Wednesday, January 11, 2012

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!

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