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.