Saturday, February 25, 2012

Gophers Win Overtime Thriller in Omaha to Maintain WCHA Lead

Coming into the weekend, Minnesota had a two point lead in the WCHA. Three Gopher wins in their final four games would clinch the MacNaughton Cup. Although Friday's game was in jeopardy from the second period on, Minnesota dug deep and outscored Nebraska-Omaha 2-0 in the third period and overtime to steal two big points and maintain their lead in the WCHA standings over Minnesota-Duluth.

Friday 2/24/12 - 3-2 Gopher Win

Minnesota struggled in the first five minutes of play. It looked like the Gophers were becoming accustomed to a new building and a new team - Minnesota and Nebraska-Omaha last played in October 2010.

Once the Gophers found their groove, though, they dominated the first period. Sam Warning put the Gophers on top with his fifth goal of the season at 5:53. Warning received an ice-length pass from Nate Schmidt, and the Gophers had a 2-on-1 with Warning and Jake Hansen. Warning, showing a confidence that he's been playing with for four or five straight weekends, elected to shoot, and from the left circle Warning's wrister beat Omaha goalie Ryan Massa high on the glove side.

Minnesota continued to control the first period, outshooting Nebraska-Omaha by an 11-6 margin in the opening frame. However, despite several scoring chances the Gophers were not able to add to their lead, and after one period Minnesota held a 1-0 lead.

Nebraska-Omaha controlled the second period as much as Minnesota had dominated the first. The Mavericks tied the game at one on a Brock Montpetit goal just as a UNO powerplay expired at 7:51. Minnesota received a powerplay of their own at 9:35, but it was the Mavericks that took advantage as freshman Jayson Menga scored his twelfth of the year on a shorthanded 2-on-1. Menga, streaking down the right wing and getting in close to Gopher goalie Kent Patterson before top-shelfing a shot high over Patterson's glove side at 11:06. The Gophers began to pick up their play after the Mavericks' second goal, but despite a large number of high-quality scoring chances Minnesota could not beat Ryan Massa and the Mavericks took their 2-1 lead into the second intermission.

Good teams, though, find a way to win. The Gophers could not get anything past Massa for the first few minutes of the game, but Minnesota's leading scorer put the team on his back and tied the game. Nick Bjugstad took the puck out of the right corner and slid a backhand shot along the ice that somehow got through a screened Massa's five-hole and tied the game at two goals each. Both teams received one powerplay opportunity each throughout the remainder of the third period, but neither the Gophers nor the Mavericks could take advantage of their chance, and by the end of regulation play the teams were knotted at two each and heading to the extra session.

The overtime would not last long. Jake Parenteau, perhaps the Gophers most outstanding defensive defenseman, snapped a wrist shot off from the left point that made its way through traffic and into the upper-left corner of the net. The goal came just 1:46 into the overtime period, and it was Parenteau's first of the season and the first of his Gopher career. The Gophers jumped off the bench and hogpiled on Parenteau in the middle of the ice.

Three Gopher Stars of the Game

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

Warning scored the first goal of the game, and has been playing well since he was benched in the first game of the Colorado College series more than a month ago. Number eleven has noticeably picked up his game, and very well could have received a star in last week's games against Bemidji State. The play of the whole second line has been one of the big keys in the Gophers' improved performances of late, and Warning's success can only help the team going forward.

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

Bjugstad is Minnesota's best offensive player, and the sophomore's individual effort tied the game at two in the third period. Bjugstad's goal was his 23rd of the season, good for third in the nation. This team can go as far as Bjugstad can carry it - as I've been saying all season, Bjugstad needs to score for this team to win. He did, and the Gophers did win the game.

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

Parenteau picked a good time to score the first goal of his career. His overtime tally won the game and gave the Gophers a crucial two points on the night. Parenteau is the team's best defensive defenseman and has been a stalwart on the blueline all year. He's been given accolades in the three stars segment before for being a lock-down defender, but scoring the game-winner in a huge game definitely deserves the number one star of the night.


With UMD winning their game against CC in overtime last night, the Gophers needed points to remain in the lead in the WCHA standings. The win was huge in the race for the MacNaughton Cup, and with it the Gophers' magic number to win the league is now four points over UMD (any combination of Gopher points won and UMD points lost). Minnesota controls its own destiny, as two wins in their next three games wins the cup, and they could win it tonight with a win and a UMD loss.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

2011-2012 WCHA Power Rankings & Tiers: Two Weekends Left

With only two weekends remaining in the WCHA season, one would think that the teams would have settled into a groove in the league standings and in the power rankings. Not so. Lots of movement in the WCHA standings, and lots of movement in the power rankings, too. Let's look:

WCHA Standings:

1. Minnesota - 17-7-0 (21-11-1 Overall), 34 Points
2. Minnesota-Duluth - 14-6-4 (20-7-5 Overall), 32 Points
3. Denver - 13-7-4 (18-10-4 Overall), 30 Points
4. Colorado College - 13-10-1 (16-12-2 Overall), 27 Points
4. North Dakota - 13-10-1 (17-11-3 Overall), 27 Points
4. Nebraska-Omaha - 11-8-5 (14-12-6 Overall), 27 Points
7. Michigan Tech - 10-10-4 (13-15-4 Overall), 24 Points
8. St. Cloud State - 10-11-3 (13-15-4 Overall), 23 Points
9. Bemidji State - 9-12-3 (15-14-3 Overall), 21 Points
10. Wisconsin - 8-14-2 (13-15-2 Overall), 18 Points
10. Minnesota State - 8-16-2 (12-20-2 Overall), 18 Points
12. Alaska-Anchorage - 5-20-1 (8-20-2 Overall), 11 Points

Power Rankings:

1. Minnesota (No Change)
Last Ranking: #1
Recent Results: Swept @ (3) Denver, Sweep vs. (8) Bemidji State
21-11-1 Overall, 17-7-0 WCHA
Next Week: @ (6) Nebraska-Omaha

The Gophers have been up and down in their recent games, struggling in Denver but sweeping in convincing fashion versus the Beavers. Minnesota is still the team to beat in the league, holding a two-point lead and the tiebreaker over Minnesota-Duluth. The Gophers travel to Omaha and come home to face Wisconsin in their last two weekends.

2. Minnesota-Duluth (No Change)
Last Ranking: #2
Recent Results: Split vs. (4) North Dakota, Win & Tie @ (10) Minnesota State
20-7-5 Overall, 14-6-4 WCHA
Next Week: vs. (5) Colorado College

The Bulldogs gave away a valuable point on Saturday in Mankato, allowing the Mavericks to tie the game with two goals in a ten second stretch with just over two minutes remaining in the game. That point could prove to be costly, as UMD now sits two points behind the Gophers in the league and loses any tiebreaker to them. To win the league, they'll likely need to take at least seven of their remaining eight points and hope the Gophers do no worse than split down the stretch. That could be a tough task, as the Bulldogs host Colorado College and travel to St. Cloud to end the year.

3. Denver (UP 1)
Last Ranking: #4
Recent Results: Sweep vs. (1) Minnesota, Split @ (10) Wisconsin
18-10-4 Overall, 13-7-4 WCHA
Next Week: vs. (4) North Dakota

Denver launched itself staunchly into the conversation for the league title with a sweep of Minnesota two weeks ago. They followed it up with a win Friday night against Wisconsin, but could not complete the sweep, falling on Saturday. With a Minnesota sweep, Denver gave up two points to the Gophers, and now sit four points back. They will probably need to sweep their remaining series' versus North Dakota and at Nebraska-Omaha and hope for a misstep from Minnesota in order to win the league.

4. North Dakota (UP 1)
Last Ranking: #5
Recent Results: Split @ (2) Minnesota-Duluth, Win & Tie vs. (7) Michigan Tech
17-11-3 Overall, 13-10-1 WCHA
Next Week: @ (3) Denver

The Fighting Sioux have their name back (for now), and they seem to have found their game as well. North Dakota has climbed from the bottom of the league standings into a tie for fourth place, but they have a series with rival Denver and a home matchup with Minnesota State remaining.

5. Colorado College (DOWN 2)
Last Ranking: #3
Recent Results: Swept @ (8) Bemidji State, Split vs. (6) Nebraska-Omaha
16-12-2 Overall, 13-10-1 WCHA
Next Week: @ (2) Minnesota-Duluth

Colorado College continues to be a team that cannot figure out what it is. In a split against Minnesota they were a team with solid goaltending. In taking three out of four points from Denver, they were a team that could beat the best the league had to offer. In being swept at Bemidji State, they were a team that could not win on the road in games that they needed to win. CC takes its act on the road to Duluth this weekend.

6. Nebraska-Omaha (UP 1)
Last Ranking: #7
Recent Results: Tie & Win @ (7) Michigan Tech, Split @ (5) Colorado College
14-12-6 Overall, 11-8-5 WCHA
Next Week: vs. (1) Minnesota

UNO survived two very important series fairly well in the last two weekends, taking five out of eight points against teams tied with them in the standings. The grind continues for them, as they host Minnesota and Denver in their final two weekends. UNO is in a position to grab home ice for the first round of the WCHA playoffs, but they will need to take some points in those difficult games and hope that Michigan Tech cannot make up three points in the standings.

7. Michigan Tech (DOWN 1)
Last Ranking: #6
Recent Results: Tie & Loss vs. (6) Nebraska-Omaha, Loss & Tie @ (4) North Dakota
13-15-4 Overall, 10-10-4 WCHA
Next Week: vs. (9) St. Cloud State

Michigan Tech moves back out of the top half of the power rankings with disappointing results in games that they needed to take points in. They're now on the outside looking in for a home playoff spot - at this point, they'll need to win some games against St. Cloud State and at Colorado College, and will need to get some help from one of the three teams tied for fourth place in the league.

8. Bemidji State (No Change)
Last Ranking: #8
Recent Results: Sweep vs. (5) Colorado College, Swept @ (1) Minnesota
15-14-3 Overall, 9-12-3 WCHA
Next Week: vs. (10) Wisconsin

Bemidji State has experienced the highs and the lows the last few weeks. They swept Colorado College at home before being swept at Minnesota. The good thing for Bemidji is that they have a chance to make up some ground in their final two weekends of the season - they host a Wisconsin team that has won only one road game all season, and then travel to Anchorage to take on a Seawolf squad that has occupied the bottom of the league table all season. They'll need to get a lot of help in order to make up enough points to get home ice, but they could easily make up enough points to climb into seventh or eighth place in the league.

9. St. Cloud State (No Change)
Last Ranking: #9
Recent Results: Idle, Split vs. (12) Alaska-Anchorage
13-15-4 Overall, 10-11-3 WCHA
Next Week: @ (7) Michigan Tech

After a much needed break, St. Cloud dropped a stunner at home to Alaska-Anchorage before winning the rubber match on Saturday night. Despite all their injuries, the Huskies still sit just four points out of home ice. They'll need to do damage against good teams the rest of the way, as they travel to Houghton to take on Michigan Tech before coming home to host the Bulldogs of Minnesota-Duluth.

10. Minnesota State (No Change)
Last Ranking: #10
Recent Results: Sweep @ (12) Alaska-Anchorage, Loss & Tie vs. (2) Minnesota-Duluth
12-20-2 Overall, 8-16-2 WCHA
Next Week: Idle

Mankato continues to prove that they're not as bad as their record suggests. They went up to Anchorage and swept (something that the Bulldogs of Minnesota-Duluth could not do), and then came home and took one point against that same Bulldogs team. The one point came in stunning fashion, too - down two goals with just over two minutes left, Minnesota State scored two in just ten seconds to force a tie. The Mavericks have this weekend off before traveling to Grand Forks to take on the Fighting Sioux in their season finale.

11. Wisconsin (No Change)
Last Ranking: #11
Recent Results: Idle, Split vs. (3) Denver
13-15-2 Overall, 8-14-2 WCHA
Next Week: @ (8) Bemidji State

For a team that is allergic to winning on the road, the next couple weekends might not be all that fun for the Wisconsin Badgers. Bucky travels to Bemidji to take on the better-than-expected Beavers, before heading to Minneapolis to battle the Gophers in both teams' regular season finales. Wisconsin could very well finish 11th in the league.

12. Alaska-Anchorage (No Change)
Last Ranking: #12
Recent Results: Swept vs. (10) Minnesota State, Split @ (9) St. Cloud State
8-20-2 Overall, 5-20-1 WCHA
Next Week: Non-Conference Home-and-Home vs. Alaska-Fairbanks

Alaska-Anchorage was swept at home by Minnesota State, but traveled to St. Cloud and took an overtime win on Friday night. The Seawolves play a home-and-home versus Alaska-Fairbanks before hosting Bemidji State in their final WCHA series of the season. They will likely finish last in the WCHA and will need to travel to the WCHA champion's rink for the first round of the playoffs.

Team Tiers:

Last Week

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

This Week

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

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Gophers Complete Sweep of Beavers with 4-1 Victory

Coming into this weekend's action, nearly everyone was asking the same question: could a struggling Minnesota team summon the will necessary to beat a streaking Bemidji squad?

The short answer: Yes.

In another dominating performance, the Gophers took care of the visiting Beavers 4-1 to secure a weekend sweep and widen their lead in the race for the MacNaughton Cup.

Saturday 2/18/12: 4-1 Gopher Win

Friday night's game started out with a Zach Budish goal at the one minute mark of the game. On Saturday, Erik Haula was just a little late. Haula scored at 1:17 of the first to give the Gophers a 1-0 lead. Although Minnesota would carry the majority of the play throughout the rest of the first period, Bemidji struck for their first (and only) goal of the weekend, as Brad Hunt's slapshot from the point beat Gopher goalie Kent Patterson at 17:14 to tie the game at one goal each.

The Gophers would answer in the second period. Jake Hansen tipped a Justin Holl shot past Beaver netminder Dan Bakala at 2:05 to give the Gophers another lead at 2-1. Erik Haula would score his second goal of the game on the powerplay at 7:07 of the second. At that point, the Gophers put the game on cruise control.

Minnesota played sound defensive hockey in the latter half of the second and the entirety of the third, favoring dump-ins to rushes into the zone and forcing Bemidji to rush the puck the full length of the ice to create opportunities. This strategy worked, as Bemidji could not muster another tally in the third. A Seth Ambroz empty net goal at 18:27 was the final nail in the Beaver coffin.

Three Gopher Stars of the Game

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

Hansen scored the game-winning goal on a beautiful tip, but he took an ill advised penalty right after Bemidji had scored to tie the game in the first period. That is a microcosm of Hansen's season thus far. The senior has been nothing if not inconsistent, playing great at times and making bad decisions at others. His goal was important in the game, but I'd like to see more of the dynamic, offensive Hansen and less of the bad passing, bad decision-making one. Perhaps he's rounding into form, as his play of late has been much more of the former and less of the latter.

2. Seth Helgeson - 0G-1A-1P

Helgeson tallied an assist on the Ambroz empty net goal, but his contributions throughout the rest of the game earn him the second star tonight. Helgeson has been maligned by yours truly throughout the years for being slow on his skates and for seemingly always pinching in at the wrong times. Tonight (and for the past few weekends) he has been steady and solid on the back end for the Gophers. He likely won't win any fastest skater contests, but Helgeson seems to have grown into his role on the team - hard-nosed, tough, defensive defender. If he can continue playing within himself and playing to his strengths, he'll find his way into the three stars a lot more often.

1. Erik Haula - 2G-1A-3P

Another great night for the Fin. Haula scored the Gophers' first and third goals, sniping shots into the corners of the net. It's great to see Minnesota get secondary scoring when the Bjugstad line does not light the lamp. If they can do it more consistently going forward, they'll be a team to be reckoned with come tournament time.


The win gave the Gophers a much needed four points on the weekend, and coupled with a Duluth tie in Mankato and a Denver loss at Wisconsin, the Gophers are once again sitting pretty in the WCHA race. Minnesota sits at 34 points, two ahead of Minnesota-Duluth (32) and four ahead of Denver (30). Interestingly, Minnesota holds the tiebreaker against Duluth thanks to their two head-to-head wins at the beginning of the season, but loses the tiebreaker to Denver. So, in reality, Minnesota has a three point lead on both DU and UMD to win the MacNaughton. With just four games left to play, Minnesota can clinch the WCHA title with three wins. That may be a challenge, though, as they travel to Omaha to take on the UNO Mavericks next weekend. The Mavs are coming off a road split at Colorado College, and are in a three-way tie for fourth place in the league with Colorado College and North Dakota. They will be fighting for points and for home ice, so don't expect Nebraska-Omaha to lay down and surrender to Minnesota.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Minnesota Routs Bemidji State 3-0 to Keep Pace Atop WCHA

Minnesota finally may have exorcised its Friday demons.

Winning just three of their previous ten Friday contests, the Gophers (20-11-1 Overall, 16-7-0 WCHA) came out like gangbusters last night, thoroughly dominating the play and the scoresheet en route to a 3-0 drubbing of Bemidji State (15-13-3 Overall, 9-11-3 WCHA).

Friday 2/17/12: 3-0 Gopher Win

The Gopher domination of Friday night's game started early. Zach Budish tipped a Mark Alt slapshot past Beaver goalie Dan Bakala at 1:00 of the first period to give the Gophers a lead they would never vanquish. In fact, the game was never in doubt after that first minute. Minnesota did not allow a shot on goal until the 12-minute mark of the first period, and Beaver scoring chances were hard to come by all night. The Gophers extended their lead at 9:13 of the period, when Budish again found a loose puck in front of the crease and banged it home to make the score 2-0. That's the way it ended after the first period, and the shots on goal told the story: Minnesota outshot Bemidji State 14-2 in the opening frame.

The Gophers did not let up on the domination in the second or third, controlling the play what seemed like nine out of every ten seconds. The shots advantage continued to widen for Minnesota - by the end of the game they held a 36-13 lead. The Gophers would tack another goal on in the second period, a Nick Bjugstad tally from the weak side off of a nifty goalmouth pass from Kyle Rau.

The third period was all about protecting the shutout bid for Kent Patterson. Minnesota, maligned last weekend for taking unnecessary penalties that cost them a chance to win the game, did not commit a penalty throughout the sixty minutes of action. Patterson only had to make one or two quality saves all night - including a dandy on a partial two-on-one - to earn his seventh shutout of the season.

Three Gopher Stars of the Game

3. Kent Patterson - 13 saves on 13 shots, 7th shutout of the season

Patterson did not allow a goal on a night when the opposing team did not have much chance of scoring. The senior netminder's conference-leading 2.04 GAA speaks both to his ability as a goaltender and his teammates' attitude towards backchecking, clogging lanes and blocking shots. The shutout was Patterson's seventh of the season, extending his team-record for shutouts in a single season.

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

Bjugstad got back on track against Bemidji after tallying only one total assist in his previous three games. The sophomore leads the team with 22 goals and 36 points on the year. Minnesota needs Bjugstad to be their best offensive player.

1. Zach Budish - 2G-0A-2P

Budish scored the first two goals of the game for Minnesota, and his goals set the tone for the game. It's nice to see Budish succeed on that top line after being oft overshadowed by linemates Nick Bjugstad and Kyle Rau. The redshirt sophomore's two goals got him to the ten-goal mark on the season, and the Gophers now have six players who have reached that level of production.


The victory gave the Gophers a much needed two points in the WCHA - they were needed because both UMD and Denver won their games on Friday. The race for the MacNaughton Cup has become a three-horse field, as Minnesota (32 points) narrowly leads Minnesota-Duluth (31 points) and Denver (30 points). Tonight's game is a big one for the Gophers, who could do no worse than maintain their position in the conference with a win. They'll need to put forth another quality effort tonight if they want to sweep this tough Beaver squad - Bemidji is now 11-5-2 in their last 18 games, and they will be doing everything they can to avoid the sweep.

Friday, February 17, 2012

WCHA Race Tightens as Gophers Swept in Denver

Prior to last weekend's results, Minnesota had a three point lead in the WCHA standings and looked for all the world like they were the team that would capture the league title.

Funny how much things can change in just one weekend.

The Gophers' once relatively straight-forward road to the WCHA's regular season crown was muddled last weekend in Denver, as the surging Pioneers swept the visiting Maroon and Gold to draw to within two points of the league lead. The Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs also gained ground on the Gophers, with a home split against North Dakota to pull them to within one point of the league leaders.

Friday 2/10/12: 5-3 Gopher Loss

Minnesota was on the board first in Friday night's tilt, grabbing a 1-0 lead at 9:08 of the first period on a Nate Condon tally. Denver, who had dominated the start of the period prior to the Condon goal, would not let up, and found themselves scoring three times before the horn sounded to mark the end of the first frame: Shawn Ostrow at 9:48, Dustin Jackson at 12:37, and Nate Dewhurst at 17:32. The shots on goal at the end of one were 19-9 in favor of the home Pioneers, and it showed on the ice. Minnesota was sluggish and turnover-prone, and Denver was able to capitalize on the Gopher mistakes.

The second period was a better one for Minnesota, but it too was marred by errors. The Gophers drew to within one at 1:56 of the period on a Kyle Rau powerplay tally. Denver, however, regained their two-goal cushion at 4:02 on a soft goal by Jason Zucker. Zucker's shot from the corner glanced off Kent Patterson and into the net. Zucker was again involved in a game-changing play which would see both he and Kyle Rau leave the game at 6:38 of the period. Zucker had just gotten rid of the puck along the boards at center ice when Rau skated from across the ice to deliver an aggressive hit to Zucker's upper chest / chin area. Zucker crumpled to the ice and Rau was sent off with a five-minute major and game misconduct for boarding. Zucker eventually walked off the ice with the aid of trainers, but he did not return on the weekend.

Minnesota killed off the ensuing Denver power play, but right after it expired Chris Knowlton netted another goal to put Denver up by a commanding 5-2 mark. Minnesota's Zach Budish responded at 15:19 to draw the Gophers back within two goals, but that was as close as they'd get.

Neither team scored in the third period, and although the shots on goal ended up even at 34 each it was clear that Denver was the better team on the night. Minnesota continued to make uncharacteristic defensive zone mistakes that cost them dearly in the end, as the Gophers would suffer only their second loss by more than one goal all season.

Three Gopher Stars of the Game

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

Parenteau continues to be a rock on defense for this Gopher squad. The best defensive-defenseman on the roster, Parenteau deserves to be given a lot of credit for Nate Schmidt's breakout season - without Parenteau playing the stay-at-home role, Schmidt would likely not be able to jump into the rush as often as he has.

2. Joey Miller - 0G-0A-0P

Miller was one of the most effective Gophers on the ice Friday night. He's one of those players that knows his role on the team and has accepted it. He plays hard, and he's seen his ice time increase over the past several months as Coach Lucia has rewarded him for some solid play.

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

Condon, as has frequently been the case this season, was the best player on the ice for Minnesota on Friday night. He scored one goal but easily could have had multiple points as he set up numerous teammates on near-miss chances. Condon has really benefitted from playing with Taylor Matson for the past two years - for my money, Condon is the most improved player on the team, and his compete level is very high.

Saturday: 4-3 Gopher Loss

The Gophers followed up Friday night's loss with an all-around good performance Saturday. The game started off on the right foot, as Erik Haula sniped a shot past Sam Brittain just 38 seconds into the game to give the Gophers a 1-0 lead. That lead would hold up throughout the first period, and Minnesota added to it as Zach Budish scored at the end of a Gopher powerplay at 15:17 to extend their lead to 2-0. However, Denver would cut the lead to one before the period expired as Chris Knowlton scored on a breakaway at 17:37.

Denver completed their comeback at 2:33 of the third, as Luke Salazar tipped the puck past Patterson on the powerplay to even the game at two. The Gophers would come back, as Nico Sacchetti one-timed a Sam Warning pass into the Denver net to give the Gophers a lead heading into the final ten minutes of the period. However, Denver got a powerplay on a Justin Holl high stick with just over three minutes left in the game, and Nick Shore did not miss his opportunity, putting a snapshot from the left circle past Kent Patterson at 18:34 of the third.

The goal tied the game and sent it into overtime, where just 17 seconds into the extra frame Nick Shore beat Patterson again on a broken play off of a Gopher defensive zone faceoff. The goal gave Denver the victory on the night, the weekend sweep, and a valuable four points in the standings to climb into third place, just two points behind first place Minnesota.

Three Gopher Stars of the Game

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

Warning has picked up his game in the last several weeks, and he made several great plays, including the pass that set up the go-ahead and should-have-been game-winner to Nico Sacchetti. The Gophers need secondary scoring, and Warning's points will be big down the stretch.

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

With Kyle Rau out, Nico Sacchetti got top line minutes, paired with Erik Haula and Nick Bjugstad. The experiment paid off as Nico scored the Gophers' third goal on the night and played solid throughout the game, working hard in the corners and being the "grit" guy to offset Bjugstad and Haula's skill game. He also has been playing well of late, and the senior is a guy that Coach Lucia is finding hard to keep out of the lineup.

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

I've been on Erik Haula's case a lot recently, as it seems like the sophomore has been playing vapid and uninspired hockey. Saturday's game was a welcome change of pace, as Haula scored in the first minute of the game to set the tone for what was one of his best games in the past several months. Haula was effective on both ends of the ice, hustling to backchecks and being effective in the attack zone. The Gophers need his firepower as the season winds down, so hopefully Haula can find a way to become more consistent.

Next: Gophers vs. Bemidji State

The Gophers come back home to the friendly confines of Mariucci Arena to take on the Bemidji State Beavers this weekend. The Beavers are coming off of a home sweep of Colorado College, and sit tied for eighth place in the league (but just three points out of home ice). The Beavers are 11-4-2 in their past 17 games. Minnesota could really use a sweep this weekend, but somehow I think that the Beavers are going to steal a point or two from this inconsistent Gopher squad. Three points for the Gophers this weekend.

Monday, February 6, 2012

2011-2012 WCHA Power Rankings & Tiers: Down the Stretch

With just four weekends remaining in the WCHA's regular season, here's another look at the league's Power Rankings.

WCHA Standings:

1. Minnesota - 15-5-0 (19-9-1 Overall), 30 Points
2. Minnesota-Duluth - 12-5-3 (18-6-4 Overall), 27 Points
3. Colorado College - 12-7-1 (15-9-2 Overall), 25 Points
4. Denver - 10-6-4 (15-9-4 Overall), 24 Points
5. North Dakota - 11-9-0 (15-10-2 Overall), 22 Points
5. Nebraska-Omaha - 9-7-4 (12-11-5 Overall), 22 Points
5. Michigan Tech - 10-8-2 (13-13-2 Overall), 22 Points
8. St. Cloud State - 9-10-3 (12-14-4 Overall), 21 Points
9. Bemidji State - 7-10-3 (13-12-3 Overall), 17 Points
10. Wisconsin - 7-13-2 (12-14-2 Overall), 16 Points
11. Minnesota State - 6-15-1 (10-19-1 Overall), 13 Points
12. Alaska-Anchorage - 4-17-1 (7-17-2 Overall), 9 Points

Power Rankings:

1. Minnesota (UP 1)
Last Ranking: #2
Recent Results: Split vs. (3) CC, Sweep in Home-and-Home vs. (9) SCSU
19-9-1 Overall, 15-5-0 WCHA
Next Week: @ (4) Denver

With the Bulldogs spinning their wheels, Minnesota has taken over atop the WCHA Power Rankings. The Gophers are winning on the heels of their stout team defense, which has stiffened of late. Minnesota has averaged 1.67 goals against in its past six contests. However, they're only scoring an average of 2.5 goals per game in those six tilts, so they'll need to start finding some more consistent offense if they are going to be a contender in the postseason.

2. Minnesota-Duluth (DOWN 1)
Last Ranking: #1
Recent Results: Loss & Tie vs. (6) Michigan Tech, Split @ (12) Alaska-Anchorage
18-6-4 Overall, 12-5-3 WCHA
Next Week: vs (5) North Dakota

As mentioned above, UMD has had its share of tough games over the past few weekends. The Bulldogs went up 4-0 in the first period of Friday's game against Michigan Tech, before giving up nine unanswered goals on the weekend (four Friday, five Saturday) to come away with only one point. Then they traveled up to Anchorage and came away with only two points against a down Seawolves team. If UMD is going to win the league now, they'll need to do so with the "cake" of their schedule behind them: red-hot North Dakota comes to town this weekend, followed by an away series at Minnesota State, home versus Colorado College and rounding out the season in St. Cloud.

3. Colorado College (No Change)
Last Ranking: #3
Recent Results: Split vs. (1) Minnesota, Win & Tie vs. (4) Denver
15-9-2 Overall, 12-7-1 WCHA
Next Week: @ (8) Bemidji State

The Tigers survived the last two weekends in the meat grinder fairly well. CC took two valuable points at Mariucci Arena against Minnesota, and then took three of four from last weekend's rivalry series against Denver. Colorado College has all but locked up home ice for the first round of the WCHA playoffs.

4. Denver (UP 1)
Last Ranking: #5
Recent Results: Sweep @ (12) Alaska-Anchorage, Loss & Tie vs. (3) Colorado College
15-9-4 Overall, 10-6-4 WCHA
Next Week: vs. (1) Minnesota

The Pioneers swept the Seawolves in Anchorage before taking one point in a fiercely-contested series with Colorado College. However, the biggest reason the Pioneers are moving up the Power Rankings Board is the return of starting goaltender Sam Brittain. Brittain, last season's starter, suffered a torn ACL last offseason. He returned for the first time in the second Alaska-Anchorage game with a victory before allowing just one goal against Colorado College on Friday. With some stability between the pipes, Denver could be a team to be feared down the stretch.

5. North Dakota (DOWN 1)
Last Ranking: #4
Recent Results: Sweep vs. (11) Wisconsin, Idle
15-10-2 Overall, 11-9-0 WCHA
Next Week: @ (2) Minnesota-Duluth

After suffering a slight bump in the road on their perennial second-half surge (consecutive losses vs. Minnesota, @ St. Cloud), North Dakota has rattled off three wins in a row to jump back into the thick of the home-ice battle in the WCHA. Now tied for fifth in the league with Nebraska-Omaha and Michigan Tech, North Dakota faces a tough road test this weekend as they travel to Duluth.

6. Michigan Tech (UP 2)
Last Ranking: #8
Recent Results: Tie & Win @ (2) Minnesota-Duluth, Split @ (10) Minnesota State
13-13-2 Overall, 10-8-2 WCHA
Next Week: vs. (7) Nebraska-Omaha

Michigan Tech may have saved its season sometime between the first and second periods in Duluth. Down 4-0 after one, the Huskies rattled off the next four goals on Friday and the only five goals on Saturday to skate out of AmsOil Arena with a stunning three points against the Bulldogs. Tech followed it up by splitting on the road in Mankato. The Huskies face another important series this weekend, squaring off with Nebraska-Omaha in a showdown that could go a long way in determining home ice in the first round of the WCHA playoffs.

7. Nebraska-Omaha (DOWN 1)
Last Ranking: #6
Recent Results: Split @ (10) Minnesota State, Tie & Loss vs. (8) Bemidji State
12-11-5 Overall, 9-7-4 WCHA
Next Week: @ (6) Michigan Tech

Omaha moves out of the top half of the Power Rankings with disappointing weekends at Mankato and against Bemidji. The Mavericks have played in three overtime games in their past four, going 1-1-1 in those contests. UNO faces off against Michigan Tech this weekend in a clash between two teams tied for fifth in the conference standings.

8. Bemidji State (DOWN 1)
Last Ranking: #7
Recent Results: Split vs. (10) Minnesota State, Tie & Win @ (7) Nebraska-Omaha
13-12-3 Overall, 7-10-3 WCHA
Next Week: vs. (3) Colorado College

The Beavers only have 17 points in the WCHA thus far, good for ninth place in the conference and five points out of home ice. However, this Bemidji team is one that I see as "sneaky good" - they can beat good teams. They've posted quality wins this season, and could very well steal some points from Colorado College this weekend.

9. St. Cloud State (No Change)
Last Ranking: #9
Recent Results: Swept in Home-and-Home vs. (1) Minnesota, Sweep @ (11) Wisconsin
12-14-4 Overall, 9-10-3 WCHA
Next Week: Idle

The Huskies need a weekend off. They dressed only ten forwards in Friday's game against Minnesota before losing Travis Novak to a knee injury. In the three games since, Bob Motzko's crew has had only three offensive lines available. Despite that, St. Cloud went into Wisconsin and swept the home Badgers. However, their extreme injury issues keep them below Bemidji in the Power Rankings.

10. Minnesota State (UP 2)
Last Ranking: #12
Recent Results: Split @ (8) Bemidji State, Split vs. (6) Michigan Tech
10-19-1 Overall, 6-15-1 WCHA
Next Week: @ (12) Alaska-Anchorage

I'm going to say this right now: I was wrong about Minnesota State. I ranked them dead last in the conference before the season started, and it is true that the Mavericks have hovered near the bottom of the league table most of the year. However, the Maverick team that began the year 2-12-1 in the conference is a lot different than the team that has now gone 4-3-0 in their last seven league games. This team has a chance to pick up a couple more wins down the stretch, and could very well play the spoiler in their games against Minnesota-Duluth and at North Dakota to end the season.

11. Wisconsin (DOWN 1)
Last Ranking: #10
Recent Results: Swept @ (5) North Dakota, Swept vs. (9) St. Cloud State
12-14-2 Overall, 7-13-2 WCHA
Next Week: Idle

I'm not sure what has been ailing the Wisconsin Badgers this season. They have one of the most dynamic players in all of college hockey in Justin Schultz, yet they still have a hard time doing just about anything on the ice. The team has won one road game all season, and has dropped their last four contests. They get a week off before hosting Denver two weekends from now.

12. Alaska-Anchorage (DOWN 1)
Last Ranking: #11
Recent Results: Swept vs. (4) Denver, Split vs. (2) Minnesota-Duluth
7-17-2 Overall, 4-17-1 WCHA
Next Week: vs. (10) Minnesota State

Alaska-Anchorage has had a rough go of it this season. Their win over Minnesota-Duluth snapped an eight-game losing streak dating back to December 10th. The Seawolves host the Minnesota State Mavericks this weekend.

Team Tiers:

Last 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

This Week

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