Jake Parenteau played two seasons for the Alaska Avalanche in the NAHL.
One reason the Gophers are off to a 5-1-0 start is because of power play. The Gophers have the top-ranked power play in the nation, which is 12-of-33 (36.4%). Last year, Minnesota's power-play finished the year ranked No. 14, converting 33-of-158 opportunities (20.89%).
"We had a lot of young guys on the power play last year," said coach Don Lucia. "I think Nate Schmidt's done a nice job back at the blueline. I think Ben Marshall's done well. We have four forwards and one defenseman on both units, but we've also had a third unit with a couple defensemen on it, as well. We've worked on it a lot, and I think they're starting to develop some chemistry."
One of the biggest differences is the addition of sophomore defenseman Nate Schmidt, who played in only 13 games as a freshman. Schmidt leads all defensemen in the nation with nine points and ranks tied for third nationally in assists with eight. Seven of his points (1g-6a) have come on the power play.
"Our power play has been working really well together," said Schmidt. "We are moving the puck around pretty well and not one guy is holding onto it for that long of a time. When the puck does get to the net we are putting it in. Kyle Rau (four power-play goals) and Jake Hansen (one power-play goal) are real prominent around the net and like to score goals."
The Gophers ended last season near the bottom of the rankings in penalty killing. Minnesota's penalty kill ranked 53rd out of 58 teams at 77.4% (127-of-164), but through six games this season the unit has successfully killed off 29-of-33 opportunities (87.9%).
"The guys have done a good job," said Lucia. "We had a lot of freshmen that did it last year and now they're sophomores. Kent Patterson has done a good job and it starts with your goalie. We're off to a good start in our specialty teams. That was an area we thought we had to improve upon this year and so far it's been a real bright spot for our team."
Sophomore Nate Condon, a regular on the penalty-killing unit, agrees with his head coach.
"Our penalty kill was not something we were proud of last year and needed improvement," said Condon. "I think coach Guentzel has done a great job with the unit this year and we have guys who are willing to work hard, get sticks in passing lanes, block shots and do anything possible to keep the puck out of our net. Our commitment as a unit has been better this year."
Long Road Trip
Most road trips do not involve nearly a six-hour flight and a three-hour time change, but that is what the Gophers will encounter this week when they head to Anchorage, Alaska for a pair of games against the Seawolves.
Minnesota, which has seven freshmen and 11 sophomores (not including redshirt sophomore Zach Budish) did not go to Alaska last year, so only seven players on the Gophers roster have made the trip to Anchorage before.
One of them is Budish, who went two years ago as a true freshman and had five points (2g-3a) in the series.
"It's a little different with the long flight and the three-hour time change," said Budish. "We get in tomorrow and will need to get a good sweat in when we get there and maybe run around the rink a couple of times and stretch. We have to get our legs moving to make sure we are ready to go on Friday. They are a good team and they beat us four of the last five times we have played."
One player who will be making his first trip to Alaska as a Gopher is sophomore Jake Parenteau. However, the defenseman is very familiar with where the team is headed as he played two years with the Alaska Avalanche of the NAHL. The Avalanche is based about 45 minutes away from Anchorage.
"It is a lot like here," said Parenteau. "It does get a little dark in the winter. Everyone thinks that it is dark all the time, but it is not quite like that. It is not like the movies. Everyone is pretty close up there and everyone knows everybody."
Parenteau said that snowmobiles are popular in Alaska, but the popularity of ice fishing is nothing compared to Minnesota. One thing that is different between Minnesota and Alaska? The wildlife.
"On the flight up there, if it is a nice day, we should be able to see Mount McKinley, which is the biggest mountain in North America so that is pretty cool to see," said Parenteau. "Also, moose up there are like deer here. You have to be careful when you drive that is for sure."