Saturday, April 12, 2014

National Championship Notebook: Gopher Keys to the Game

A half hour lies between the Gophers and the start of the NCAA Championship Game.  Here are some keys to the game for Minnesota:

  • The best players need to play like it: Don Lucia talks about this all the time.  At this time of year, your best players need to step up.  That obviously includes Adam Wilcox, but forwards Kyle Rau, Nate Condon and Sam Warning need to be engaged in the game and show up on the scoresheet for the Gophers tonight.
  • The freshmen need to not play tentatively: In the Robert Morris and North Dakota games, Minnesota's highly-vaunted freshman class played nervous.  In the St. Cloud game, they played like upperclassmen.  Minnesota has relied on their stellar freshmen Hudson Fasching, Justin Kloos and Taylor Cammarata to provide scoring all season long, and these players will need to play like they're not scared of the grand stage.
  • The third line needs to win their shifts: The Gophers' third line of Seth Ambroz-Travis Boyd-Tom Serratore is the consummate shut-down checking line that also happens to boast a couple solid goal scorers in Ambroz and Boyd.  Because of their defensive prowess, they're often paired up against the opposing team's top line.  One big matchup of today's game is the Gopher third line against Union's scoring lines - if the Boyd line can shut down Union's potent offense, it will bode well for Minnesota.
  • Minnesota's defensemen need to play with poise: One of the strengths of this Gopher team is the solid, steady defensive unit.  All six members of Minnesota's D-corps need to play heady, steady hockey and not turn the puck over.
  • Gophers need to dictate the pace: Minnesota has struggled this year when it sits back and lets the opposing team dictate the pace of play.  We saw that in the North Dakota game, when UND had the puck for the majority of the game and forced Minnesota to the outside / to dump and chase, when their strength is carrying the puck into the zone and swarming puck.  If the Gophers can take it to Union, expect good things.
  • Stay out of the box: The Gophers are one of the least penalized teams in the nation.  Stay that way.  They'll need to play a clean game and use their five on five advantage to win.
Here we go.  Half an hour away.  Let's Go Gophers!  I think this is going to be a very close game that could go either way, but I'm not here to hedge my bets.  Prediction: Gophers win 3-2 to claim their sixth national title.

Go get it!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Buzzer Beater!

Gophers’ Holl Scores with 0.6 Seconds Left to Propel Minnesota to National Championship Game

Philadelphia, PA – Just another classic moment in the Minnesota-North Dakota rivalry.

Whenever you say Minnesota-North Dakota, you know you're in for something special.  These two teams have fought numerous battles over the years, with names like Broten and Wheeler etched in Gopher lore for the miracle-goals they’ve scored to beat North Dakota on a grand stage.  Tonight, Minnesota fans will add Justin Holl’s name to that storied list, after his shorthanded goal with 0.6 seconds left in the third period broke a 1-1 tie and vaulted the Minnesota Gophers (28-6-6) over North Dakota and into the National Championship Game.

Outside of the rivalry, the game itself was an exciting one, with both teams trading conservative but relentless hockey for the better part of the first two periods.  The goaltenders were the stars of the show, with Adam Wilcox stopping chance after chance from a fired up North Dakota squad, and UND’s Zane Gothberg making all the saves he needed to make to keep it knotted at 0-0.

The two teams exchanged chances throughout the first two periods, but neither Minnesota nor North Dakota could break the deadlock through the first fifty minutes.  The game’s first goal was scored with only 9:09 remaining in the third period, as Sam Warning scored his 13th of the season from Kyle Rau to give the Gophers a 1-0 lead.  Rau skated the puck around the net before trying to stuff a wrap-around attempt home.  The puck slid off his stick, but Warning was right there to backhand it home.

Minnesota’s lead was short-lived, though, as North Dakota’s Connor Gaarder scored just 32 seconds later on his own rebound, knocked out of the air, off Wilcox’s side and into the net.

From that moment on, the game was an intense fight to the finish.  North Dakota had the better of the play late in the third, and were rewarded with a late powerplay (their second of the game and only the third penalty called on either team throughout the contest) when Mike Reilly held a hard-charging Drake Caggiula up the right wing boards with 1:39 left to go in the third.

Minnesota was able to kill off the penalty until the 9 second mark, when there was a faceoff in their own zone.  Kyle Rau, who had been stellar in the faceoff circle all game long, won a clutch defensive zone draw, and the rest is history:

Justin Holl, who had played an absolutely stellar game, found the puck and led the rush up the ice.  Holl fed Rau, who fired it at the net with time winding down.  The puck bounced off a UND defender and right to Holl, who deftly kicked it to his stick and threw a perfectly-placed shot at the net.  The puck hit the inside of the far pipe before settling into the back of the net with 0.6 seconds remaining on the clock to give the Gophers the 2-1 victory!  The players rushed the ice and piled on Holl, who picked a perfect time to score his first goal of the season.

Minnesota will face a Union team that beat Boston College 5-4 this afternoon to punch their ticket to the title game.  Union is an older team that can beat you with defense and stout goaltending or high-powered offense.  The Dutchmen bring the #2 ranked offense into the national championship game, along with the #4 ranked defense.  Minnesota, on the other hand, is #6 in total offense and #2 in total defense.  The teams are similarly ranked on the powerplay and penalty kill, and both squads like to play a clean game – Minnesota was the fifth-least penalized team in the country this year, while Union was T-36th in the country in penalties per game.  All in all it should be a great game between two of the country’s best teams from start to finish.  The puck drops at 6:30 PM Central Time, and you can find the game on ESPN for TV and 1500ESPN Radio.


Final SOG: UND 37, MN 28

Kyle Rau assisted on both of the Gopher goals tonight.  The Junior captain now has 25 assists on the year to go along with his 14 goals.  Rau also tallied a team-high 5 shots on goal on the evening.

No official three stars were released, but I would select: 3) Kyle Rau, 2) Adam Wilcox, 1) Justin Holl

Minnesota advances to its first NCAA Title Game since 2003, and this is the first NCAA Title Game ever for Union.

The Gophers are 2-1-0 all-time against the Dutchmen.  Their last meeting was on 12/31/2010, when Union beat Minnesota 3-2 in OT in the first game of the Mariucci Classic.

Minnesota will be skating for its sixth NCAA Title.  The Gophers last appeared in the championship game in 2003, beating New Hampshire to claim the title.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Near Flawless Gophers Advance to Frozen Four, Will Play UND!

Well, that was fun!

The Gophers dominated the overmatched St. Cloud State Huskies to advance to their second Frozen Four in three years last night.

The final score of the game was 4-0, but what was more impressive than the score was the way in which the Gophers manhandled the Huskies.  SCSU played deep into OT the night before so maybe they were running out of gas a little bit, but it seemed like the Gophers were the better team in all facets of the game.

Minnesota got on the board first and never looked back, scoring ugly goals (Kloos 1, Ambroz, Rau) as well as pretty ones (Kloos 2).

If the Gophers can play like they did tonight, no team in the country will beat them.  Minnesota dominated the puck, forcing SCSU to the outside.  Whenever they got a bad-angle shot off, Adam Wilcox was right on form, eating up every puck and rarely allowing a rebound.

The Gophers are deep this year, boasting zero players with 40+ points but nine players with more than 20 points.  Those same nine players (eight of Minnesota's top nine forwards, plus defenseman Mike Reilly) each have nine or more goals on the season.  This team comes at you all game, and each line is a threat to score.

The team defense is also astounding - both from the forwards and the defensemen.  For a team with D-men that like to get up into the rush as much as the Gophers do, the team ranks #2 in the nation in total defense, which is as much a credit to the outstanding Adam Wilcox as it is to the forwards and defensemen playing great D in front of him, blocking shots, getting sticks in lanes, backchecking hard, playing responsible hockey.  The coaches have a system that works, and the players are following it to a T.

Minnesota will face off against who else but the University of North Dakota in the National Semifinal game.  UND is a similar team to Minnesota, in that it wins with its depth and relies on good goaltending and mobile defensemen to make good choices.  I really like this matchup for Minnesota - UND does what Minnesota does, but I don't think they do it quite as well as the Gophers do.

We've all seen this Minnesota team lose games they shouldn't this year, but I think they beat North Dakota to advance to the National Championship game in two weekends if they play inspired hockey.  Against UND, I'm pretty sure they'll come to play!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

NCAA Tournament: Sunday Morning Roundup and Sunday Viewing Guide

Another exciting day of the NCAA tournament came and went yesterday, and two teams have already punched their tickets to the Frozen Four.

North Dakota won an overtime thriller over Ferris State to win the Midwest Regional and advance to Philadelphia, while Union was the first team to advance to the Frozen Four with a 3-1 afternoon win over Providence.

In other action yesterday, Boston College trounced Denver 6-2, Minnesota eventually prevailed over Robert Morris 7-3, UMass-Lowell beat a tough Minnesota state team 2-1, and St. Cloud State scored an overtime goal to cool off sizzling Notre Dame 4-3.

Conference Records through two days:

Atlantic Hockey: 0-1, (RMU loss to Minnesota)
Big Ten: 1-1 (North Dakota over Wisconsin, Minnesota over RMU), one game today (Minnesota vs St. Cloud State)
ECAC: 2-2 (Union over Vermont, Providence over Quinnipiac, Ferris State over Colgate, Union over Providence)
Hockey East: 3-3 (Providence over Quinnipiac, Union over Vermont, Providence loss to Union, BC over Denver, Lowell over Minnesota State, Notre Dame loss to St. Cloud State), one game today (BC vs Lowell)
NCHC: 3-1 (North Dakota over Vermont, North Dakota over Ferris State, Denver loss to BC, St. Cloud State over Notre Dame), one game today (St. Cloud State vs Minnesota)
WCHA: 1-2 (Ferris State over Colgate, Ferris State loss to North Dakota, Minnesota State loss to Lowell)

I did a little better yesterday in my predictions, going 4-2 to push my record to 5-5 so far. Only two games left in the regionals to predict today, and here they are. As usual, all times Central:

4:00 PM - Northeast Regional Final: (2) Boston College vs (7) UMass-Lowell, TV: ESPNU, Stream: WatchESPN - A game of two different styles. Boston College brings the nation's highest scoring offense to bear against All-World goaltender Connor Hellebuyck and UMass-Lowell's nation leading defense. Prior to last night's rout of Denver I might have picked Lowell in a tight one, but I think BC's high-octane offense will just be too much for the RiverHawks to handle. The winner of this one goes on to play Union in the Frozen Four. Prediction: BC wins 4-2

6:30 PM- West Regional Final: (1) Minnesota vs (9) St. Cloud State, TV: ESPNU, Stream: WatchESPN - Minnesota certainly didn't play their best in a 7-3 win over Robert Morris, but they did well enough to win. More importantly for a team that struggled scoring goals, they got on the scoresheet - a lot. St. Cloud State prevailed over Notre Dame in overtime, and although SCSU is a good team I think they're a good match-up for the Gophers - SCSU likes to play an uptempo offensive style that Minnesota will be more than willing to follow. When the two teams met earlier this year, the Gophers came away 4-1 victors. The winner of this game will face North Dakota in the National Semifinals. Prediction: Minnesota wins 5-3

Saturday, March 29, 2014

NCAA Tournament: Saturday Morning Roundup and Saturday Viewing Guide

The NCAA Tournament always deals out its fair share of surprises, and the first day of the 2014 Tournament was no different.

Wisconsin, many people's favorite to win the whole thing, is out.  They fell to #4 seed North Dakota 4-2 in the first round.

Quinnipiac, the #6 overall seed, lost to #11 Providence by a resounding 4-0 score.

Ferris State scraped by a hard-charging Colgate team 1-0.

Union held on to beat the pesky Vermont Catamounts 5-2.

Conference Records so far:

Atlantic Hockey: 0-0, one game today (RMU vs Minnesota)
Big Ten: 0-1 (North Dakota over Wisconsin), one game today (Minnesota vs RMU)
ECAC: 1-2 (Union over Vermont, Providence over Quinnipiac, Ferris State over Colgate), one game today (Union vs Providence)
Hockey East: 1-1 (Providence over Quinnipiac, Union over Vermont), four games today (Providence vs Union, BC vs Denver, Lowell vs Minnesota State, Notre Dame vs St. Cloud State)
NCHC: 1-0 (North Dakota over Vermont), three games today (North Dakota vs Ferris State, Denver vs BC, St. Cloud State vs Notre Dame)
WCHA: 1-0 (Ferris State over Colgate), two games today (Ferris State vs North Dakota, Minnesota State vs Lowell)

I, of course, only got one game right in my predictions.  That goes to show just how unpredictable this tournament is.  Or, of course, it could show how bad I am at making predictions.  I'll leave that one up to you :)

So, that being said, here's what we're looking forward to watching today.  Again, all times Central:

2:00 PM - East Regional Final: (3) Union vs (11) Providence, TV: ESPN2, Stream: WatchESPN - This will be an interesting game.  Providence methodically took apart a good Quinnipiac squad yesterday, getting strong play from sophomore goaltender Jon Gillies.  Although I am high on Union, I like the way Providence played yesterday, so I'll pick the upset here.  Prediction: Providence wins 3-2

3:00 PM- Northeast Regional Semifinal: (2) Boston College vs (15) Denver, TV: ESPNU, Stream: WatchESPN - Another game that should be interesting.  Denver has been hot lately, and although they had to win their conference tournament to get into the dance they're never a team to sleep on.  I think BC has too much for Denver to handle though.  If you're watching this game, look for Johnny Gaudreau - he'll more than likely be this year's Hobey Baker winner.  Prediction: BC wins 5-2

4:30 PM - West Regional Semifinal: (1) Minnesota vs (16) Robert Morris, TV: ESPN2, Stream: WatchESPN - Here is where we see if the Gophers have grown or not from their disappointing performances in recent playoff history.  Minnesota lost to a not-great Yale team in the first round last year (that got hot at the right time and ended up winning it all), and lost just last week to an okay Ohio State squad in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament.  They'll play a Robert Morris team that is ranked #44 in the PairWise currently, but has only lost five games since the calendar switched over to January.  This team went 2-12-2 in their first 14 games, but finished the year 17-5-3 in their last 25.  The Gophers, on the other hand, are 13-4-4 over that same time frame.  Minnesota plays a much tougher schedule and should have enough talent to win this game handily, but I think Robert Morris might pose a bit more of a challenge than most Gopher fans will expect.  Prediction: Minnesota wins 4-2

5:30 PM - Midwest Regional Final: (5) Ferris State vs (13) North Dakota, TV: ESPNU, Stream: WatchESPN - Another interesting matchup.  North Dakota took out Wisconsin, my favorite to advance to the championship game, 5-2 last night, while Ferris survived a tight 1-0 thriller with Colgate.  Does this North Dakota squad have it in them to win three must-win games in a row?  They've shown me that they're a better team than I believed they were this season already, but I just don't think they have the gas to beat a good Ferris State team this afternoon.  Prediction: Ferris State wins 3-1

6:30 PM - Northeast Regional Semifinal: (7) UMass-Lowell vs (10) Minnesota State, TV: ESPNU (Tape Delayed until 10:30 PM), Stream: ESPN3 - Let me start by saying that I am really high on both of these teams.  Minnesota State has been one of the hotter teams in the country in the second half of the season, recovering from a shaky 4-7-0 start to the year by going undefeated in their last 13 games coming into the Tournament (12-0-1 over that stretch).  Their last loss was all the way back on January 31st.  Lowell, the preseason #1 overall, followed somewhat a similar path, starting out 1-3-0 in their first four games before righting the ship, finishing the season on a 10-3-2 jaunt and winning the Hockey East Tournament.  In the end, I think UML will be too much for Minnesota State to handle, and they'll ride a strong performance from goaltender Connor Hellebuyck into the regional final.  Prediction: Lowell wins 3-2

8:00 PM - West Regional Semifinal: (8) Notre Dame vs (9) St. Cloud State, TV: ESPNU, Stream: WatchESPN - Another very interesting game pitting two good teams against each other.  This one will also feature a clash of different styles, as SCSU's up-and-down offense matches up against Notre Dame's defensive system.  I think that this game is a toss up; Notre Dame had an average regular season but has heated up recently, beating Boston College in three out of four at the end of the year before falling to Lowell in the semifinal of the Hockey East Tournament.  St. Cloud State lost in the first round series of the NCHC tournament to a bad Miami team, but was good throughout the rest of the year, dropping only eight games before entering the playoffs.  St. Cloud was in line for a high seed prior to the playoffs, but the losses to Miami dropped them all the way back to a #3 band seed.  I think St. Cloud is a better team than Notre Dame so I'm going to pick them winning, but it's awfully close here.  One big save or one soft goal could make the difference in this one.  Prediction: St. Cloud State wins 4-3

Friday, March 28, 2014

Viewing Guide for the NCAA Tournament: Friday, March 28th

The NCAA Hockey Tournament starts TODAY!

Although the Gophers don't play until Saturday afternoon, there are four games throughout the day today.  Four teams will move one win away from the Frozen Four, and four teams will end their seasons short of the ultimate prize.

Here is where and when you can catch those games.  All times Central.

1:00 PM - (3) Union vs (13) Vermont, TV: ESPNU, Stream: WatchESPN - Union is one of the hottest teams coming into the tournament, while Vermont lost in the first round of their conference tournament and squeaked into the 16-team field as the second-to-last At Large team in.  Prediction: 4-1 Union.

3:30 PM - (5) Ferris State vs (12) Colgate, TV: ESPNU (Tape Delayed until 9:30 PM), Stream: ESPN3 - Ferris State has been a good team all year, rising to #2 in the nation at one point before settling in with the #5 overall seed in the tournament.  The Bulldogs' year-long resume definitely impresses, but they did lose two out of three to Colgate when the two teams played earlier in the year.  Both teams made it to the final game of their respective conference tournaments before losing in the championship game (Colgate to Union, Ferris State to Minnesota State).  Colgate has been hotter of late, and I think the ECAC is better this year than they have been in years past.  I like the upset in this game.  Prediction: 3-2 Colgate, in OT

4:30 PM - (6) Quinnipiac vs (11) Providence, TV: ESPNU, Stream: WatchESPN - I haven't seen either of these teams play all year, but as I mentioned earlier I think the ECAC is pretty strong this year, and Quinnipiac has some impressive wins on their resume, including a sweep of a strong UMass-Lowell team early in the season.  The Bobcats haven't been as strong lately, going 3-5-1 in their last 10 games, but I would attribute that to the strength of the ECAC more than anything else.  Providence also has some solid wins on their schedule and has been hot of late, winning six of their last seven contests.  I like Quinnipiac in this game though, setting up an all-ECAC regional final between Union and Quinnipiac.  Prediction: 4-2 Quinnipiac

7:30 PM - (4) Wisconsin vs (14) North Dakota, TV: ESPNU, Stream: WatchESPN - If Vermont squeaked into the Tournament, North Dakota REALLY squeaked in with the last At Large bid.  The team-with-no-name won the 3rd place game of the NCHC and had to wait on both UMass-Lowell to beat New Hampshire and Wisconsin to beat Ohio State on the last day of the season.  Wisconsin's overtime, comeback win over Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament got North Dakota in, so it's fitting that the two teams would meet in the first round.  North Dakota has been up-and-down all season long, but Wisconsin has been pretty consistent, especially lately, leaning on a strong senior class and a great defensive scheme.  I think Wisconsin is one of the "teams to beat" in this year's Tournament, and they'll have no problem dispatching North Dakota tonight.  Prediction: 4-1 Wisconsin

Sunday, March 23, 2014

NCAA Tournament: Final Bracket and Predictions

Here is the Final Bracket for the 2014 NCAA tournament:

St. Paul
1 Minnesota vs 16 Robert Morris
8 Notre Dame vs 9 St. Cloud State

2 BC vs 15 Denver
7 UMass-Lowell vs 10 Minnesota State

3 Union vs 13 Vermont
6 Quinnipiac vs 11 Providence

4 Wisconsin vs 14 North Dakota
5 Ferris State vs 12 Colgate

The bracket turned out really nice this year, almost perfect bracket integrity and nearly perfect as far as attendance goes.  Now, some predictions:

St. Paul - Minnesota beats Robert Morris handily in the first game, St. Cloud State beats a hot Notre Dame in a close one, Minnesota edges St. Cloud to advance to the Frozen Four

Worcester - Denver gives BC a tough game but the Eagles prevail, Lowell beats Mankato in front of a home crowd, Lowell beats BC in overtime

Bridgeport - Union handles Vermont, Providence upsets Quinnipiac, Union beats Providence

Cincinnati - Wisconsin over North Dakota, Colgate beats Ferris State in OT, Wisconsin beats Colgate

Frozen Four - Wisconsin beats Minnesota in a low-scoring game, Union beats Lowell.  Union beats Wisconsin to win the national championship.

Thoughts on Minnesota: I know they've struggled lately, but Minnesota has what teams need in the playoffs - defense and goaltending.  The question is whether they've got enough goal scoring to be able to steal wins in tight, defensive games.  I like Minnesota in games where the other team plays a more wide-open, offensive style of hockey, but they've shown that they struggle against teams that play the trap and clog up the middle of the rink (like Wisconsin).  The Gophers have shown that they can beat anybody in the country if they play well, and lose to just about anybody if they don't show up.  They didn't show up on Friday and got beat by a good-enough Ohio State team - a team just as good as any team the Gophers will play in the NCAA tournament.  Will Coach Lucia have the team ready to show up for the regional?  I hope so.

Saturday Night / Sunday Morning Bracketology: UND Made It (Barely)

Now that the dust has settled, let me tell you who is "in" and who is "out" of the NCAA Tournament.

As you remember, there were just a few teams left fighting for the remaining spots in the 16-team field.  North Dakota needed a win and some help in order to reach the tournament, and they got just that, beating Western Michigan 5-0 in the NCHC 3rd Place Game before sweating out a UMass-Lowell triumph over UNH and a thrilling 5-4 overtime win for Wisconsin.  The UW and UML wins gave North Dakota the last At Large bid.

Minnesota State was another team fighting for a spot, and they secured it by winning the WCHA Championship against Ferris State by a 4-1 score.

Denver bested Miami (OH) 4-3 to claim the NCHC's autobid and reach the tournament.  Same for Robert Morris, who beat Canisius 7-4 to win the Atlantic Hockey championship.

So, the NCAA Tournament field is set:

1 Minnesota
2 BC
3 Union
4 Wisconsin

5 Ferris State
6 Quinnipiac
7 UMass-Lowell
8 Notre Dame

9 St. Cloud State
10 Minnesota State
11 Providence
12 Colgate

13 Vermont
14 North Dakota
15 Denver
16 Robert Morris

So, let's go through the bracketology here.  First order of business, place host teams in their own regionals.  Minnesota is the only host team that made the field, so they are placed in St. Paul.  Next, place the remaining 1-band seeds (teams 1-4) starting with the highest-ranked team, as close to home as possible.  BC gets placed in Worcester, Union in Bridgeport, Wisconsin in Cincinnati.

Now we place the teams so that the seedings follow bracket integrity: the #1 overall seed should have #s 8, 9, and 16 in their region; #2 overall should have 7, 10, 15; #3 should have 6, 11, 14; and the #4 seed's region should contain 5, 12, and 13.

Therefore, our "preliminary" brackets look like this:

St. Paul
1 Minnesota vs 16 Robert Morris
8 Notre Dame vs 9 St. Cloud State

2 BC vs 15 Denver
7 UMass-Lowell vs 10 Minnesota State

3 Union vs 14 North Dakota
6 Quinnipiac vs 11 Providence

4 Wisconsin vs 13 Vermont
5 Ferris State vs 12 Colgate

At this point, we look to see if we have any first round interconference matchups - those need to be avoided as well as possible.  Luckily, though, there are none.

What about attendance?  Can we swap any teams around to help out attendance?  One easy move would be to swap North Dakota with Vermont.  We'd love to swap Minnesota State with Colgate, but that would create an all-WCHA first round matchup with Ferris State so we can't do that.

St. Paul
1 Minnesota vs 16 Robert Morris
8 Notre Dame vs 9 St. Cloud State

2 BC vs 15 Denver
7 UMass-Lowell vs 10 Minnesota State

3 Union vs 13 Vermont
6 Quinnipiac vs 11 Providence

4 Wisconsin vs 14 North Dakota
5 Ferris State vs 12 Colgate

This bracket looks pretty good.  This is the same thing that USCHO's Jayson Moy came up with tonight.  I could foresee one more potential change, though: Denver to St. Paul and Robert Morris to Worcester.  The committee has usually tried to "protect the #1 overall seed" by making sure they play the #16 overall seed, but in this case the #15 and #16 seeds are both autobid teams from outside the top 16 in the PairWise Rankings.  I could see the committee maybe thinking that because both Denver and Robert Morris came from outside the top 16 that they could tweak those matchups for attendance purposes as well.  I still think the above brackets are the ones we'll end up with, but if it's anything different than the above, I have to wager the only change will be DU to St. Paul and Robert Morris to Worcester.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Saturday Morning PWR Roundup: Who's In, Who's Out, and Who Has a Chance

Things are starting to solidify in the PairWise Rankings (PWR) as the season winds down.

As a reminder, the PWR is the mathematical formula which picks the NCAA Tournament field in college hockey.

Here's the way it looks to me:

The following 13 teams are "locks" (as far as I can tell) to make the 16-team NCAA Tournament field:

Ferris State
Notre Dame
St. Cloud State
Denver / Miami (whoever wins the NCHC)
Robert Morris / Canisius (whoever wins AHA)

There are three spots remaining, and there are three autobids still out there to be claimed by:

Ohio State, if they win the B1G.  If they do not win tonight, they are out.

New Hampshire, if they win HE.  If they do not win tonight, their season is also done.

Minnesota State, if they win the WCHA.  If they do not win, they've still got a pretty good chance of earning an At Large bid (explained below).

Unless all three of the above teams win tonight, there will still be at least one more At Large bid to be determined.  Things are still fluid with games left to be played, but I think these teams still have a chance to make it, in order of likelihood:

Vermont - they need one of Mankato, Ohio State or New Hampshire to lose tonight to squeak in.  If all three of those teams win, it looks like they'll be the last team out.

Mankato - they are in with a win, but if they lose they'll need at least one of Ohio State or New Hampshire to lose tonight to get in with the last bid.

North Dakota - they need to win today in the NCHC third place game, and then need Ohio State and New Hampshire to lose.

Michigan - they need a North Dakota tie or loss in the NCHC third place game, and they need Ohio State and New Hampshire to lose.

That looks like all the teams left standing.  Here's what some of the seeds look like:

Minnesota is guaranteed the #1 overall seed.  They will be at the St. Paul regional and should play the #16 overall seed, which this year will be the winner of the Atlantic Hockey autobid - that's the winner of Canisius / Robert Morris tonight.

BC is almost guaranteed the #2 overall seed (I was able to find one scenario where Union jumps them into the #2).  They will be in the Worcester regional and SHOULD play the #15 overall seed, unless that team is Miami (because Miami is the "host school" at the Cincinnati regional, they must be slotted there if they make the tournament) or New Hampshire / Vermont (those teams play in Hockey East together, and the committee avoids first round inter-conference matchups where possible).  I think it's most likely that BC matches up against Denver or Ohio State if either of them wins tonight, and if neither does they'll face North Dakota, Michigan or Mankato

Union is guaranteed the #3 overall seed.  They will be in the Bridgeport regional and should play the #14 overall seed, which will likely be New Hampshire or Ohio State (if they win their tourneys), and if not then probably Vermont, Michigan or North Dakota.

The #4 and #5 overall seeds (the #4 being the last #1 band seed available) will likely go to Ferris State and Wisconsin.  Ferris State is guaranteed the #4 seed with a win tonight or a Wisconsin loss.  Whomever it is, this seed will play at the Cincinnati regional, and will play Miami (OH) if they win tonight, and if not they'll play whichever #4 band seed is left standing - my guess is Mankato.

The #5 seed (Ferris State or Wisconsin) should also be in Cincinnati.

Quinnipiac should be the #6 seed and should get slotted in Bridgeport.

UMass-Lowell looks like the #7 seed and would go to Worcester.

Notre Dame is the #8 seed and will be in St. Paul.  They'll face #9 seeded St. Cloud State in the first game.

(Note: these brackets are shaping out PERFECTLY for the committee so far.  UW and Ferris in Cincinnati, Minnesota and SCSU in St. Paul, BC and Lowell in Worcester, Union and Quinnipiac in Bridgeport is just about how you'd draw it up attendance-wise).

The #10 seed looks like Colgate at this point.  They would be slated to play Lowell in Worcester, all else equal.  However, it looks like Mankato could move all the way up to the #10 spot with a win tonight, which would bump every other team down one spot.  I think they'd probably send Mankato to Cincinnati anyways, unless Ferris State is the #2 seed there...

#11 looks like Providence to me.  They'd head to Bridgeport to play Quinnipiac.

The rest is where it gets interesting, with those last teams fighting for their spots.

For what it's worth, here's how the brackets shape up so far:

St. Paul
1 Minnesota vs 16 Robert Morris / Canisius (AHA Winner)
8 Notre Dame vs 9 St. Cloud State

2 BC vs ??
7 Lowell vs 10 Colgate

3 Union vs ??
6 Quinnipiac vs 11 Providence

4 Ferris State / Wisconsin vs ??
5 Ferris State / Wisconsin vs ??

Again, those question marks will be filled out by four of the following: Denver or Miami (whoever wins the NCHC), Ohio State, New Hampshire, Vermont, Mankato, North Dakota, Michigan.

Some interesting notes to consider: in the first round, BC cannot play UNH or Vermont, Ferris can't play Mankato, and Wisconsin can't play Michigan or Ohio State.  If Miami wins they will have to play in Cincinnati as the host school there.

That's the way it looks to me!  I'll try to throw together a final bracketology once the dust settles tonight.

NOTE: I have found some scenarios where the seeds don't 100% match what I wrote above.  It looks like there are scenarios where there is a three-way tie for #5 overall between Wisconsin, Quinnipiac and Lowell that would change the seedings slightly.  However, I think that the committee will likely set the brackets up like the above - the seeds are close enough and the attendance is near perfect.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Buckeyes Beat Sloppy Gophers 3-1

St. Paul – One team had something to play for, the other didn’t.

That’s how much of tonight’s B1G Semifinal matchup felt between the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Minnesota Golden Gophers.  Minnesota showed flashes of their typical game, but the Buckeyes prevailed to advance to the B1G Championship game thanks to a Ryan Dzingel 3rd period game winner.

Minnesota and Ohio State played a fairly even first period, with the Gophers garnering the majority of the scoring chances.  Sam Warning hit the post on a Gopher powerplay about halfway through the period, but it was Ohio State that would take the first lead of the game.  Ohio State took advantage of their lone full powerplay in the opening frame, as Nick Schilkey found the back of the net on a backdoor play at 15:20.  Although the Gophers led the shots 12-8 after the first, the Buckeyes led 1-0 on the scoreboard, and Minnesota was lucky it wasn’t 2-0, as the puck took a funny bounce off the endboards and caromed off of Wilcox’s arm and through his legs.  The clock wound down just before Ohio State could coax the puck across the line.

The Gophers would tie the game early in the second period on a powerplay of their own.  Kyle Rau tapped in a Taylor Cammarata pass into a wide-open net on the backdoor at 4:47 of the period to knot the game at 1-1.  Travis Boyd earned the first assist on the Rau goal.  Minnesota took a few more penalties in the middle of the period, but the penalty kill held firm, and the Gophers picked up the pace as the period wore on.  Minnesota had a few quality chances in the tail end of the period, but the second would end at that same 1-1 score.

Minnesota and Ohio State played a tight third period; Ohio State with its season on the line, Minnesota wanting to tune up for the upcoming NCAA Tournament.  Ohio State’s desire trumped Minnesota’s will, with the Buckeyes’ Ryan Dzingel scoring the game winning goal at 9:08 of the third period.  The Buckeyes would add an empty netter with less than a minute left to seal the win.

Ohio State advances to the B1G Championship Game tomorrow night against the Wisconsin Badgers, with both teams playing for something – the Buckeyes for a chance to extend their season and make the NCAA Tournament, the Badgers for a likely #1 seed in the NCAAs.  The puck drops Saturday at 7:00.

The Gophers next game will be at the Xcel Energy Center next Saturday, as the Gophers will be the #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and will play as the #1 seed in the West Regional.  They will have to wait until this Sunday's selection show to find out who they'll face off against.

Notes & Quotes:

Final Shots on Goal: 31-25 Minnesota

Specialty Teams: Minnesota 1 for 3, 3 shots total.  Ohio State 1-5, 6 shots total.

Kyle Rau: “Ohio State outplayed us.”

Travis Boyd: “This is the last two years that we kind of laid an egg on a Friday.  We had good chances to win the game in the third, but we need to play that way for all three periods.”

Don Lucia: “I told the guys in the locker room that this is our last chance at a learning experience.”  On playoff hockey: “You have to deliver pucks to the net when you get opportunities.  You don’t get a lot of opportunities this time of year.  I thought there were a few times when some of our freshmen didn’t quite understand that, but we’ll go back and look at the video and have a good week of practice.”

Ohio State Coach Steve Rohlik, on winning three games in three nights: “I told my guys that it’s doable.  I’ve seen it happen before [as UMD’s Assistant Coach when they won the Final Five in 2009].”

Ohio State forward Ryan Dzingel, on the NCAA Tournament: “It’s in the back of my mind obviously, but we’re trying to take it one game at a time and play our game.”

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Gophers Beat Michigan in OT to Clinch B1G Title!

I've gotta go to bed, but just wanted to throw a couple thoughts on tonight's 3-2 OT victory over the Wolverines:

  • Nice win for the Gophers.  This was against a good team that clearly had something to play for (fighting for their lives in order to make it into the tournament).  I'm sure the Gophers can draw on this win going forward in those tight NCAA tournament games when everything is on the line.
  • The win clinched the B1G regular season title for Minnesota.  This is the first time in program history that Minnesota has won three regular season titles in a row.  While the NCAA Tournament is the big prize, winning the regular season title displays a long-term measure of success that a four game one-and-done tournament cannot showcase.  Hats off to the Gophers - after these last three years, it's hard to fathom that Don Lucia was on the hot seat a short time ago.
  • This win, coupled with BC's loss against Notre Dame in the Hockey East tournament tonight, went a long way towards clinching the #1 overall seed in the tournament.  It's looking like things would need to fall BC's way from here on out to take the top seed away from Minnesota, who holds the head to head record, the common opponents and the RPI over the Eagles.
  • I staunchly believe that the Gophers and BC are head and shoulders ahead of everyone else in college hockey this season.  One thing that I do have minor concerns about is that this Minnesota team does not have a big-time scorer in the lineup that can take over a game.  The Gophers' top scorer, Kyle Rau, sits at 60th on the nation's scoring list.  I think this team clearly has one of the best goaltenders in the country in Adam Wilcox and perhaps the best puck-moving defensive corps in the nation, but I worry a little bit about where the goals are going to come from without a solid scoring leader.  From what I saw tonight, I think Justin Kloos very well could be that guy in the future, but I'm not sure if he's quite ready for that mantle as a freshman this year.  The team is #6 in the nation overall in scoring offense, and that's because they score with depth.  I hope that continues.
  • Don Lucia moved Taylor Cammarata off of the second line tonight and put Vinni Lettieri in his place for most of the game.  I have been a fan of the Cammarata-Kloos chemistry earlier in the year, but I have to say that I was really impressed with what Lettieri brought to that second line.  He's quick, he agitates, he isn't afraid to shoot the puck.  Cammarata is clearly a gifted offensive player, but I don't think he has quite adjusted to the speed of college game yet, especially on defense.  He got beat pretty bad on Michigan's second goal tonight.  I wouldn't mind sitting him down for a game before the season is out and giving Michaelson or Ryan Reilly another chance on that fourth line.
  • Mike Reilly is an incredibly exciting hockey player.  I'd like for him to do a little more hitting on the defensive end, but when he's got the puck on his stick he is just a joy to watch.
Okay that's all for now, gotta go to bed.  Congrats to the Gophers on the B1G regular season title!  One out of three banners so far!  Now go get the other two!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Gophers Lead Late, but Lose in Shootout in Columbus

Columbus – After holding a lead for all but 3 of the first 56 minutes, the Gophers all but had their hands around the first ever B1G regular season title.

A late Buckeye goal and another poor shootout performance later, Minnesota (24-4-6 Overall, 13-2-3-0 B1G) was a point short of clinching a share of the B1G title, and will need at least two points in Ann Arbor next weekend to guarantee themselves the B1G championship.

Saturday night’s game got off to another great start for the Gophers, as Minnesota got an early powerplay and capitalized, with Kyle Rau collecting a rebound on the short side and sliding it past OSU goalie Christian Frey.  Mike Reilly and Travis Boyd assisted on the goal at 2:32.  The Gophers thought they had doubled their lead in the first period when Tom Serratore dented the twine, but the goal was disallowed due to Gabe Guertler interfering with the goaltender.

The Gophers ended the first with a 1-0 lead, and after an uneventful second period the teams started the third at that same 1-0 score.  Mike Reilly took an early penalty and the Buckeyes capitalized, as Ohio State’s leading scorer Ryan Dzingel scored his 18th of the year to knot the game at 1-1 just 2:31 into the third.  Minnesota responded only 24 seconds later when Gabe Guertler deflected a Ben Marshall shot from the left point past OSU’s Frey to give the Gophers another lead.

The B1G title was in their grasp, but Ohio State had other ideas, scoring with 3:50 left in the third period to tie the game at 2-2.  Minnesota could still clinch the title with an overtime win, but Ohio State had the better of the chances in the OT, and Adam Wilcox had to stop a Ryan Dzingel breakaway to guarantee Minnesota a point for surviving the five-minute overtime period.  Ohio State scored on their first shootout shot and Rau, Cammarata and Guertler were stoned by Frey, and the Buckeyes skated away with the extra point for the shootout victory.

The shootout loss means that the Gophers are one point away from clinching a share of the B1G regular season title, and two away from clinching outright.  The Gophers will need two points in Michigan next weekend (or a Wisconsin shootout loss, regulation loss, or two shootout wins next weekend at Michigan State) to secure the first ever B1G crown.

Minnesota faces off against the Michigan Wolverines Friday at 5:30 PM Central.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Bracketology: Gophers Versus North Dakota in St. Paul Regional Final?

When it comes to NCAA tournament time in College Hockey, the Pairwise Rankings are king.

For the uninitiated, the Pairwise Rankings (abbreviated PWR) is a system that mimics the formula that the NCAA Committee uses to select and seed the NCAA Hockey Tournament.  You can find the PWR HERE.  The committee takes the 16 qualifying teams (the six teams that win their conference tournament, and then the next 10 teams in the PWR that did not already qualify) and ships them out to their regional sites with their first round matchups based on several different factors:

  • The "Host Team" of each regional is automatically placed in that region, if they make the tournament field.  The regionals this year are in St. Paul (Minnesota is the host), Cincinnati (Miami-OH), Worcester (Holy Cross) and Bridgeport (Yale)
  • The seedings are then placed so that the #1 overall seed plays #16, #2 plays #15, etc.
  • Teams will be broken into seed "bands" and placed in the regionals so that the #1 "band" seed in the region plays the #4 "band" seed, and #2 plays #3 in the first round.
From there, the committee has a couple more rules to follow:
  • Teams from the same conference cannot play against each other in the first round unless there is no way to avoid it.
  • Teams can be moved around if it doesn't hurt the bracket integrity too much to try and maximize attendance (you cannot swap a #3 band seed and a #2 band seed).
So, based off of that, here's what we have (PWR taken from

PWR Rankings as of 3/3/14
1. Minnesota
2. BC
3. Union

5. Wisconsin
6. Ferris State
7. Quinnipiac
8. UMass-Lowell

9. North Dakota
10. Notre Dame
11. Providence
12. Michigan

13. Cornell
14. Vermont
15. Northeastern
16. Colgate

17. Mankato

AQ: Mercyhurst (AHA Winner)

For the purposes of this blog, I'm going to assume that Mankato either jumps ahead of Colgate and Northeastern to make it into the top 15 of the PWR or wins their conference tournament to qualify automatically.  They've been really hot lately, and I think they'll squeak in.

From here we place the teams in regions starting with the #1 band seeds:

Minnesota is placed in the St. Paul regional, BC is placed in the Worcester regional, Union is placed in Bridgeport, and SCSU is placed in Cincinnati.

Now we place the 2-4 band seeds based on bracket integrity (perfect brackets would have 1-8-9-16, 2-7-10-15, 3-6-11-14, 4-5-12-13 seeds grouped together).  When we do this, our brackets are:

St. Paul
1 Minnesota vs 16 Mercyhurst
8 Lowell vs 9 UND

4 SCSU vs 13 Cornell
5 Wisconsin vs 12 Michigan

2 BC vs 15 Mankato
7 Quinnipiac vs 10 Notre Dame

3 Union vs 14 Vermont
6 Ferris St vs 11 Providence

How does this look?  For starters, we have an intraconference matchup in Cincinnati with Wisconsin/Michigan, so we need to swap something there.  To keep bracket integrity as sound as possible, let's switch Providence and Michigan around.  Now we've got:

St. Paul
1 Minnesota vs 16 Mercyhurst
8 Lowell vs 9 UND

4 SCSU vs 13 Cornell
5 Wisconsin vs 11 Providence

2 BC vs 15 Mankato
7 Quinnipiac vs 10 Notre Dame

3 Union vs 14 Vermont
6 Ferris St vs 12 Michigan

What do we think here?  No intra-conference matchups, but we can move things around a bit to help attendance out.  Let's go back to our original brackets:

St. Paul
1 Minnesota vs 16 Mercyhurst
8 Lowell vs 9 UND

4 SCSU vs 13 Cornell
5 Wisconsin vs 12 Michigan

2 BC vs 15 Mankato
7 Quinnipiac vs 10 Notre Dame

3 Union vs 14 Vermont
6 Ferris St vs 11 Providence

What if instead of swapping Michigan with Providence, we swapped them with Notre Dame?

St. Paul
1 Minnesota vs 16 Mercyhurst
8 Lowell vs 9 UND

4 SCSU vs 13 Cornell
5 Wisconsin vs 10 Notre Dame

2 BC vs 15 Mankato
7 Quinnipiac vs 12 Michigan

3 Union vs 14 Vermont
6 Ferris St vs 11 Providence

This is looking a bit better, but we'd like to move Lowell out east.  Let's do that by swapping them with Ferris State.

St. Paul
1 Minnesota vs 16 Mercyhurst
6 Ferris State vs 9 UND

4 SCSU vs 13 Cornell
5 Wisconsin vs 10 Notre Dame

2 BC vs 15 Mankato
7 Quinnipiac vs 12 Michigan

3 Union vs 14 Vermont
8 Lowell vs 11 Providence

Okay, we're almost done here.  That last swap resulted in an intra-conference matchup in Bridgeport which we'll need to alleviate.  The options here are to switch Quinnipiac and Lowell, or to switch Providence and Michigan.  I like Lowell in Worcester more than I like Providence in Worcester, I love Quinnipiac in Bridgeport, and I like the idea of making BC's region easier instead of harder (the #2 overall seed should have an easier road than #3 overall Union), so let's swap Quinnipiac and Lowell:

St. Paul
1 Minnesota vs 16 Mercyhurst
6 Ferris State vs 9 UND

4 SCSU vs 13 Cornell
5 Wisconsin vs 10 Notre Dame

2 BC vs 15 Mankato
8 Lowell vs 12 Michigan

3 Union vs 14 Vermont
7 Quinnipiac vs 11 Providence

No intra-conference matchups here, but is there anything more we can do to help with attendance?  The committee usually protects the #1 overall seed's matchup with the #16 seed, so that rules out swapping Mercyhurst for Mankato.  But what about swapping Cornell and Mankato?

St. Paul
1 Minnesota vs 16 Mercyhurst
6 Ferris State vs 9 UND

4 SCSU vs 15 Mankato
5 Wisconsin vs 10 Notre Dame

2 BC vs 13 Cornell
8 Lowell vs 12 Michigan

3 Union vs 14 Vermont
7 Quinnipiac vs 11 Providence

Above are our final brackets.  Attendance looks pretty good in all of the regions, and there are no intra-conference matchups to speak of.  This sets up a potential matchup between the Gophers and North Dakota in the St. Paul regional final, as well as some other interesting matchups.

This post is very much inspired by the amazing Jason Moy over at USCHO.  He's gotten everything exactly right in the tournament the past three years.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Gophers Steamroll Nittany Lions

Minneapolis - There are two ways a team can come out of a weekend off: sloppy, or rested.

The Gophers were a bit of both Friday night, struggling in the very early minutes of the first period before finding their legs and flattening the Penn State Nittany Lions 5-1 at Mariucci Arena.

Minnesota (22-4-5 Overall, 10-2-2-0 B1G) came into the game nursing a slender one point lead in the B1G standings with two games in hand over the Wisconsin Badgers, who are idle this weekend.  The Gophers could definitely use the points to regain their comfortable cushion in the league standings, and a dominating win tonight went a long way towards restoring that.

Penn State (6-21-2, 2-12-1-0) got an early powerplay in the first and capitalized, taking a 1-0 lead on a bungled Minnesota line change just 3:12 into the game.  Another bad change led to a 2-on-0 chance for PSU, but Adam Wilcox made a big save to keep Minnesota within striking distance at 1-0 down.

Early on in the period, head coach Don Lucia was shuffling the lines due to the absence of Tom Serratore.  Serratore, who dressed for the game, left sometime in the first period.  Official ‘U’ sources say that Serratore left the game with an “upper body injury”, but that it was precautionary and he shouldn’t be out for too long.

The Gophers would tighten up and quickly turn the tables on the Nittany Lions, knotting the score at 1-1 just 7:55 into the period.  Mike Reilly intercepted a pass at the blueline before finding a streaking Sam Warning at the top of the right circle, who ripped a snapshot past PSU goalie Matthew Skoff and into the back of the net.

Minnesota would continue the scoring barrage minutes later, when Hudson Fasching popped the puck in after a few frenzied seconds in front of the Penn State net to put the Gophers ahead for good.  Minnesota would tack on another goal at 16:10 when Fasching, on a breakaway, somehow found Kyle Rau trailing just behind the play and passed it to him for an easy goal.  Nate Condon would get another puck across the line late in the first, but after review the goal was disallowed due to an early whistle by the referee.

Up 3-1 after one period, the Gophers would continue to press their advantage in the second.  Taylor Cammarata scored just 30 seconds into the period on the powerplay.  The next few minutes featured a bevy of penalties, with the Gophers taking four penalties and drawing two in just over a five minute stretch.  Minnesota would add to its lead on the penalty kill, with Nate Condon scoring the Gophers’ first shorthanded goal of the season unassisted at 12:30 of the frame to make the game 5-1.

Although the Gophers would have many chances throughout the rest of the second and the third, the Condon shorthanded goal would end the scoring, and Minnesota skated away with a 5-1 win and a 4 point lead in the B1G standings over Wisconsin.

The Gophers will look to complete the sweep of the Nittany Lions on Saturday night.  Minnesota will also honor its seniors before the last home game of the season.  The puck drops at 6PM, so get there early if you want to pay tribute to Gopher seniors Justin Holl, Jake Parenteau, Michael Shibrowski, Tom Serratore and Nate Condon.

Notes & Quotes

3 Stars of the Game: 3) Adam Wilcox (30 Saves), 2) Mike Reilly (2 assists), 1) Hudson Fasching (1 goal, 1 assist)

Final Shots on Goal: Minnesota 36, Penn State 31.  Attempted shots were 68-46 in favor of the Gophers.

Other Gopher Point-Getters: Travis Boyd (2a), Kyle Rau (1g), Sam Warning (1g), Nate Condon (1g), Taylor Cammarata (1g), Ben Marshall (1a)

Specialty Teams: Gophers 1-3 on the powerplay, Penn State 1-5

The win moves the Gophers to 35 points in the B1G standings, 4 ahead of Wisconsin’s 31 and 10 ahead of Michigan’s 25.  Wisconsin can max out at 43 points if they win out, so the Gophers can clinch at least a share of the B1G title with eight more points.  Nine points (three non-shootout wins) will clinch the league title outright.

Gopher head coach Don Lucia, on the success of the first line: “The Rau line was good tonight, it’s good to see them get going.”  On tonight’s goal scorers: “The guys we need to score scored goals tonight.  At the end of the year you need your best players to score.” On Tom Serratore’s injury: “He was dinged up tonight. We’ll see how he’s feeling tomorrow and go from there.”  On whether senior goalie Michael Shibrowski will play on Senior Night tomorrow night: "There's a good chance of it."

Hudson Fasching, on the Rau breakaway goal: “Yeah, I actually saw him out of the corner of my eye. I was on my off hand so I didn’t really have a shot, so I passed it to him and I guess it worked out pretty well.”

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Gophers Overcome Flat First Period to Beat Michigan 4-1

Minneapolis – Coming off a sweep at the hands of the Wisconsin Badgers last weekend, the Minnesota Gophers (20-4-5 Overall, 9-2-2-0 B1G) saw their once formidable lead in the B1G conference standings shrink to just four points over the Badgers and six over the Michigan Wolverines.  With the Wolverines coming into town, the Gophers knew what they had to do to maintain their lead.

A 4-1 win Saturday night completed the sweep for Minnesota, who extended their B1G conference lead to 7 points over Wisconsin and 12 points over the Wolverines and Ohio State in the process.

The first period was a sloppy one for the Gophers.  Michigan took an early 1-0 lead at just 1:31 of the period when Andrew Sinelli scored his first of the season on a shot from the high slot.  Michigan would retain the advantage in play for the remainder of the period, looking much crisper than the Gophers in the first.

Unlike the Wolverines last night, though, the Gophers were able to score before their “bad period” ended to go into the locker room tied.  Sam Warning scored his 11th of the year at 17:46 on a tip out front off a Kyle Rau shot along the ice from the right wing boards, and just like that the game was 1-1.

Both teams came out strong in the second, trading two-on-one chances back and forth early in the frame.  The puck luck started to turn the Gophers’ way in the second period.  Connor Reilly’s booming slapshot on a Minnesota odd-man rush struck paydirt to give the Gophers a 2-1 lead at 2:53 of the second.  Just minutes later, Michigan’s own two-on-one rush was thwarted when the Wolverine player beat Adam Wilcox, but his shot clanked hard off the post / crossbar joint and clattered harmlessly away.

The middle period was full of more up-and-down action, but neither team was able to dent the twine again until Nate Condon scored at 15:20 to give the Gophers an important two-goal lead.  Vinni Lettieri curled out of the corner with the puck and found Condon streaking up the high slot.  The senior captain’s shot snuck through Michigan goalie Racine’s five-hole to make it 3-1, and the score would stay that way until the end of the period.

The Gophers would further add to their lead in the third period, as Hudson Fasching struck on a five-minute Minnesota powerplay to make it 4-1 at 8:37.  The three goal lead would never be relinquished, and the Gophers would skate off with a sweep as the clock struck zero.

The Gophers have next week off before entering the stretch run of the season.  They host Penn State February 28th and March 1st, before traveling to Ohio State and Michigan to round out the season.

Notes & Quotes:

Three stars of the game: 3) Hudson Fasching, 2) Connor Reilly, 1) Adam Wilcox

The final shots on goal were Michigan 29, Minnesota 24

Minnesota’s powerplay was only 1-5, but they held Michigan scoreless in all seven of their powerplay chances

Don Lucia, on the flow of the game: “The most important goal for us tonight was our first one.”  On the break next week: “We have some bumps and bruises, but we should be back to 100% after the break.”

Connor Reilly, on the fourth line stepping up: “Coach sat us down on Wednesday and challenged us to step up.  We’ve had one or two guys [on the fourth line] have good games, but we haven’t all been good as a three-man unit before.  It was good for all three guys to play well.”  On the slapshot: “I was trying to just blow it past him.”

Nate Condon, on scoring some goals: (visibly relieved) “It felt good!”  On getting “separation goals” this weekend: “That was definitely key.  It’s a lot easier playing with a two- or three-goal lead than a one-goal lead.”  On the John Mayasich ceremony Friday night: “It was great to meet him, he seems like a really nice guy.  Coach Guentzel came in before the game and told us his stat lines, and just about his story and Olympic triumphs.”  On what Mayasich told them: “He told us to start scoring more, so maybe his touch rubbed off on us a little.  He had enough points himself!”

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Unbeaten Streak Over as Gophers Fall 2-1 to Badgers

Madison, WI –- All good things must come to an end.

Despite a good effort from the Maroon & Gold, great goaltending from Wisconsin’s Joel Rumpel combined with the Badgers' patented brand of opportunistic offense felled the Gophers for the first time since November 24th, 2013. The loss was also the Gophers' first in B1G conference play.

Wisconsin got on the board first, capitalizing on a questionable interference penalty early on the Gophers’ Justin Holl to take the lead. Badger Frankie Simonelli’s shot from the left point squirted under Adam Wilcox’s pads and into the net at 14:47, and give Wisconsin a 1-0 lead.

The Gophers would bounce right back, though, as Kyle Rau forced a turnover behind the Badger net, which led to a Taylor Cammarata one-time goal at 17:20 of the period to tie the game at 1-1, and the first period would end that way.

Both goaltenders were tested in the second period, with Wisconsin and Minnesota trading scoring chances, but Adam Wilcox and Wisconsin’s Joel Rumpel were up to the task, both stopping every shot they faced to keep the game tied at one heading into the third.

The Gophers started to tilt the ice in Wisconsin’s direction in the third, dominating the possession and the shots on goal. However, it was Wisconsin that would score late to take the lead in the third. Jake McCabe danced around towards the slot and fired a shot through traffic that beat Wilcox. The goal, at 13:47, gave the Badgers a slim 2-1 lead which they would never relinquish. Minnesota garnered a few more scoring chances late in the third, including a short 27 second powerplay at the end of the game, but they just could not crack Rumpel, and the Badgers would hand the Gophers their first ever loss in B1G conference play.

The teams face off again tomorrow night at 8:00 CST. Tomorrow’s game is the nightcap of the Big Ten Network’s “Frozen Faceoff” coverage, which starts with Michigan State taking on the Ohio State University.


•The Gophers allowed just 19 shots on goal to the Badgers Thursday, tying a season low.
•Minnesota is now 8-3-1 when their opponents score the first goal.
•The Gophers had 32 shots, including a 10-3 margin in the third period.
•Minnesota’s powerplay was 0-4 on the night, Wisconsin was 1-1.
•Minnesota’s 14-game unbeaten streak was broken tonight. The streak, active since November 24th, was the team’s longest since a 22-game streak in the 2006-2007 season.
•My pick for three stars of the game: 1) Joel Rumpel, 2) Jake McCabe, 3) Kyle Rau