Sunday, January 29, 2012

Gopher Hockey "Helmet Stickers" Through St. Cloud State Weekend

You know how teams like Ohio State and Georgia give out helmet stickers to their players when they score touchdowns or otherwise make big plays? Well, here is a rundown of the "helmet stickers" that Gopher players have earned by being in "Three Gopher Stars of the Game / Weekend" - remember, a #1 star of the game earns you three stickers, #2 is two stickers, #3 is one sticker, whereas a #1 star of the weekend nets six stickers, #2 is four stickers and #3 is two stickers. Think of it as a rundown of players who have stood out the most in games thus far.

Gopher Helmet Stickers

1. Kent Patterson, 37 stickers
2. Taylor Matson, 22 stickers
3. Kyle Rau, 20 stickers
4. Nate Condon, 17 stickers
5. Nick Bjugstad, 16 stickers
6. Tom Serratore, 10 stickers
7. Jake Hansen, 9 stickers
7. Nate Schmidt, 9 stickers
9. Sam Warning, 7 stickers
10. Mark Alt, 6 stickers
11. Zach Budish, 4 stickers
11. Erik Haula, 4 stickers
11. Justin Holl, 4 stickers
14. Jake Parenteau, 3 stickers
15. Seth Ambroz, 2 stickers
15. Ben Marshall, 2 stickers
15. Nico Sacchetti, 2 stickers
18. Travis Boyd, 1 sticker
18. Chris Student, 1 sticker

Minnesota Sweeps Home-and-Home Versus St. Cloud State to Widen WCHA Lead

Prior to this weekend, Minnesota had not won two consecutive games since the end of December, when they beat Michigan Tech before the Christmas break and Niagara after. They had not swept a weekend series since beating Minnesota State at the beginning of December. They had not won a Friday game since the Niagara game in the Mariucci Classic.

This weekend changed all that.

The Golden Gophers (19-9-1 Overall, 15-5-0 WCHA) swept the weekend series with St. Cloud State to remain atop the league standings and further solidify their bid for an NCAA tournament spot. Minnesota dominated the play both nights, but were only able to squeak by the relentless Huskies by one goal each game.

Friday 1/27/11 - 2-1 Gopher Win

Friday night's game was notable for its slow start. Neither team looked good in the first ten minutes of action, and the play was punctuated by numerous offsides and icing whistles. Minnesota was able to shake off the rust and get on the board first when Jake Hansen took a two-on-one opportunity and made it into his own mini-breakaway, streaking down the right wing and getting past the defender before cutting towards the St. Cloud net. All alone in front, Hansen took a quick shot which Husky goaltender Mike Lee saved, but the ensuing rebound popped up in the air in the crease, where Hansen was able to bat the puck out of the air and into the net as his momentum carried him across the the face of the goal.

The goal was the only score of the period, and would give the Gophers the lead until 4:26 of the second, when St. Cloud's leading scorer Ben Hanowski beat Kent Patterson from the middle of the right faceoff dot to tie the game. The Gophers would strike back near the halfway mark of the game. Minnesota executed a near-perfect three-on-two rush to score at 11:49 of the period as Kyle Rau taking position in the center of the ice passed to his left to Jake Hansen, who fed a cross-ice pass through defenders to Nick Bjugstad on the right wing. Bjugstad, who leads the Gophers with 21 goals on the year, does not miss a wide open net very often, and he did not here, roofing the puck to give the Gophers the 2-1 lead which they would end the game with.

The third period was not without its excitement, as St. Cloud had four straight minutes of power play with just six minutes to play, but the Gopher team defense flexed is muscle right when it needed to, allowing only one shot on goal in the third to stifle the Huskies and change their narrow 2-1 lead into a 2-1 victory.

Three Gopher Stars of the Game

3. Seth Ambroz - 0G-0A-0P

The game seems to be starting to click for Ambroz. He's taking many fewer "stupid" penalties and is learning how to use his size to his advantage on the ice.

2. Nick Bjugstad - 1G-0A-1P

Bjugstad often imposes his will on games - he uses his size to beat other players on the ice, and has hand skills more becoming of a small sniper than a big bruiser. His 21st goal of the year was the game winner. Bjugstad also won 14 of the 17 faceoffs he took on Friday.

1. Jake Hansen - 1G-1A-2P

I'm not entirely sure who was wearing the #21 jersey on Friday night, but it was a different Jake Hansen than I've seen all year. This version of Jake Hansen skated hard, was aggressive on the puck and won the one-on-one puck battles. He completed more tape-to-tape passes on Friday than he has the rest of the year combined, and of course scored the first goal of the game on a great individual effort as well as making the thread-the-needle pass to Nick Bjugstad on the game-winner. Hansen was the best Gopher on the ice on Friday.

Saturday - 3-2 Gopher Win

Coming off their first Friday WCHA win since early December, the Gophers were smelling blood and looking for a sweep. Minnesota put together its best team defensive effort of the season giving up just 12 shots on goal throughout the game, but needed a late third-period goal in order to salvage a 3-2 win.

The Gophers dominated the first period, but it was St. Cloud that would skate away with a 1-0 lead as Ben Hanowski stuffed the puck under Kent Patterson and whacked away until it crossed the goal line at 13:54 of the first.

The Gophers would respond in the middle of the second period, as a Ben Marshall powerplay slapshot beat St. Cloud netminder Ryan Faragher and tied the game at one goal each. Minnesota took advantage of another powerplay opportunity later in the period, as Erik Haula scored his eleventh goal of the year and second goal since December 3rd on a one-time snapshot from the slot. Kyle Rau and Nate Schmidt assisted on the goal.

The Gophers dominated the remainder of the period, but another goofy St. Cloud goal tied the game sixty two seconds left. Ben Hanowski again lit the lamp for the Huskies, as a shot from behind the goal-line ricocheted off of Kent Patterson's skate and into the net. The teams were tied heading into the third period, despite the fact that had outshot the Huskies 28-9 and generally dominated the play.

The third offered more of the same, as Minnesota outshot St. Cloud 18-3 in the final frame but were still tied at two with less than two minutes left. For the second time in as many nights, the Gophers executed a near-perfect 3-on-2 with seventy nine seconds to go. Jake Hansen took the puck down the left wing before passing it to the trailing Justin Holl in the slot. Holl drew the defenders to him before passing the puck to the left for a wide-open Sam Warning. Warning one-timed a shot past Faragher to get the Gophers a 3-2 lead which they would hold onto (despite a St. Cloud hit post with their goalie pulled) for the weekend sweep.

Three Gopher Stars of the Game

3. Erik Haula - 1G-0A-1P

Haula broke out of his terrible slump by scoring the Gophers' second goal of the game. The team's second line was the best line on the ice all weekend. The Gophers need to get some more offense from their bottom-nine forwards, and if the second line can continue to bolster the first line's scoring, Minnesota could maintain their spot atop the WCHA for the remainder of the season.

2. Jake Hansen - 0G-1A-1P

Hansen, the team's best player on Friday, was equally as impressive on Saturday, notching an assist on the game-winning goal for the second night in a row. Hansen's hustle this weekend was nice to see from the senior. He was solid on the penalty kill all game long, and his efforts were a big part of why the Gophers only gave up twelve shots on goal throughout the whole game.

1. Sam Warning - 1G-0A-1P

Warning has had a rough go of it this year, seeing his ice-time reduced while he has struggled to make an impact in the lineup. Warning had a great weekend, though, and capped off the good effort with a late goal in the third period to win the game for the Gophers. Warning is a small player with big skills, and hopefully this weekend's results can further his confidence and propel him into the Gophers' secondary scoring conversation.

Other Thoughts

Combined with a surprising one-point weekend by Minnesota-Duluth at home to Michigan Tech, the Gophers' sweep gives them thirty points in the WCHA and a big five point lead in the league. UMD does have two games in hand on the Gophers, but Minnesota has five points and the tiebreaker on the Bulldogs.

Don't look now, but North Dakota is right back in it. The nameless-ones swept a disappointing Wisconsin team and are now tied for fourth in the league. As much as I love watching the Gophers beat North Dakota, I would be okay if we did not have to play them again this year. They always get hot at the right time, and this surge could be the typical Dave Hakstol second-half. For those of us who love the Gophers and dislike North Dakota, let's hope that their season ends in typical Dave Hakstol fashion: ultimately disappointing and left wanting for a title.

Could this be the start of a swoon for UMD? Up 4-0 in the first period on Friday, the Bulldogs looked like they were in control of the weekend before giving up four unanswered to Michigan Tech to tie before losing 5-0 to the Huskies on Saturday. Nine straight goals allowed at home to Michigan Tech is not necessarily an inspiring performance. The Bulldogs are still atop the Pairwise rankings, but it will be interesting to see how they respond the rest of the season. Many had already anointed UMD the champions of the WCHA given their easy schedule in the second half, but now in a five point hole to the Gophers we'll see what happens when the rubber meets the road.

Minnesota has a week off next weekend before traveling to Denver for a tough series against the Pioneers.

Go Gophers!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Gophers Come Up With Splits @ North Dakota, versus Colorado College to Take Lead in WCHA

Let me start by saying this: the Minnesota Gopher Mens' Hockey team played two pairs of solid, high-effort games in their series' at North Dakota and against Colorado College. I thought Minnesota was the best team on the ice all four nights. However, only two of those nights resulted in Gopher victories. Minnesota (17-9-1 Overall, 13-5-0 WCHA) still has the most wins of any team in the nation (tied with Minnesota-Duluth), but doubts are starting to creep into the minds of the Gopher faithful as the team has dropped to the bubble of the NCAA tournament on their weak non-conference performances (losses to Notre Dame, Vermont, Northeastern and Michigan State). The Gophers are playing solid hockey of late, but cannot seem to get the puck in the net. A pair of 2-1 losses to North Dakota and Colorado College over the past two weekends tells the tale perfectly.

Friday, 1/13/12: 2-1 Gopher Loss

Two weekends ago, the Gophers traveled up to Grand Forks to take on the newly unchristened University of North Dakota. Tensions were running high on both sides of the rink, as North Dakota was looking to pay back the Gophers for their home sweep of the then-Sioux back in November at Mariucci Arena.

Minnesota looked like the better team right from the drop of the puck, controlling the puck in the offensive zone at a near two-to-one clip compared to North Dakota's zone time of possession. For North Dakota to stay in the game, they needed junior goaltender Aaron Dell to be their best player. Luckily for them, he was. Dell stopped all eight Gopher shots in the first period and led his team into the first intermission with a 0-0 tie. The second period was more of the same - all Gophers - and Minnesota actually capitalized on a Kyle Rau goal at 6:29 of the middle frame. Rau, skating down the left wing, banged home a rebound off a wide-angle shot from the right wing by Zach Budish. The Gophers made it to the final ten seconds of the period before allowing North Dakota to tie up the game. A botched North Dakota icing call with less than twenty seconds left allowed North Dakota to gain the Gopher offensive zone, and when Nick Bjugstad turned the puck over at the point Andrew MacWilliam was there to fire a seeing-eye slapshot past Patterson and into the net.

The goal gave North Dakota new life and the momentum heading into the third period, but it was Minnesota that dominated the final twenty minutes of the contest. Like earlier in the game, though, Aaron Dell stood on his head and kept his team in the game. With under four minutes left to play, North Dakota's leading scorer Brock Nelson took the puck out of the corner, skated through a weak Nick Bjugstad poke check attempt and slid the puck along the ice and through the five-hole of Patterson to give his team the lead. Minnesota put together a furious attack in the waning minutes of the game, but Dell once again stood tall and North Dakota eked out a 2-1 win.

Three Gopher Stars of the Game

3. Kyle Rau - 1G-0A-1P

Rau scored the Gophers' only goal of the game and was his pesky self throughout, drawing penalties and making the smart play nearly every time he had the puck.

2. Kent Patterson - 23 saves on 25 shots, .920 Sv%

Although Minnesota dominated the puck-control battle on Friday night, North Dakota had the better of the chances, having plenty of odd-man rush looks. Patterson stopped them all and kept the Gophers in the game.

1. Jake Parenteau - 0G-0A-0P

Parenteau returned to the lineup against North Dakota after having missed a few games due to illness. His return proved just how important he is to the defense. Parenteau is the team's best stay-at-home defenseman. He makes good, quick puck decisions and is seemingly always in the right position. I was thoroughly impressed with his game on Friday night.

Saturday 1/14/12 - 6-2 Gopher Win

Saturday night was the Gophers' turn for revenge on North Dakota. Minnesota piled goals on early and often, coming away with a 4-2 rout of the hometown no-namers.

Nick Bjugstad was ready to make up for his blunders on Friday night (both goals could be attributed to bad plays by him), as he scored early and often to get the team off on the right foot. Bjugstad scored at 2:37 of the first on a partial breakaway set up by Kyle Rau, and again at 19:40 on a Rau / Parenteau rebound.

The Gophers would score twice more in the second period before North Dakota could get on the board, on a Seth Ambroz shot that somehow slunk under Dell and into the back of the net and a Nate Schmidt power play one-timer from the blue line. North Dakota would score the next two goals, however, as Michael Parks and Danny Kristo scored to pull them within two. However, Minnesota would score another back-breaking goal with less than one minute left, as Nate Condon took an Ambroz pass and beat goalie Dell to give the Gophers a three goal lead heading into the third.

The Gophers would only extend the lead in the third period, as Condon once again lit the lamp shorthanded on a Taylor Matson breakaway pass. The end of the game contained loads of excitement, as Ben Blood went after Kyle Rau in the handshake line and both teams left the ice without finishing shaking hands. However, after all that emotion and excitement, Minnesota walked away with an away split and thorough Saturday night drubbing of the University of North Dakota.

Three Gopher Stars of the Game

3. Seth Ambroz - 1G-1A-2P

Ambroz is starting to grow into his role as a big, bruising freshman on this Gopher team. Playing on what I consider to be the Gophers' second-best line this year with Taylor Matson and Nate Condon (technically the "third line"), Ambroz is starting to become more than just a big body on this team. He's showing some of the skill and grit that made him a highly sought after recruit, and if he can continue making positive offensive plays like he did against North Dakota he will make the Gophers that much better.

2. Nate Condon - 2G-1A-3P

Condon continues to get better and better in his sophomore season. The fastest player that I have seen so far this year for any team, Condon has honed his game to include tremendous play in the corners / along the walls, excellent face-off ability and a good hockey mind. He and Taylor Matson have already teamed up for something like six or seven shorthanded goals on the year, and the dynamic duo will continue to do it throughout the rest of the season. Condon's first goal at the end of the second period clinched this game for the Gophers.

1. Nick Bjugstad - 2G-0A-2P

This was a big bounceback game for Nick Bjugstad. Big Nick was the goat on Friday night, having two of his turnovers lead directly to the two North Dakota goals. It was clear that Bjugstad was motivated to make things right on Saturday, scoring Minnesota's first two goals on the game to give the Gophers a big early lead. Bjugstad is a one-man wrecking crew for this Gopher team, and he (along with Kent Patterson) is the most important player on the squad. Since it appears that the Haula-Hansen-Warning line is not planning on scoring ever again, it is up to Bjugstad to put the puck in the net if this Gopher team is going to win hockey games.

Colorado College Series

The Gophers came home after the emotional series against North Dakota to take on a good Colorado College team at Mariucci Arena the next weekend. Colorado College sat in third place in the WCHA, only four points behind Minnesota and breathing down their necks. The Gophers again played two solid games, but their lack of scoring punch limited them to just one win on the weekend.

Friday 1/20/12 - 2-1 Gopher Loss

I can sum this game up in just a couple sentences. The Gophers DOMINATED the game but could not score (a problem all too familiar to followers of the Maroon and Gold recently). Colorado College scored a goal on a Gopher defensive turnover in the second period. Minnesota pulled the goalie late in the third and tied up the game on a Nick Bjugstad goal. Thirty seconds later and immediately after a Grade-A scoring chance by the Gophers, Colorado College scored a goal to go up 2-1 and win the game. It was a frustrating experience, to say the least.

Three Gopher Stars of the Game

3. Kyle Rau - 0G-0A-0P

Rau is one of those players who shows up to play no matter whether the rest of the team does or not. In Friday night's game, Kyle Rau was all over the ice - drawing penalties, throwing hits, creating scoring chances.

2. Nick Bjugstad - 1G-0A-1P

Bjugstad scored his 20th goal of the season with the goalie pulled, and this clutch performance reminded fans of how clutch Bjugstad has been throughout the season. No Gopher has scored 20 goals in a season since the 2008-2009 season when Ryan Stoa scored 24 goals and was named an All-American. I expect Bjugstad to score close to 30 goals this season and be named to the All-America team.

1. Kent Patterson - 25 saves on 27 shots, 0.926 Sv%

Patterson again kept the Gophers in the game when they could not score to save their lives. Kent Patterson could be the best goaltender in the country.

Saturday 1/21/12 - 2-1 Gopher Win

Minnesota played another solid game Saturday night, eking out a narrow 2-1 victory despite being the better team for most of the game. Colorado College scored first, with Jaden Schwartz putting the Tigers out front at 15:02 of the period. Minnesota came storming back, though, as Nate Condon scored yet another shorthanded goal (from Taylor Matson, of course) at 17:41 of the period. The Gophers scored two more goals in the second period, but one was disallowed. Nico Sacchetti scored what would be the game-winning goal at 5:16 of the period, putting his own rebound past Tiger goalie Thorimbert. Then, Nate Condon put another puck past Thorimbert for what could have been his second goal of the game, but the referees disallowed the play because there was a hand pass in order to get the puck to Condon's stick.

Although Colorado College pressed late in the third, Minnesota held on for a 2-1 win that put them ahead of the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs for sole possession of first place in the WCHA.

Three Gopher Stars of the Game

3. Kent Patterson - 19 saves on 20 shots, 0.950 Sv%, 1 assist

Another good game for Patterson. This Gopher squad has only lost by more than one goal one time this season, which makes goaltending all the more of a premium. Patterson gives the Gophers a chance every night. Plus, Patterson added an assist on the Condon shorthanded goal.

2. Nico Sacchetti - 1G-0A-1P

Sacchetti, playing in only his eighth game of the season, had one of the biggest goals of his career to give Minnesota a 2-1 lead in the game. The eventual game-winning tally was Sacchetti's first of the year, and the senior has taken his limited ice time and made the most of it. Maybe he'll see more playing time now that Nick Larson, a staple of the Gopher fourth line, is out for a few weeks with a broken wrist.

1. Nate Condon - 1G-0A-1P

Condon seems to get a shorthanded chance every single night when paired with Taylor Matson on the kill, and he often delivers. Condon's ninth goal of the season was also his fourth shorthanded tally, and as mentioned above Condon has become much more than just the fastest guy on the team. He's matured into one of the more productive scorers on the Gophers, and at a time when Erik Haula, Jake Hansen, Sam Warning and Zach Budish are slumping scoring-wise, it's imperative that guys like Condon pick up the slack.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Thoughts on Gophers-Sioux Part 2: Minnesota Travels to Grand Forks to Take on North Dakota

Well, Sioux-Week round two is officially here! I'd like to post some of my impressions of the series below:

1) This is a pretty important series for both teams

North Dakota comes into this series the second-hottest team in the league behind UMD. The Sioux are 8-2-1 since being swept by Minnesota at Mariucci.

The Gophers are seemingly headed the opposite direction, having gone 6-6-1 since the UND sweep.

North Dakota can continue their rise through the WCHA ranks with good results this weekend, while Minnesota can re-boot their storybook season with anything better than a road split.

2) North Dakota is good at home

The Sioux are 8-3-2 at home on the year, and they'll have a big and raucous home crowd this weekend coming out to see the best rivalry in college hockey.

3) It will be interesting to see how UND handles the Sioux name now that they're not supposed to use it officially

These will be the first games for the University of North Dakota in the "no Sioux name" era. What will the fans cheer? (most likely the same things they did before). What will the PA announcer announce after goals are scored? (his trademark call - "Here's your University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux SCOOOOOOORINNNNNNGGGGGG!!!" - will have to change). I'm interested to see how both the school and the fans handle it.

4) I expect a split

Although these teams are heading in different directions right now, I don't think North Dakota has the firepower to sweep a good Gopher team, especially with the rash of injuries that the Sioux purportedly have. On the other side of the coin, this Minnesota team has not played a weekend of full 60 minute efforts since the previous North Dakota weekend, and I doubt that they'll play 120 minutes of solid hockey this weekend, either. All in all, I think the Gophers are the better team at the end of the day, but North Dakota is hot, angry and playing at home, so a split is what my head tells me. My heart, of course, says Gopher Sweep.

Let's hope my heart is right. Go Gophers!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

2011-2012 WCHA Power Rankings & Tiers: Midseason

As the WCHA's member teams begin their second half of conference play, here's a look at the league's Power Rankings and Tiers.

WCHA Standings:

1. Minnesota - 11-3-0 (15-7-1 Overall), 22 Points
1. Minnesota-Duluth - 10-2-2 (14-3-3 Overall), 22 Points
3. Colorado College - 9-5-0 (12-7-1 Overall), 18 Points
4. Nebraska-Omaha - 7-4-3 (10-8-4 Overall), 17 Points
5. Denver - 6-5-3 (11-8-3 Overall), 15 Points
6. North Dakota - 7-7-0 (11-8-2 Overall), 14 Points
7. Michigan Tech - 6-7-1 (11-9-1 Overall), 13 Points
7. St. Cloud State - 5-6-3 (8-10-4 Overall), 13 Points
9. Bemidji State - 5-7-2 (11-9-2 Overall), 12 Points
10. Wisconsin - 4-8-2 (9-9-2 Overall), 10 Points
11. Alaska-Anchorage - 3-10-1 (6-10-2 Overall), 7 Points
12. Minnesota State - 2-11-1 (6-15-1 Overall), 5 Points

Power Rankings:

1. Minnesota-Duluth (No Change)
Last Ranking: #1
Last Week: Road Sweep @ Western Michigan
14-3-3 Overall, 10-2-2 WCHA
Next Week: @ (6) Nebraska-Omaha

It's hard to believe that the Bulldogs have not lost since being swept in the WCHA's opening weekend against the Gophers. Duluth is hotter than hot, and they may face their toughest challenge the rest of the season long this weekend as they travel to Omaha to face the Mavericks. Unless UMD falls apart, expect them to win the league - their second half schedule is littered with bottom-half WCHA opponents.

2. Minnesota (No Change)
Last Ranking: #2
Last Week: Loss (Saturday) vs. Notre Dame
15-7-1 Overall, 11-3-0 WCHA
Next Week: @ (4) North Dakota

Minnesota spun its wheels over the holiday break, splitting in their own holiday tournament before falling to a good Notre Dame team in the Hall of Fame game. They face a fierce contest this weekend when they travel up to Grand Forks to take on the team formerly known as the Sioux. North Dakota has been hot, and this season could be a springboard for either team heading into the second half. If I had to guess right now, I would say the Gophers will finish second in the league, but I could see Minnesota ending up anywhere from first to fourth.

3. Colorado College (No Change)
Last Ranking: #3
Last Week: Home Loss & Tie vs. Cornell
12-7-1 Overall, 9-5-0 WCHA
Next Week: vs. (9) St. Cloud

Colorado College is back up to third place in the league, and they should remain up near the top of the league table for the remainder of the year. CC is a solid team, and if they can ever figure out their defense and goaltending they could compete for a top two position in the league.

4. North Dakota (UP 1)
Last Ranking: #5
Last Week: Home Win (Sat) vs. Clarkson
11-8-2 Overall, 7-7-0 WCHA
Next Week: vs. (2) Minnesota

North Dakota continues its usual late-season surge (and meteoric rise up the WCHA power rankings) as it enters the second half of the season. UND dug itself out of a 1-5-0 hole and has won eight of their last eleven games since being swept in Minneapolis by the Gophers. They face that same Gopher team at home next weekend, and could be looking for revenge.

5. Denver (DOWN 1)
Last Ranking: #4
Last Week: Home Split vs. Alabama-Huntsville
11-8-3 Overall, 6-5-3 WCHA
Next Week: vs. (7) Bemidji State

Denver is a mystery of a team so far this year. The Pioneers possess tremendous offensive potential, with players like the Shore brothers and Jason Zucker. However, they've had goalie woes and have lost some head-scratching games (last weekend's loss to Alabama-Huntsville included). Denver is still waiting for their great goalie Sam Brittain to come back from ACL surgery - he's scheduled to be back at the end of January - and they should get a boost then.

6. Nebraska-Omaha (No Change)
Last Ranking: #6
Last Week: Idle
10-8-4 Overall, 7-4-3 WCHA
Next Week: vs. (1) Minnesota-Duluth

Nebraska-Omaha should hold onto a home ice spot throughout the remainder of the year, as the team is solid and plays hard every night. They face a challenge this weekend, though, as the UMD Bulldogs come to town riding an undefeated streak that is two-plus months long.

7. Bemidji State (UP 3)
Last Ranking: #10
Last Week: Idle
11-9-2 Overall, 5-7-2 WCHA
Next Week: @ (5) Denver

I think there's a pretty substantial drop-off between the #6 and #7 teams in the WCHA, but there's no reason why Bemidji State shouldn't be considered one of the better second division teams in the league. They're well coached and have quietly beaten some good teams this season. They travel to Denver this weekend - two or more points and the Beavers could be making a run at a home ice spot in the WCHA playoffs.

8. Michigan Tech (DOWN 1)
Last Ranking: #7
Last Week: Idle
9-11-1 Overall, 6-7-1 WCHA
Next Week: vs (11) Alaska-Anchorage

Michigan Tech's tremendous start has been nearly forgotten at this point in the season, as the team is mired in the middle of the WCHA pack and now sports a record under .500 overall and in the league. They host Alaska-Anchorage this weekend with a chance to right the ship.

9. St. Cloud State (No Change)
Last Ranking: #9
Last Week: Idle
8-10-4 Overall, 5-6-3 WCHA
Next Week: @ (3) Colorado College

St. Cloud had a snakebit first half, with injuries and defections plaguing the team. However, some good news is on the horizon - goaltender Mike Lee may come back this season. The Huskies take on the Colorado College Tigers in Colorado Springs this weekend.

10. Wisconsin (DOWN 2)
Last Ranking: #8
Last Week: Home Sweep vs. RIT
9-9-2 Overall, 4-8-2 WCHA
Next Week: @ (12) Minnesota State

The Badgers are still winless on the road, but they have a good chance to change that this weekend against the Mavericks of Minnesota State. Wisconsin is currently tenth in the league.

11. Alaska-Anchorage (No Change)
Last Ranking: #11
Last Week: Idle
6-10-2 Overall, 3-10-1 WCHA
Next Week: @ (8) Michigan Tech

Alaska-Anchorage continues to struggle this season, and will travel to Houghton to take on the Huskies this weekend.

12. Minnesota State - Mankato (No Change)
Last Ranking: #12
Last Week: Road Split @ St. Lawrence
6-15-1 Overall, 2-11-1 WCHA
Next Week: vs. (10) Wisconsin

The Mavericks are stuck in a rut at the bottom of the WCHA pack, but should be a better team once they get healthy. Mankato takes on Wisconsin at home this weekend, and anything more than one point would be a decent result.

Team Tiers:

Last 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

This Week

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

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Gopher Hockey "Helmet Stickers" Through the First Half of the Season

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. Matson - 22
3. Rau - 18
4. Condon - 12
5. Serratore - 10
6. Bjugstad - 9
6. Schmidt - 9
8. Alt - 6
9. Warning - 4
9. Budish - 4
9. Holl - 4
9. Hansen - 4
13. Haula - 3
14. Marshall - 2
15. Boyd - 1
15. Student - 1

Gophers Spin Their Wheels in Games Leading Up to the Second Half of the WCHA Schedule

The Minnesota Gophers have gone 1-2-0 in their most recent three games, losing in the championship game of the Mariucci Classic for the second year in a row before falling in their one-game series against fifth-ranked Notre Dame.

Friday, 12/30/11: 5-1 Gopher Win

The first game of the Gophers' annual holiday tournament typically pits them against a not-so-stellar opponent. That was the case this season, as Minnesota took on a Niagara team that had only won five games all season prior to facing the Golden Gophers. The Gophers jumped on Niagara early, going up two goals in the first 186 seconds of the game. Nick Larson got Minnesota their first goal at 1:58 of the period, and Jake Hansen got the team's second goal (and eventual game-winner) at 3:06. Minnesota would tack on two more goals in the second period, as Erik Haula and Justin Holl lit the lamp. Niagara's Tyler Matthews would break the Kent Patterson shutout bid at 2:23 of the third, but a Zach Budish power play tally at 13:21 of the final frame would end the scoring and give the Gophers a big 5-1 victory.

Saturday, 12/31/11: 3-2 Gopher Loss

In a year seemingly defined by uncharacteristic Minnesota losses, the Gophers tacked on another one before ringing in 2012, as the hometown team lost in their own holiday tournament for the second season in a row, falling to the Northeastern Huskies 3-2. The game's first period went scoreless, and the Gophers got on the board first in the second period, getting a Nate Condon shorthanded goal to jump out to a 1-0 lead. Just over a minute later, after another Gopher penalty, Northeastern scored on a 5-on-3 power play to even the game. Just minutes later at 5:38 of the period, the Huskies took a 2-1 lead on a Steve Quailer goal. The Gophers just couldn't get any offense going, and this fact was made even more prevalent with the number of penalties Minnesota took. The Gophers took 13 total penalties in the game to Northeastern's five, and Northeastern had three separate 5-on-3 opportunities. They would score their third goal on such an opportunity at 14:23 of the third, and although Taylor Matson hit paydirt with 18 seconds left in the game, it was too little too late and Minnesota would end up falling by a 3-2 score.

Three Gopher Stars of the Weekend: Mariucci Classic

3. Nate Schmidt - 0G-2A-2P

Schmidt, now the nation's leading scorer as a defenseman, tallied another two assists this weekend. The sophomore isn't only a scoring machine, though - he also is one of the better defensive defensemen on the squad. His presence in the lineup is crucial for this Gopher team, and his solid weekend gives him the number three star.

2. Taylor Matson - 1G-0A-1P

I've gushed about Matson on this blog many times, so I'll spare some of the love here. Know this, dear readers: even if the rest of the Minnesota team is putting in a lackluster performance, Taylor Matson always is giving 100%. He does this night in and night out for the team, and his effort earned him the number two star of the weekend.

1. Nate Condon - 1G-1A-2P

Nate Condon is the fastest player on this Gopher team, and he is a huge asset on the penalty kill. Condon scored the first goal of the game on Saturday, on what else but a shorthanded breakaway. He was the Gophers' only effective offensive threat on Saturday. Condon also added an assist on the Taylor Matson goal, and his hustling performance means that he was the number one star of the weekend.

Saturday, 1/7/12: 4-3 Gopher Loss

2011 ended with a loss for the Gophers, and 2012 started with one. In the annual U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game, the Gophers struggled to show any signs of life until they absolutely needed to. Minnesota scored two goals in the last three minutes of the game, but had dug themselves too deep a hole in the first fifty-seven minutes and ultimately lost to the Fighting Irish by a 4-3 score.

The Gophers received an early five-minute power play, but Notre Dame had more scoring chances shorthanded during that five minute stretch than Minnesota had with the man advantage. When Notre Dame got a power play chance of their own late in the period, they capitalized, as sophomore forward T.J. Tynan snagged a rebound in the mid-slot and beat Kent Patterson glove-side to give his team a 1-0 lead heading into the first intermission. The second period was a little better for the Gophers, but Notre Dame would extend their lead by the end of the frame. Taylor Matson scored on the power play near the middle of the period, but Notre Dame would re-take the lead at 14:31 as Riley Sheahan fired a wrist shot from the right circle past Patterson. Sheahan would add another goal before the period expired, this time on a shorthanded breakaway gained when the puck bounced past Ben Marshall at the Gopher offensive point.

The Gophers played a very lackadasical third period, never really showing any desire or urgency despite being down two goals to begin the frame. It would be Notre Dame to score first in the period, on a Jeff Costello goal from the slot at 13:44. It was after the Costello goal that Minnesota finally started trying. Nick Bjugstad scored with the goalie pulled at 17:13, and Zach Budish tallied just 31 seconds later to draw the game within one. However, the Gophers would not get a chance after that juncture and would end up losing the game by a four to three score.

Three Gopher Stars of the Game

3. Chris Student - 0G-0A-0P

Student, the transfer from Northeastern who sat out the entirety of last year, got his first game action of the season on Saturday in a high-leverage game against a very good Notre Dame team. Student looked like he belonged in the lineup, playing very adequate defense for an undersized D-man. Student may not get much playing time in the near future with defensive stalwart Jake Parenteau destined to be back in the lineup for Minnesota soon, but Student's presence on the back-end gives the Gophers another option at defense if one of their regulars should get hurt. A solid debut for the newcomer gives Chris Student the third star.

2. Kyle Rau - 0G-0A-0P

Rau did not appear on the scoresheet against Notre Dame. His contributions to this Gopher team run far deeper than goals and assists, though. Rau drew the game-opening 5-minute major, and drew several more penalties throughout the game. The true freshman forward always moves his feet, and he finds a way to get himself in position to make plays. Rau definitely made a major impact on the game, and his play earned him the number two star.

1. Taylor Matson - 1G-0A-1P

Matson's Saturday goal was a vintage Taylor Matson tally - a second effort from down in the dirty areas of the crease, Matson got his own rebound and put it into the net to tie the game. As mentioned above, the senior captain is always hustling. His grit earned him the number one star against Notre Dame.

The Gophers travel to Grand Forks to take on the University of North Dakota hockey team formerly known as the Sioux this weekend. I'll have another WCHA Power Rankings post tomorrow recapping the first half of the WCHA season, followed by coverage of this weekend's games up in North Dakota (which I will be attending in person AND in my Gopher attire! Pray for my safety!)

Until next time, Go Gophers!