Thursday, September 30, 2010

Gopher Goalie Preview: Kangas, Patterson, Kremer Lead an Experienced Gopher Squad in Net

The Gophers return three goaltenders in 2010-2011: Senior Alex Kangas and Juniors Kent Patterson and Jake Kremer. Let's take a look at each as an individual before commenting on the goalies as a unit.

Alex Kangas

Kangas has been the primary starting goaltender for the Golden Gophers ever since the second half of the 2007-2008 season. Kangas took over the starting job from Jeff Frazee and took off, posting the best goals against average of 1.98 and a saves percentage of .930, both Gopher single season records. In his sophomore and junior seasons, Kangas shouldered a bulk of the goaltending load, starting more than 82% of all games over the course two seasons.

Kangas' statistics have not yet lived up to his remarkable freshman season, though. In 08-09, Kangas posted a disappointing 2.79 GAA and .901 saves percentage. In 09-10 those numbers improved slightly to a 2.61 GAA and .911 saves percentage. Kangas probably would have benefitted from more of a goalie rotation his sophomore and junior seasons with Kent Patterson (see below), but it appeared that coach Don Lucia was seduced by Kangas' brilliant freshman streak. When Kangas played poorly it seemed like Lucia wanted to give him another start to try and "recapture the magic", while when he played great Lucia wanted to "ride the hot hand."

Kangas returns to the team as one of this year's Alternate Captains, which indicates what type of person he is in the locker room. If Kangas can radiate a stern resolve to the rest of the team, he can truly put the Gophers on his back and lead them back into the win column.

Kent Patterson

Patterson, a product of the Blake School, is no slouch. Ranked as one of the Top 20 prospects in the Colorado Avalanche's system, Patterson has the pedigree and the skill to be a number one goalie. At Minnesota, he simply has not been given the chance yet.

Patterson has only played in 15 games in his collegiate career, posting solid if unspectacular GAA and saves percentage numbers in what mainly amounted to clean-up work. While a strong backup goalie is an important thing to have on any hockey team, I wonder if he was given a little more playing time that the Gophers could have a 1A and 1B situation with Kangas and Patterson, instead of the very clear 1/2 delineation between Kangas and Patterson.

At Gopher Hockey media day today, head coach Don Lucia stated that he would rotate the goalies more and get Patterson more game experience this year. Lucia also said that before the season last year, and he fell once again into the trap of riding Kangas until he found the magic again. I suspect that if we see more of Patterson this year, both he and Kangas will be sharper and both will contribute significantly to the team.

Jake Kremer

Kremer is one of the unsung heroes of this Gopher squad. The third string goalie, Kremer has never played in an official game. His job on the roster is mainly to play in goal during practice, often times taking extra shots if some of the players want to work on a skill. Kremer is also on the team in case of injury to one or both of the first two goalies.

Kremer is likely to play for a period in the Sunday exhibition game between the Gophers and the University of British Columbia. After that, though, he'll likely be back in his usual role, manning the nets in practice and standing in if and when injury should strike.


Goaltending is the strength of this year's Gopher team. The Gophers return three upperclassmen between the pipes, and both Alex Kangas and Kent Patterson have had success at the collegiate level. I predict that this is the year Kent Patterson gets his fair shake in the net, and I think that he and Kangas will form a formidable tandem for the Maroon and Gold this winter. I predict that Gopher goaltending will be at or near the top of the WCHA at the end of the season.

Of course, in order for the Gopher goalies to be at their best, the Gopher defense will have to step up and force opponent's shots to the outside, instead of the many Grade "A" scoring chances they gave up last year.

Will the defense have enough will to keep opposing teams off of the scoresheet? I'll look at the D-corps next time.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Gopher Hockey 2010-2011 Season Preview

We're only days away from a brand new Gopher Hockey season. Last year ended on a sour note (loss to the Sioux in the first round of the WCHA playoffs). Gopher fans have gone two full seasons without an NCAA postseason bid. The team finished with a losing record for the first time since the last year of the Doug Wood era. Last year truly was the worst of times for Pride on Ice.

The offseason didn't hold much promise, either. Gone were the team's two leading scorers: Tony Lucia was lost to graduation, and Jordan Schroeder signed with the NHL's Vancouver Canucks. Two more promising youngsters, Freshman defenseman Nick Leddy and Freshman forward Josh Birkholz, left the team, the former to the Chicago Blackhawks and the latter to the WHL following news he would face suspension for a violation of team rules.

So, all of that doesn't sound too good. What do we, the fans, have to look forward to this season?

Over the next several days, I'll look at the 2010-2011 Gophers' Goaltenders, Defensemen and Forwards and offer my own commentary on the team going into the season.

Right now, though, I'll copy a post I wrote but never published at the end of last year: the things to be optimistic about this season-

1) Nick Leddy - He's only a freshman, and he's already the only guy I trust with the puck in our own end. He is so smooth, and I think the word that best describes him is CALM. Also, he takes slapshots at the point, which is something our defensemen have been hesitant to do.

2) Jacob Cepis - I LOVE Cepis! God this kid plays with heart and grit. I honestly cannot remember watching another game where a player's name was mentioned more frequently than Cepis' was [the second WCHA playoff game against the Sioux]. He's all over the place when he's on the ice, and he always seems to make a play when we need it most. He's the littlest guy on the ice whenever he's out there, but he plays like he thinks he's 6'4" and 220 lbs. So excited he's on the team!

3) Zach Budish - he's a little slow, but he makes up for it by being the best player along the boards that we have. He's a great grinder / mucker in the offensive zone, and I think he compliments a Cepis/Schroeder line nicely. I think the offense is going to come, but I'm thrilled with the strides he's made this year.

4) Jay Barriball - he's coming back, and we know he can score. Just what we need.

5) High Schoolers - there's a lot of potential in the recruits we have coming in. I'm a Minnetonka guy, so I saw a lot of Justin Holl and Max Gardiner this year. Holl is Leddy-like in his calmness with the puck in the face of a tough forecheck. Gardiner can put the puck in the net... we'll see about his effort when he gets to the college level. Nick Bjugstad looks like he's a can't-miss guy, and Ben Marshall is a flat out stud and is only a junior in High School. The other kids we have coming in (Isackson, Alt, etc.) look like they can play, too. I think the cupboards are stocked.

6) Junior Hockey guys - Erik Haula, Seth Ambroz, Nate Condon and Nate Schmidt all seem like they'll be solid contributors to this team in the near future.

Obviously the first reason to be optimistic is no longer on the team. However, Cepis is back. Budish will be in the lineup every night this year. Barriball is at 100% again, and should return his scoring punch into the lineup. Bjugstad, Holl and Gardiner will be donning the Maroon and Gold, as will Erik Haula, Nate Condon and Nate Schmidt.

What do you think? What is your feeling about the team this year? Will 2010-2011 be the year that the Gophers return to national prominence, or will this be yet another forgettable year for Pride on Ice? Let me know what you think in the comments below!

Up next, a look at the goaltenders on the roster for 2010-2011.