Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Three Gopher Stars of the Weekend: Minnesota vs. Michigan Tech

Minnesota split last weekend against Michigan Tech in their last series before the holiday break. Who were the Gopher standouts of the weekend? Read on to find out:

Third Star: Kyle Rau - 1G-2A-3P

Rau had a great game Saturday, scoring all his points and generating nearly all of his chances on the weekend in the second game of the series. At his best, Rau is a vital cog on this Gopher team: he can distribute the puck, has a knack for knowing where to be around the goal, and consistently draws penalties with his aggressive style of play. He isn't afraid of contact and generally plays much bigger than his diminutive frame. With the other scoring lines sputtering, Rau needs to be one of the best players on the ice for Minnesota - a tall feat for a freshman. However, I liked Rau's play this weekend and his great game on Saturday especially earned him the number three star.

Second Star: Jake Hansen - 2G-1A-3P

Gopher senior forward Jake Hansen also had a three point weekend, registering one assist Friday before erupting for two goals on Saturday. Hansen is a player who hasn't gotten a whole lot of love in the three stars thus far this season, but his contributions to the Gopher squad should not go overlooked - Hansen is the team's fourth leading goal scorer (eight) and fifth leading point getter (19) for the first half of the season. There are a lot of things that Hansen could improve upon (I've been unimpressed with his passing), the fact remains that he's one of those few guys that can put the puck in the net for this Gopher squad. Minnesota needs him to keep scoring and to bolster the team's secondary goal-scoring capabilities. He did so this weekend, and for that he earns the number two star.

First Star: Mark Alt - 2G-3A-5P

Sophomore defenseman Mark Alt had an incredible weekend, registering five points and two big goals over the course of the two games. Alt has been playing the stay-at-home defenseman of his pairing while Ben Marshall has been allowed to roam. But it was Alt this weekend that jumped into the play and recorded five total points. His goal on Saturday proved to be the game-winner. Alt has been one of the better defensive-defensemen on the team this season, and if he can sprinkle in a few points here and there it will be a boon to this Gopher squad in search of any scoring at all to compliment Nick Bjugstad and Kyle Rau. Alt is often an unsung hero of this squad, but his breakout performance last weekend earns him the number one star.

Gopher Helmet Stickers

This is a new section I've started doing alongside the Three Stars of the Weekend post - each player gets a certain number of "points" based on where they're ranked in the star rankings each weekend, and the below list is the result of all the points accumulated by player throughout the year.

1. Patterson - 29
2. Rau - 16
3. Matson - 15
4. Serratore - 10
5. Bjugstad - 9
6. Schmidt - 7
7. Condon - 6
7. Alt - 6
9. Warning - 4
9. Budish - 4
9. Holl - 4
9. Hansen - 4
13. Haula - 3
14. Marshall - 2
15. Boyd - 1

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Gophers Close Out Solid First Half With Home Split Against Feisty Michigan Tech Huskies

Going into last weekend's home series against the Michigan Tech Huskies, many Minnesota fans were counting on an easy four points heading into the team's annual holiday break.

How does that saying about best laid plans go, again?

Coming off a surprisingly difficult home sweep of the Minnesota State Mavericks, the Minnesota Gophers again stumbled on a Friday night, falling in the opening game of the series before pulling away at the end of a chippy Saturday game to earn a split on the weekend.

Friday 12/9/11: 3-2 Gopher Loss

Minnesota has not had a weekend off yet this season, and the effort the Gophers showed in Friday night's game showcased it. The Maroon and Gold came out of the gates looking tired, and thankfully Michigan Tech did not do much to capitalize on the Gophers' general lethargy. In fact, Minnesota got off to a 1-0 lead in the first period, on a Mark Alt shot that deflected into the Michigan Tech net off of a Tech defender's skate. The even-strength goal came at 10:22 of the period, but Michigan Tech got a flukey goal of their own when Blake Pietila scored off of a deflection in front of the Gopher net by Travis Boyd. Pietila was actually behind the Minnesota net and centered the puck into the slot, where it hit Boyd's stick and caromed into the Gopher cage. No more scoring was to be had in the first period.

The second period was a better one for Minnesota, who outshot the Huskies 14-5 in the middle frame. However, Michigan Tech goalkeeper Josh Robinson, who was brilliant all weekend long, kept the Gophers off the board for the period. Robinson's counterpart Kent Patterson did his part as well for Minnesota, so the teams entered the third period tied at one goal each.

The tie lasted for 1:07 into the third period, when Daniel Sova scored yet another goal off of a deflection to give Michigan Tech its first lead of the game at 2-1. Minnesota crawled its way back into the contest with a Seth Helgeson one-time slapshot goal (assisted by Mark Alt) at 6:57 of the period. Although the Gophers had a power play opportunity in the middle of the third period that generated tons of quality scoring chances as well as a Nate Condon breakaway with about five minutes remaining in regulation, the teams remained tied at two going into overtime.

The extra period was over quickly. Just 0:33 into the frame, the Gophers turned the puck over at the offensive blue line, and Michigan Tech's Brett Olson was skating one-on-one with Gopher defenseman Seth Helgeson. Helgeson, not known for being fleet of foot, was beat around the outside and Olson fired a shot from in close that beat Kent Patterson five-hole and gave the Huskies a big 3-2 overtime victory.

Saturday: 6-2 Gopher Win

Saturday's game evolved very similarly to the Friday contest, with the Gophers getting off to one goal leads in each period before giving those leads back. Minnesota's Kyle Rau opened the Gopher scoring attack with a rebound goal from just outside the crease. Mark Alt had taken a shot from the blue line, and Rau was in front of the net to collect the puck and calmly put it past Michigan Tech keeper Josh Robinson. The Rau goal came at 7:37 of the period and was also assisted by Taylor Matson. The Huskies came back late in the first and tied the game on a Jordan Baker power play goal at 16:35, and the period ended in a one-all tie.

The second period saw the Gophers take another one goal lead, this time on a Jake Hansen power play tally. Hansen tipped an Erik Haula blast from the point through Robinson's five hole at 12:50 of the period. Although Minnesota did not allow a goal in the second, they set themselves up for failure early in the third when Blake Thompson blasted a Michigan Tech forward and received a five-minute Contact to the Head penalty and a game misconduct.

Minnesota killed off the first two-plus minutes of the major to end the second period ahead by a goal, but the pesky Huskies clawed their way back into the game with an early power play goal by Daniel Sova. His goal at 1:26 tied the game at two goals each, and just like Friday the game was tied at two in the third period. However, unlike Friday, Minnesota took advantage of their scoring chances and pulled away to win the game easily.

Just two minutes, twenty four seconds after the Sova game-tying goal, Mark Alt blasted a one-timer past Josh Robinson to give the Gophers a 3-2 lead. The Alt goal was set up by a perfect Nate Schmidt pass. Schmidt also assisted on the Gophers' next goal, a Nick Bjugstad tally at 9:59 of the period. Joey Miller, playing in his first game of the season on an all-new fourth line that also included Christian Isackson and Nico Sacchetti (a line which played quite well all night), scored his first goal of the year off a Mark Alt rebound shot at 12:03.

At this point, the game started to get chippy. Blake Pietila took a boarding penalty with just over three minutes left in the game. Dennis Rix took a five-minute major for high sticking when he intentionally whacked Kyle Rau in the head with the blade of his stick, and at the same time Jordan Baker took a 10 minute misconduct. When Jake Hansen scored on the ensuing Gopher 5-on-3 at 18:14, things got ugly. Immediately after the Hansen goal, a big fight broke out in front of the Michigan Tech net, as every Husky on the ice was roughing it up with any Gopher they could find. Once the referees got the players back to the faceoff dot with the Gophers up 6-2, another fight broke out as Seth Helgeson and Carl Nielsen roughed it up near the benches. At this point, Michigan Tech assistant coach Bill Muckalt got up on the bench and yelled across the plexiglass at the Gopher coaches. FSN cameras caught Muckalt challenging the Gopher coaches to fight, mouthing "come on over here" to Gopher assistant Grant Potulny. Potulny reportedly told Muckalt to "sit the **** down".

The game ended with little fanfare after the ruckus and after a brief pause both teams and sets of coaches shook hands with one another after a hard-fought weekend.

Coming up, I'll take a look at the three Gopher stars of the weekend as well as the stars of the first half of the season, then we'll update the WCHA power rankings, and finally we'll analyze what can only be described as a great first half of hockey from the Gophers and preview what should be an exciting second half.

Go Gophers!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

2011-2012 WCHA Power Rankings & Tiers: Week 9

Here's another edition of the WCHA Power Rankings and Tiers.

WCHA Results, Week 9:

Alaska-Anchorage - Loss, Loss vs. North Dakota
Bemidji State - Tie, Win @ St. Cloud State
Colorado College - Win (Fri), Idle (Sat) vs. Denver
Denver - Loss (Fri), Idle (Sat) @ Colorado College
Michigan Tech - Loss, Loss vs. Minnesota-Duluth
Minnesota - Win, Win vs Minnesota State
Minnesota-Duluth - Win, Win @ Michigan Tech
Minnesota State - Loss, Loss @ Minnesota
Nebraska Omaha - Loss, Win @ Alabama-Huntsville
North Dakota - Win, Win @ Alaska-Anchorage
St. Cloud State - Tie, Loss @ Colorado College
Wisconsin - Idle

WCHA Standings:

1. Minnesota - 10-2-0 (13-4-1 Overall), 20 Points
2. Minnesota-Duluth - 9-2-1 (11-3-2 Overall), 19 Points
3. Nebraska-Omaha - 6-3-3 (8-7-3 Overall), 15 Points
4. Colorado College - 6-4-0 (8-4-0 Overall), 12 Points
4. North Dakota - 6-6-0 (8-7-1 Overall), 12 Points
6. Denver - 4-3-3 (6-5-3 Overall), 11 Points
6. Michigan Tech - 5-6-1 (8-7-1 Overall), 11 Points
6. St. Cloud State - 4-5-3 (6-8-4 Overall), 11 Points
9. Bemidji State - 4-6-2 (6-8-2 Overall), 10 Points
10. Wisconsin - 4-7-1 (7-8-1 Overall), 9 Points
11. Alaska-Anchorage - 2-9-1 (5-9-2 Overall), 5 Points
11. Minnesota State - 2-9-1 (3-12-1 Overall), 5 Points

Power Rankings:

1. Minnesota-Duluth (UP 2)
Last Ranking: #3
Last Week: Road Sweep @ (7) Michigan Tech
11-3-2 Overall, 9-2-1 WCHA
Next Week: @ (8) Wisconsin

The newly-minted number one team in the nation rises to the number one power ranking this week with a road sweep of Michigan Tech. The Bulldogs haven't lost a game since being swept at home by Minnesota in the middle of October. They continue their road trip with a two-game set at Wisconsin this weekend. Minnesota-Duluth does not play another home game until January 20th and 21st, when they host Alabama-Huntsville

2. Minnesota (No Change)
Last Ranking: #2
Last Week: Home Sweep vs. (12) Minnesota State
13-4-1 Overall, 10-2-0 WCHA
Next Week: vs. (7) Michigan Tech

The Gophers won two games last weekend, but it wasn't pretty. Minnesota faced a charged up and finally (almost) healthy Minnesota State squad and narrowly swept. This Gopher team seems tired and ready for a break - they've played every weekend since the start of the season, whereas nearly every other team has had at least one week off. The Gophers host Michigan Tech this weekend, a series that could well result in another four points for the Maroon and Gold. Michigan Tech has been surprisingly good, though, so don't be surprised if they steal a point or two.

3. Colorado College (DOWN 2)
Last Ranking: #1
Last Week: Home Win (Fri), Idle (Sat) vs. (4) Denver
8-4-0 Overall, 6-4-0 WCHA
Next Week: vs. (11) Alaska-Anchorage

Colorado College won an overtime thriller at home against Denver Friday night, scoring on a penalty shot in the extra frame to down the Pioneers. CC enters a soft spot in their schedule, facing Anchorage at home this weekend before traveling to Mankato to take on the Mavericks. Another four wins in the next two weeks would help steady the Tigers and get them back on track in the league. Anything less, though, and the doubts will continue to linger.

4. Denver University (No Change)
Last Ranking: #4
Last Week: Road Loss (Fri), Idle (Sat) @ (3) Colorado College
6-5-3 Overall, 4-3-3 WCHA
Next Week: @ (10) Bemidji State

Denver hung tight with Colorado College on Friday night, losing in overtime. The Pioneers have had an enigmatic season so far, and they are still waiting on their #1 goalie Sam Brittain to return from injury. Their #2, Adam Murray, was injured last weekend, so Denver is down to their third string goalie for a little while anyways.

5. North Dakota (UP 2)
Last Ranking: #7
Last Week: Road Sweep @ (11) Alaska-Anchoarge
8-7-1 Overall, 6-6-0 WCHA
Next Week: @ (6) Nebraska-Omaha

The Sioux took another two victories from their opponents last weekend, winning convincingly both nights against a struggling Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves team. The most pertinent news surrounding the Sioux this week, though, is that the school is giving up their nickname as of January 1st, 2012. North Dakota is 5-1 since being swept at Minnesota at the beginning of November.

6. Nebraska-Omaha (DOWN 1)
Last Ranking: #5
Last Week: Road Split @ Alabama-Huntsville
8-7-3 Overall, 6-3-3 WCHA
Next Week: @ North Dakota

Nebraska-Omaha lost a head-scratcher last weekend, as the Alabama-Huntsville Chargers beat them for their first win of the season. The Mavericks should be fired up for their series this weekend, as head coach Dean Blais returns Grand Forks, but not as the coach of the Sioux.

7. Michigan Tech (DOWN 1)
Last Ranking: #6
Last Week: Swept at Home vs. (1) Minnesota-Duluth
8-7-1 Overall, 5-6-1 WCHA
Next Week: @ (2) Minnesota

The Huskies fell twice to the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs last weekend at home, and travel to Minnesota this weekend. Michigan Tech is in a tough portion of their schedule - it would be good for them to get a point or two on the road against the Gophers this weekend.

8. Wisconsin (UP 1)
Last Ranking: #9
Last Week: Idle
7-8-1 Overall, 4-7-1 WCHA
Next Week: vs. (1) Minnesota-Duluth

Wisconsin is a different team depending on where they play. At home in Madison, the Badgers sport a nifty 7-3-0 record, but on the road the team is winless at 0-5-1. The Badgers get the red hot Bulldogs at home this weekend, and although Duluth is a better team I wouldn't be surprised to see a split in this series.

9. St. Cloud State (DOWN 1)
Last Ranking: #8
Last Week: Home Tie & Loss vs. (10) Bemidji State
6-8-4 Overall, 4-5-3 WCHA
Next Week: Idle

The Huskies took only one point for the second straight weekend, this time losing and tying at home against the Bemidji State Beavers. St. Cloud may finally be feeling the effects of the injuries they've sustained, losing both forward Drew LeBlanc and goaltender Mike Lee for the season.

10. Bemidji State (UP 1)
Last Ranking: #11
Last Week: Road Tie & Win @ (9) St. Cloud State
5-8-1 Overall, 3-6-1 WCHA
Next Week: vs. (4) Denver

Bemidji took three points on the road against St. Cloud, and quietly the Beavers have moved up to just one point behind a tie for sixth in the league. This Beaver team could beat a few good teams down the stretch.

11. Alaska-Anchorage (DOWN 1)
Last Ranking: #10
Last Week: Swept at Home vs. (5) North Dakota
5-9-2 Overall, 2-9-1 WCHA
Next Week: @ (3) Colorado College

The Seawolves continued their downward spiral last weekend, being swept at home by the Sioux. They face another tough test on the roat at Colorado College this weekend.

12. Minnesota State - Mankato (No Change)
Last Ranking: #12
Last Week: Swept on the Road @ (2) Minnesota
3-12-1 Overall, 2-9-1 WCHA
Next Week: vs. Alabama-Huntsville

Minnesota State played the Gophers tough last weekend, but again came away with two losses. They host Alabama-Huntsville in non-conference action this weekend, but I think this Mankato team is better than their record, especially if they continue to get healthier.

Team Tiers:

Last Week

Tier 1 - Colorado College, Minnesota, Minnesota-Duluth
Tier 2 - Denver, Nebraska-Omaha
Tier 3 - No Teams
Tier 4 - Michigan Tech, North Dakota
Tier 5 - St. Cloud State, Wisconsin
Tier 6 - No Teams
Tier 7 - Alaska-Anchorage, Bemidji State
Tier 8 - Minnesota State

This Week

Tier 1 - Minnesota-Duluth, Minnesota
Tier 2 - Colorado College, Denver
Tier 3 - North Dakota, Nebraska-Omaha
Tier 4 - No Teams
Tier 5 - Michigan Tech, Wisconsin
Tier 6 - St. Cloud State
Tier 7 - Bemidji State
Tier 8 - Alaska-Anchorage, Minnesota State

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Three Gopher Stars of the Weekend: Minnesota vs. Minnesota State

In a weekend where the Gophers struggled to pick up two wins against Minnesota State, which Minnesota players shined the brightest? Find out below in my Three Gopher Stars of the Weekend:

3. Kent Patterson: 52 saves on 56 shots, 0.929 Sv. %

Kent Patterson usually shows up in this segment for doing the things he does best: making the saves he's supposed to due to his rock-solid positioning. He usually doesn't give up soft goals and the Gophers have done a pretty good job of limiting the grade-A chances in front of him. This weekend was a different story for the Minnesota netminder. Patterson gave up a "soft" goal on Friday night, but the reason he earned the third star of the weekend was his ability to stop the breakaway. Minnesota State had a combined five breakaways in the weekend series, and Patterson stopped them all. In fact, the "soft" Evan Mosey goal was the only five-on-five goal Patterson gave up all weekend. Kent Patterson continues to give the Gophers the type of goalie play necessary for them to compete on the national stage, and Patterson's prowess at stopping the breakaway this weekend earned him the number three star.

2. Justin Holl: 0G-0A-0P

As you can see above, Holl had zero points on the weekend. This star isn't awarded on points alone, however. Holl has been steadily improving his game for the past month and a half, and he's starting to learn to do the things he's best at in order to help the Gophers out. Holl excels when skating with the puck - he's the best puck-handling defenseman on Minnesota's roster besides Ben Marshall - and he's found that he can use that aspect of his game to open up windows of opportunity for himself and his team. Holl has begun skating his way around and past defenders to open up better passing lanes or to get the puck past the red line and dump it in so that the forwards can gain control of the zone. At the beginning of the season, Holl would remain sedentary while deciding what to do with the puck, and as he lost time and space he'd often make a mistake. Now, Holl is becoming more proactive with the puck, and he is never afraid to let a shot go. His emergence has been one of the more exciting things to watch as far as player development goes from this Gopher team, and his continued improvement certainly helped Minnesota win two games this weekend. For that, Holl earns the number two star.

1. Taylor Matson: 2G-1A-3P

The captain once again tops the list of Gopher stars this week with a balanced performance in both games of the series. Matson scored the first goal of the game on Friday night and scored the second goal on Saturday. He also added an assist to the first Saturday goal. Matson's scoring on the weekend was nowhere near his biggest contribution, however. The senior forward wins every single one-on-one puck battle he engages in when he's out on the ice. This lead-by-example mentality has permeated through the team - his encouragement to get in shape over the offseason is perhaps the driving force behind the Gophers' conditioning edge and third-period dominance this season. The next time you're watching the game, though, watch Matson race to a puck that has been dumped in. If it's a 50/50 shot that he'll win the battle, chances are more like 80/20 that he'll come out with the puck. He creates so many offensive chances and limits the opposing team's puck possession time simply by hustling the way he does all the time. His contributions are often found off the score sheet, but with three points on the weekend Gopher captain Taylor Matson deserves the number one star.

Total Star Count

This section is sort of like the helmet stickers given to football players when they make a big play. Here's how it works: individual game star points will be awarded to first star (x3), second star (x2) and third star (x1), while weekend star points will be given to the first (x6), second (x4) and third (x2) stars. Please see below for your top Gopher stars of the season so far:

Patterson - 29 Points
Matson - 15
Rau - 14
Serratore - 10
Bjugstad - 9
Schmidt - 7
Condon - 6
Warning - 4
Budish - 4
Holl - 4
Haula - 3
Marshall - 2
Boyd - 1

Monday, December 5, 2011

Gophers Edge Feisty Mavericks, Hang On Both Nights For Home Sweep of Minnesota State

Coming into last weekend's series, the Minnesota Gophers were on top of the WCHA standings and on top of their game, winners of 11 of their first 16 games and one point ahead of the red-hot UMD Bulldogs in the league race. Minnesota State, on the other hand, had had a rough go of it. Riddled with injuries, the Mavericks had won only three of their first fourteen games and only two wins in the WCHA conference.

It truly was the best of times and the worst of times for these two separate teams.

They play the games on the ice, not on paper, and Minnesota State gave the Gophers all that they could handle. At the end of the night, though, Minnesota pulled out two narrow victories on the weekend to hold onto their lead in the WCHA and continue on their quest for an NCAA tournament bid.

Friday 12/2/11: 4-2 Gopher Win

Friday's game may have surpassed the Friday Wisconsin game (which the Gophers lost 3-1) in terms of Minnesota's ugliest game of the season. The Maroon and Gold got off to a great start in each period, scoring goals less than five minutes into every frame. However, the Gophers seemed to coast after their goals in the first and second periods, to the point that the Mavericks were outshooting and outplaying Minnesota after forty minutes of action. Senior captain Taylor Matson got the Gophers on the board just ninety-eight seconds into the game, with a shot from the slot that beat Minnesota State goaltender Austin Lee. Nate Condon and Seth Helgeson added assists on Matson's fourth goal of the season. Mankato would tie the game at 8:04 of the period on what could be called a soft goal for Gopher goalie Kent Patterson to give up. The Mavericks' Evan Mosey put the puck into the back of the Minnesota net on a shot from just inside the blue line. Patterson may have been screened or the puck may have deflected off of the Minnesota defenseman, but either way it was a shot Patterson would have liked to have had back. The period ended at 1-1, and the teams were tied at 12 shots a piece.

The second period opened with another early Gopher goal. Nick Larson potted his second of the year on a rush down the right wing. Ben Marshall faked a shot to pull the defenseman to him and fed Larson the puck. Larson drove the net and put a shot past Lee on the near-side post. The goal at 3:38 of the period gave the Gophers another early period lead which they would later relinquish. The Mavericks tied the game on the powerplay at 9:28 of the period when Jean-Paul LaFontaine found the puck and shot it into the net past a slough of Gopher and Maverick players piled on top of Kent Patterson. The referees reviewed the play and determined that Gopher forward Nick Bjugstad had checked the Maverick player into Kent Patterson, causing him to be out of position when the puck crossed the line. The Gopher players and coaching staff were upset, and tempers flared for both sides just a couple minutes later when three players (two Mavericks and Gopher Kyle Rau) were given penalties for roughing after the whistle. The rest of the period passed uneventfully until 19:59, when Seth Ambroz took a cross-checking minor to send the Gophers down a man for nearly two full minutes heading into the third period.

Thankfully for Minnesota, the Gophers were able to kill the early-period penalty and draw a power play of their own, when Ben Marshall drove the net and was taken down by Minnesota State's Matt Leiter. The tripping minor would prove to be crucial, as Minnesota's Erik Haula would score his ninth goal of the young season on the power play at 4:51. The slapshot goal from the right point was assisted by Nate Schmidt and Nick Bjugstad.

Unlike the previous two periods, Minnesota would not give up their lead. The Gophers dominated the period, outshooting the Mavericks 13-5 in the frame. Jake Hansen sealed the game with an empty net goal (assisted by Zach Budish) with less than a minute to go in the game.

Saturday 12/3/11: 3-2 Gopher Win

Although the Gophers won by a slimmer margin on Saturday night, the team played decidedly better and had to overcome far greater adversity in their latest victory. Minnesota was shorthanded a total of nine times throughout the game (including an extended 5-on-3), and they gave up only two goals on those chances. Also, despite being down a man for a significant portion of the game, the Gophers badly outshot the Mavericks on the game, 40-28 overall. Yet another interesting marker of this weekend (and of the entire season): the Gopher dominance of the third period continued. The Gophers carried the majority of the play in the third period both nights, as evidenced by their advantage in third period shots on goal. Combined, Minnesota outshot Minnesota State 22-9 in the final periods this weekend, and the Gophers have scored 30 goals in the third period or overtime while giving up only eight goals in the final frame.

The Gophers scored early and often on Saturday night, getting first period tallies from Seth Ambroz, Taylor Matson and Kyle Rau. Assists on those goals went to Zach Budish (x2), Taylor Matson, Seth Ambroz, Nate Condon and Mark Alt.

Although Minnesota built a big lead, Minnesota State did not give up. As mentioned above, the Mavericks were on the power play nine times in the period, and Zach Lehrke took advantage, scoring 2:32 into the second period and 4:00 into the third (on a 5-on-3) to cut the Gopher lead to just one. However, the Gophers weathered the Maverick press and came out of the game with a narrow 3-2 victory.

Next Weekend: Gophers vs. Michigan Tech

The Gophers host the tied-for-sixth-place Michigan Tech Huskies next weekend. The Huskies are much improved over last year, having already racked up more victories than the team did all of last season. Much of that has to do with health and a new vision behind the bench. Last year's Tech team was decimated by injuries, and this year's team has new head coach and former Husky player Mel Pearson at the helm. Pearson has injected some life into the program, but Michigan Tech has still had a tough time on the road - the team is only 2-4 on the road this year, and at Minnesota will be the team's toughest test so far. Michigan Tech is coming off being swept at home by the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs so they could be hungry for wins. I could see the Huskies stealing a win from Minnesota, but I expect a weekend sweep for the Gophers heading into the winter break.

Look out for the Three Gopher Stars of the weekend post tomorrow! Go Gophers!