goals they're not going to win any games. This year's crop of Gopher forwards has the potential to be the most potent in several years - and, let's be honest, it doesn't take much to be more potent than the most shut out offense since the early 1900s. Here is a look at the Golden Gopher forwards by class, starting with the seniors:


Jay Barriball: Voted captain by his peers, Jay Barriball returns to the team as a senior in 2010-2011 to lead the Gophers on and off the ice. The redshirt senior, injured just five games into the 2009-2010 season, projects to be near the top of the Gopher leaderboard in goals and points this season. While Barriball may not be the most physically gifted Gopher, his hustle and heart are a combination not matched by many other players. A 20 goal scorer in his freshman season, Barriball has never quite matched the output he dazzled fans with in 2006-2007. However, surrounded by offensively talented players this year, there's potential for Barriball to meet and exceed his single season highs in his fifth season wearing a Gopher uniform.

Mike Hoeffel: One of the team's alternate captains, Hoeffel has the chance to live up to his overwhelming offensive potential this year. A sniper stuck in a power forward's body, Hoeffel is 6'2", 195 lbs. of goal scorer that the Gophers could definitely use. He's at his best taking a pass from a playmaker and depositing it into the back of the net. Hoeffel is also great along the boards, often taking the puck in the corner and shedding the defenders to walk out all by himself. Look for Hoeffel in front of the net during the power play and on the top line all year long.

Jacob Cepis: Cepis joined the team midway through the season last year, a transfer from Bowling Green. Despite playing in only 21 games last year Cepis was fifth on the team in scoring, posting 19 points (7 G, 12 A) and leading the team in points per game at 0.9. Cepis is listed at a very generous 5'8", 175 lbs., but plays much bigger than his diminutive frame. Cepis is always hustling, and the best part of his game is the way he pesters opposing teams. Cepis should be logging top-six minutes all season long, and expect to see his name on the score sheet often this season.

Patrick White: It's hard to believe that Pat White is already a senior, mostly because he has done much less than anyone expected of him as an incoming Freshman. White was one of the jewels in this recruiting class's crown, but he just hasn't contributed as expected to this point in his career. White has one more season to show the coaches, fans, and NHL scouts that he's capable of being what everyone thought he could become.


Jake Hansen: Another forward in the Pat White mold, high expectations were placed on Hansen when he suited up in the Maroon and Gold. A second-team USHL All-Star the year before his freshman season, Hansen racked up 31 goals and 58 points in only 60 games with Sioux Falls. The transition to the college game is a tough one, however, and over his next two years Hansen only accumulated 9 goals and 19 points in 71 games as a Gopher. The scoring touch is there, Hansen just needs to find it. If the Gophers can get some scoring from Hansen, they should be able to shake out of the low-scoring funk of the previous two years and get some goals on the board.

Nick Larson: A depth player / role player, Larson gives the Gophers some much-needed grit at forward. Larson is a big kid, and expect to see him pretty frequently on the ice as a third or fourth line skater and a penalty killer. Larson is a grinder who will outwork opponents and should give the Gophers quality minutes.

Taylor Matson: Although Matson will probably be centering the fourth line again this year, don't think of him as anything but a vital component of this team. Matson is the definition of hustle - he skates at 100% at all times when he's on the ice. Although Matson is a junior this year, he has only played in 32 games in his career. Both his freshman and sophomore seasons were cut short due to injuries. Hopefully for Matson and the Gophers, the third time will be the charm and he'll be able to provide the Maroon and Gold with his talents for the entire season this year.

Nico Sacchetti: Along with Jake Hansen and Patrick White, Nico Sacchetti's Gopher career cannot be summed up in any way other than "underachiever". A slick center, Sacchetti has the hands of a sniper and the goal-scoring knack of Stu Bickel. Despite the fact that he oozes skill and talent, Sacchetti has not shown the ability to create much offense for himself or for his linemates. Perhaps this is the year that he breaks out and posts 30 points. If not, though, Sacchetti is still a grinding center that wins plenty of faceoffs and plays acceptable defense.

Joey Miller: The definition of a depth forward, Miller only saw limited action with the University of Minnesota in his first two seasons. Miller tallied 3 points playing in just 29 games in those two years. Expect more of the same from Miller this year - with the large freshman crop, Miller will likely only be called upon for a couple games here and there. He's a fourth line player who hustles and keeps the puck out of the Gopher net.


Zach Budish: The Gophers only return one sophomore forward to the team this year, and that is Zach Budish. Budish had a great freshman campaign, logging nearly all of his minutes as the center of the first line, Budish scored 7 goals and added 10 assists, all while leading the team in faceoff winning percentage and being an absolute beast along the boards. In practice, Coach Lucia has moved Budish to the wing. While this won't allow Budish to use his faceoff skills, it will let him use his large frame more along the side boards to cycle the puck and control possession.


Nick Bjugstad: Hailing from Blaine HS, Minnesota's 2009-2010 Mr. Hockey award winner joins the team as the tallest Gopher player at 6'4". Bjugstad has good hockey bloodlines - his uncle Scott also played for the Gophers, recording 163 points in his career (18th all time). Bjugstad has big shoes to fill, and expectations are high for the Florida Panthers' first round pick. Bjugstad should be centering one of the top two lines this year, so look for him to be involved in the offense right away for the Maroon and Gold.

Erik Haula: The first foreign-born Gopher since Thomas Vanek, Erik Haula will bring a lot of skill to this Gopher team. Slated to center the first line, Haula will be relied upon early and often to provide playmaking abilities to the top line and to the power play. A native of Finland who played at Shattuck-St. Mary's high school, Haula could be a shot-in-the-arm for this team.

Nate Condon: Another offensive player, Condon racked up 51 points in 60 USHL games last season playing for the Fargo Force. Condon is a fairly big kid at 6'1", but he plays like a little guy, with good quickness and no fear. Condon could be a big boost to the third or fourth line this year, and should provide a little scoring touch from the bottom six forwards that the Gophers haven't seen for several years.

Tom Serratore: Serratore, a walk-on who is already one of the older players on the team, will be called upon this year to bring some experience and some grit to the Gophers. Serratore should feature prominently on the penalty kill this season. He is a player who is known for his "lunch pail" attitude - he is not afraid to get his nose dirty and get to work in order to make a play. If he can provide a little offensive pop to the fourth line, that would be a bonus. However, expect solid overall play on the defensive side of the puck from this newcomer.

Max Gardiner: Gardiner, a senior last year at Minnetonka High School (along with fellow freshman teammate Justin Holl), might be a little raw heading into his first collegiate-level season. He dominated the High School ranks, scoring 54 points in just 23 games for the #1 nationally ranked Minnetonka Skippers. However, Gardiner relied on his size (6'2") and skill to breeze past opposing teams in high school. College opponents will provide a stiffer challenge for Gardiner. Expect him to crack the lineup fairly infrequently this year. He's got the talent to be an elite player at this level, but he may not be ready to take on that challenge this year.

Jared Larson: Larson is something of a mystery. He played his high school hockey at Apple Valley, and continued to play in Fairbanks for the NAHL's Ice Dogs. In two seasons, Larson posted respectable points numbers for the Ice Dogs, while playing in nearly all team games. Larson is probably a depth player / reserve for this Gopher team, and will likely see very limited ice time barring injuries.


This group of forwards has a little bit of everything: size, speed, grit and experience. The biggest thing it has going for it, though, is sheer numbers. Coach Lucia has stated that there will be competition for ice time this year, and that the 12 players that work hard and are deserving will hit the ice in games. With 16 rostered forwards, that means that four players will be on the outside looking in each and every game. Hopefully that competition will work to Lucia's advantage this season, and the players will compete with each other and make the whole team better. Don't expect to see any loafing players this year (looking at you, Jordan Schroeder) - they'll probably be taking the game in from the press box if they mail in too many efforts.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Gopher Defenseman Preview: Fairchild, Wehrs, Ness Pace a Very Raw Gopher D

The Gophers return only four defensemen from the 2009-2010 squad. Two seniors (Cade Fairchild and Kevin Wehrs), one Junior (Aaron Ness) and one Sophomore (Seth Helgeson). The blueline took a significant hit last year, sustaining key losses to freshman Nick Leddy (signed with the Chicago Blackhawks), sophomore Sam Lofquist (left the team to play junior hockey in Canada) and seniors David Fischer and Brian Schack (both graduated). The team will have an influx of new talent this year, with four freshmen manning the defensive blue line. Let's take a look at the upperclassmen and the underclassmen before evaluating the unit as a whole.


Senior Cade Fairchild: Fairchild was the top scoring defenseman on the team last year with 4 goals and 17 assists for 21 total points. That output, however, was far lower than expected and a significant drop from his 9 goal, 33 point sophomore campaign. Always offensive minded, Fairchild should again lead the Maroon and Gold in points from the blue line - the question is, will Fairchild's production lead the team to victories, or will the Gophers' anemic team production result in another stifled effort for the senior?

Senior Kevin Wehrs: His first two years in the Maroon and Gold, Wehrs was looked at as the sixth or seventh defenseman option for the team. Wehrs actually played in the majority of the team's games throughout his career, though he was not the stiffest presence at the back for the team. He notched 13 assists his first two campaigns, before finally breaking through with that all-important first goal his junior season, adding another for good measure as well as seven assists. The biggest improvement in Wehrs' game last year, though, was his defensive zone play with the puck. Wehrs, long causing Gopher fans to cringe whenever he handled the puck in the defensive zone, turned into a stalwart in the Gopher zone, surrendering few opportunities and making solid outlet passes to start the offense. That is what the Gophers will need from Wehrs this year- solid defensive zone play. This becomes all the more important when realizing that the Gophers return such little experience on the blue line.

Junior Aaron Ness: Minnesota's Mr. Hockey in his final year at Roseau High School, Ness has struggled to get up to the collegiate level his past two years at the U. Ness has always been an excellent offensive player - his best attributes are his skating abilities and his great hands. However, Ness has faltered when it comes to defensive positioning. Known for not being engaging enough when an opposing player is bearing down in the Gopher zone, opposing teams' chances were often a stride or two closer to the goalie than they would have been if Ness had played the body instead of continuing to backpedal. The offense will come, but will Ness finally learn to use his body and his skating to become a pest in the defensive zone?


The underclassmen are somewhat of a mystery. Consisting of four freshmen and a sophomore, the group will be asked to shoulder much of the load on the blue line this season.

Sophomore Seth Helgeson: Big, strong player who plays a solid brand of stay-at-home defense. Helgeson is more of a "what you see is what you get" type of player. He won't help out much on the offense (only one point on the year last year - a HUGE goal in the WCHA playoffs) but Helgeson will give the Gophers solid minutes on the blue line.

Freshman Mark Alt: Alt, a blue-chip prospect from Cretin-Derham Hall, also quarterbacked his high school football team to a state title. He considered a football scholarship offer from Iowa before deciding to lace up the skates for the Maroon and Gold. Alt is another big guy at 6'3", 194 lbs., and should provide some of the physicality of Helgeson mixed in with the offensive potential of Cade Fairchild. It appears that the sky is the limit for this kid.

Freshman Justin Holl: Holl played in the state championship game for Minnetonka just this spring, and will now be donning the "M" for the Gophers. His overall game reminds me a lot of Nick Leddy - Holl is extremely poised with the puck in the defensive zone, he can skate with the best of them and isn't afraid to join the rush or create offense of his own. While it may take a little longer for Holl to accelerate to the pace of the game than it did Leddy, don't be surprised if you confuse this year's number 12 (Holl) for last year's number 5 (Leddy) by the end of the season.

Freshman Jake Parenteau: Parenteau is an older freshman who has some offensive upside. He scored 16 goals and added 31 assists in the NAHL last season. Parenteau should be fighting for ice time along with Holl, Alt and Nate Schmidt. Expect to see Parenteau in less than half of the team's games, if only because Coach Lucia wants to see more competition for playing time this year.

Freshman Nate Schmidt: another offensive-minded defenseman, Schmidt's slapshot should be the fastest one on the team this year. Schmidt notched 14 goals and 23 assists in 57 games last year for the USHL's Fargo Force, which means that the kid is not afraid to launch the puck at opposing netminders. Schmidt should add something to the Gopher blue line that we haven't seen in quite a while - a slapshot from the point. I would guess that Schmidt, when in the lineup, will be featured somewhere on the Gopher power play, since his shot could change the team's fortunes on the man advantage.

Defense Outlook

Overall, the defenseman's job is to play defense. I think that will be the big question mark on these defenders and perhaps the key to the whole team's play this season. Can the defensemen limit the number of Grade "A" opportunities that they give the opposing teams this season? I don't think we have to worry about offensive production from the D. As long as the team is scoring goals, the defensemen will have a say in the points. Look for Fairchild, Ness, Alt, Holl, Schmidt and Parenteau to factor into the scoring. I see the defensive play coming down to several important factors: 1) can Fairchild and Ness improve enough on defense to keep the puck out of their own net? and 2) can the freshmen step up and provide solid minutes on the blue line?

I think the answer to both of these questions is "yes" but we'll see how it all shakes out on the ice.

The forwards are up next, followed by a game recap of the game on Sunday versus the University of British Columbia!