Saturday, October 22, 2011

Patterson Pitches Another Shutout as Gophers Crush Catamounts 6-0

Kent Patterson did not have a shutout entering the season as the Gopher netminder. The senior goalie appears to be quickly making up for lost time.

Patterson made 17 saves to record his third shutout of the young season as the Gophers provided all the offense they needed to beat the Vermont Catamounts 6-0 on Friday night.

Friday 10/21/11: 6-0 Gopher Win

The first ever meeting between the Minnesota Gophers (5-0-0 Overall, 2-0-0 WCHA) and the Vermont Catamounts (0-1-0 Overall, 0-0-0 Hockey East) did not start or end well for the visitors. Vermont, predicted to be a lower division team in powerful Hockey East, needed their senior goalkeeper Rob Madore to be the best player on the ice to stand a chance against the high powered Gopher attack. Madore was beaten on the very first shot of the game, though, as Kyle Rau put the puck past the Catamount keeper at 44 seconds of the period to give the Gophers the early 1-0 lead. Rau scored the goal in his own typical fashion - with Minnesota controlling the puck in the offensive zone and forward Sam Warning heading off the ice for a change, Rau hustled from the bench and straight to the net where he received a pass from Jake Hansen and tucked the puck underneath Madore.

From there, the Gophers simply dominated play for the next 40 minutes of action. Minnesota got goals from Sam Warning (on a pretty pass by Erik Haula) at 3:37 of the first period, Nick Bjugstad on a shot that snuck through the five-hole of Madore at 15:26 of the first, Taylor Matson on a tip play set up by Nate Condon and Seth Helgeson at 7:20 of the second frame, Nick Bjugstad again on a beautiful two-on-one pass from Kyle Rau at 9:52 of the period, and Zach Budish on a pinpoint power play wrist shot (aided by nice work to keep the puck in by Seth Ambroz) at 13:53 of the second.

The third period saw a disinterested Gopher hockey team playing against an undermanned and frustrated Vermont squad. The period was chippy - a total of eight penalties were called in the frame and a number of skirmishes broke out. Neither team would score in the period, though, and Minnesota would skate away with an important early non-conference victory.

Three Gopher Stars of the Game

3. Nick Bjugstad - 2-0-2

Bjugstad scored two goals in Friday's tilt versus the Catamounts. Minnesota is going to need him to be their go-to goal scorer this season if they are going to continue to nurse aspirations of greatness at the end of the year. A well-deserved number three star for Nick Bjugstad.

2. Kent Patterson - 17 Saves, 0 GA

Patterson wasn't tested greatly by Vermont in the game, but he saved all 17 shots he faced. Patterson is another key cog in this Gopher team, as one of the only weaknesses displayed thus far by Minnesota is its young D-corps. They will make mistakes this year as player like Ben Marshall, Justin Holl and Mark Alt continue to adjust to the WCHA's steep learning curve. Patterson's calming, solid presence between the pipes will be the difference between winning and losing a lot of games this season. Even though the game was not in doubt, a shutout is a shutout and Kent Patterson's third shutout of the year nets him the second star of the game.

1. Kyle Rau - 1-1-2

Everyone around Minnesota Gopher hockey was excited for Kyle Rau to put on the "M". I think it would be difficult to argue that ANYONE believed he'd make this big of an impact this soon. Rau is playing like he's a seasoned WCHA veteran, already tallying five goals and two assists in just five games. Rau has a nose for the net and has that "it" factor that cannot be taught: he is a goal scorer. Some players may not have the best skills, but they've got that intangible ability to put the puck in the net - Johnny Pohl immediately comes to mind as a guy that didn't look all that great on the ice but could flat out score. Kyle Rau already appears to be one of those players. He's a smart player with an innate ability to know where to be on the ice, and good things seem to happen when he's around.

Enough gushing, though - Rau scored the all-important first goal of the game and added a pretty assist on one of Bjugstad's tallies. He was the most noticeable Gopher on the ice and his goal scoring is a huge reason why I am so optimistic about Minnesota's chances this season. A great performance all around earns Kyle Rau my number one star.

Minnesota's Next Action: versus Vermont Sunday, 1PM

The Gophers take on Vermont again on Sunday the 23rd of October. The puck drops at 1:00 PM. Although many prognosticators would view this game as unimportant, when looking ahead to the national tournament Sunday's game could be the most important game Minnesota plays for the rest of the regular season. Non-conference games are vital in the Pairwise rankings (the system the NCAA uses to pick the NCAA tournament field), and with the Vermont game being potentially the last game Minnesota plays against Hockey East, winning on Sunday would be a huge step in winning a lot of comparisons against good Hockey East teams like Boston College and Boston University later on in the season. Of course the Gophers can still make the NCAA tournament if they lose on Sunday, but a win would make Minnesota's road to the tournament that much clearer. I see a 5-1 Gopher victory, but I would not be surprised if Minnesota dents the twine more often than that. The Gophers have goal scorers this season, and they seem to have the drive to keep scoring goals until the game is definitely out of reach.

Believe in this team. Pride on Ice is BACK.

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