Let me start by saying this: Sacred Heart is not a very good team. The Pioneers finished 11th out of 12 teams in Atlantic Hockey last season, and they're predicted to do the same this year.
However, the Gophers have had a tendency to play down to their competition over the last few years, so a combined 15-0 win over two games against an inferior opponent is a step in the right direction.
Minnesota (2-0-0 Overall) started quickly in Friday's game, as Kyle Rau scored his first Gopher goal on his first shift, just prior to the one minute mark of the game. Although the Gophers played sloppy hockey in the first period, they held onto a 1-0 lead going into the break and didn't look back. Four more goals in the second period and another four in the third meant a 9-0 triumph on Friday. Saturday's game played out in similar fashion, as the Gophers played uninspired first period hockey but dominated the second and third en route to a 6-0 victory.
One big key to the weekend was that plenty of the Gopher freshmen scored their first career goals. Rau, Sam Warning, Seth Ambroz and Ben Marshall each scored at least one goal on the weekend. Also impressive was the scoring depth that Minnesota displayed, getting 15 goals from ten different players (nine different forwards).
While the 15 goals for is an impressive total, zero goals against is an equally amazing feat. Kent Patterson is rock solid between the pipes for the Maroon and Gold, and as good as he was last season it's amazing that these two shutouts are the first of his career.
Three Gopher Stars of the Weekend
3. Nate Schmidt
Schmidt impressed both nights, tallying three assists on the weekend while providing consistent defense and poise throughout both contests. He also showed something that the Gophers haven't had on the blueline in an awful long time - a rocket of a slapshot. Schmidt should be a mainstay at the top of the power play this season for the Gophers. After watching him play this last weekend, you ask yourself this: where was he last season? Schmidt was seemingly "in the doghouse" last year. Schmidt was recruited by coach Mike Guentzel, so perhaps the sophomore is re-inspired this season with the return of the man who recruited him to the Gopher bench. Either way, he'll be an important part of the Gopher defense this season.
2. Sam Warning
With all the buzz about incoming freshmen Kyle Rau, Seth Ambroz and Ben Marshall, it was newcomer Sam Warning who stood out the most to me this weekend. Warning scored two goals and added two assists to lift the Gophers. Minnesota will need scoring from its freshman class this season, and Warning's presence in the scoring mix along with the aforementioned Rau, Ambroz and Marshall will be a boon to an offense that has swooned over the past several seasons.
1. Kent Patterson
When you toss back-to-back shutouts on the weekend, how could you not be the number one star? Although the Gophers won both games handily, each game was in doubt early on. Patterson had to make several high-leverage saves in the first period of each game to keep Sacred Heart off the board and give the Gophers a chance to build an insurmountable lead. Patterson faced 40 shots combined and stopped all of them, and for that he earns a well-deserved number one star.
The Gophers head up to Duluth to take on the defending national champion University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs in an early conference tilt. Duluth split at home with then #1 ranked Notre Dame in their first weekend of action. The Bulldogs lost a lot of talent from their championship team last season, but return lots of good players in Jack Connolly, J.T. Brown and Travis Oleksuk. Maybe the most important man on their team is goaltender Kenny Reiter. If the Gophers can solve Reiter early and quiet the fierce home crowd they might be able to steal a few points on the road. The mantra in the WCHA has always been "split on the road, sweep at home", so a two point weekend for Minnesota would be a good start to the conference season. Look for Coach Lucia to play a few of the older, more experienced players in these games as a harsh away environment could turn into a baptism by fire for the myriad Gopher freshmen. I expect a split.