Gopher Hockey Weekend Preview: North Dakota
Last Time Out: Minnesota played in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game for the 19th time last weekend when it hosted Notre Dame on Saturday. The Gophers lost 4-3 in a game between top-five teams. The teams were tied 1-1 before the Irish scored three straight to build a 4-1 lead. The Gophers scored twice in the final three minutes to pull within one, but could not deliver the equalizer. Scoring for Minnesota was Taylor Matson, Nick Bjugstad and Zach Budish. Kent Patterson made 26 saves in defeat. The Gophers are now 13-6-0 all-time in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game.
Minnesota Vs. North Dakota: Rivals Minnesota and North Dakota will meet for the 285th and 286th times when UM plays a regular-season series in Grand Forks, N.D. for the 62nd time in the last 64 years. Though the Golden Gophers hold the all-time series lead with a 142-128-14 record, UND has the edge in its own building with a 76-64-8 home-ice mark. After splitting last year's lone series at North Dakota, Minnesota earned its first regular-season home sweep against UND since Nov. 8-9, 1996 with 2-0 and 3-2 wins at Mariucci Arena on Nov. 4-5. Neither team has completed a four-game regular-season series sweep in the rivalry since the Gophers accomplished the feat in 1991-92.
About North Dakota: North Dakota got off to a slow start in defending its second MacNaughton Cup in three years in 2011-12. After winning WCHA regular season and playoff titles and reaching the Frozen Four last year, UND began the year with a 4-7-1 record and a 2-6-0 in the conference. However, since Nov. 25, UND has gone 7-1-1 and has not lost in regulation despite facing injury problems. North Dakota has also climbed six spots in the WCHA standings by winning five of its last six league contests. Sophomore Brock Nelson (15g-9a) and junior Danny Kristo (11g-13a) lead the team in scoring with 24 points each and junior Corban Knight (6g-15a) leads the team in assists and points per game (1.17). Nelson also leads the nation in power-play goals with nine. UND has a strong defensive core led by freshman Nick Mattson (5g-8a), sophomore Dillon Simpson (0g-11a), senior Ben Blood (2g-8a), and sophomore U.S. World Junior Team member Derek Forbort (1g-3a). Between the pipes junior All-WCHA netminder Aaron Dell has appeared in 19 games, going 8-7-2 with a 2.77 goals against average and a .894 save percentage. Senior backup Brad Eidsness (2.43 GAA, .918 save percentage) is 3-1-0 in five games played.
In The Polls: The 15-7-1 Gophers are No. 5 in the latest USCHO.com poll and No. 5 in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine Poll. Minnesota has been ranked in the top five in both polls for the last 10 weeks. Minnesota began the year No. 19 in the USCHO.com poll and was unranked in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll.
U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game: Minnesota played Notre Dame in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game last Saturday and fell 4-3 to the Irish. It was the 19th time that Minnesota had played in the game and the first time since Oct. 6, 2006 (3-1 loss to Maine). The Gophers are now 13-6-0 all-time in U.S. Hall of Fame Games.
Top-Five Matchup: The third-ranked (according to USCHO.com) Gophers hosted fifth-ranked Notre Dame last Saturday in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game (Notre Dame won 4-3). It was the first top-five matchup for the Gophers since Nov. 7-8, 2008, when Minnesota hosted New Hampshire at Mariucci Arena. Then the fourth-ranked Gophers tied (2-2) and beat (6-2) fifth-ranked New Hampshire.
Supporting Jack Jablonski: Though Minnesota lost its first game of 2012, the Gopher fans (a top-10 Mariucci Arena crowd of 10,242) stepped up, donating more than $7,700 for the Jack Jablonski Fund at Mariucci Arena on Saturday. Jablonski, a 16-year-old sophomore at Benilde-St. Margaret's, was severely injured on Dec. 30 when he was checked from behind in a local high school hockey game. To make a donation of your own online, visit jabby13.com.
Playing Frozen Four Teams: Notre Dame was the third team from last year's Frozen Four that the Gophers had faced this year. Minnesota is now 4-1-0 against teams who were in the Frozen Four last year, as they beat Minnesota Duluth and North Dakota twice and lost to Notre Dame. The Gophers do not play Michigan, who was also in the Frozen Four last year, this season.
Outside The WCHA: Last Saturday's game was Minnesota's final non-conference game of the season. The Gophers finished play outside of the WCHA with a 4-4-1 record. Minnesota was 2-0-0 against Sacred Heart, 1-1-0 against Vermont, 0-1-1 at Michigan State, 1-0-0 against Niagara, 0-1-0 against Northeastern and 0-1-0 against Notre Dame.
Back On The Road: Minnesota played its last seven games at home (4-3-0), but heads to North Dakota this weekend. The Gophers have not played a road game since they traveled to Michigan State for games on Nov. 25-26 and have not played a league road game since they played at St. Cloud State on Nov. 18.
First Of Three: The Gophers head to rival North Dakota this weekend. Minnesota swept North Dakota at Mariucci Arena earlier this season. North Dakota is one of three teams that Minnesota will face four times this season. The Gophers will have another home-and-home series with St. Cloud State in late January and will host Wisconsin in their final series of the season. Minnesota is 1-1-0 against both St. Cloud State and Wisconsin this year.
Back-To-Back Setbacks: After losing to Northeastern and Notre Dame, Minnesota has lost back-to-back games for the first time all season and for the first time since being swept by Alaska-Anchorage to end the 2010-11 season. The last time the Gophers lost two straight in the regular season was on Feb. 5 and 11, 2011, against Minnesota Duluth and Denver.
Close Encounters: The Gophers are 15-7-1 on the season. Of their seven defeats, six have been by one goal and one was in overtime. Minnesota's only loss of more than one goal was a 3-1 defeat at Wisconsin on Nov. 11. Minnesota is 4-6-0 in one-goal games this year.
15 Wins: Minnesota is the only team in the nation with 15 wins. Minnesota Duluth and Ohio State have 14 wins, while Notre Dame, Boston College and Ferris State each have 13 wins.
Bjugstad, Rau Back: Nick Bjugstad and Kyle Rau played for the United States at the recent World Junior Championship. Bjugstad had six points (4g-2a), while Rau had five points (3g-2a) for Team USA. Both played for the Gophers against Notre Dame last Saturday and Bjugstad had a goal. Against Notre Dame, they played against T.J. Tynan and Stephen Johns who were also on Team USA. This weekend they could face former Team USA teammate Derek Forbort, who is a defenseman at North Dakota.
Top Line Back Together: After missing the Mariucci Classic because they were playing for Team USA in the World Junior Championship, Nick Bjugstad and Kyle Rau were reunited with right wing Zach Budish on the team's top line against Notre Dame. Bjugstad and Budish each scored against Notre Dame and for the season the line has combined for 70 of the team's 246 points (28.4%) and for 35 of the team's 93 goals (37.6%).
Positive News: Sophomore blueliner Nate Schmidt leads the nation with a +18 rating (Austin Smith of Colgate and J.T. Brown of Minnesota Duluth are second at +17). Minnesota's top line of Kyle Rau (+16), Nick Bjugstad (+15) and Zach Budish (+15) are all in the top 10 in plus-minus nationally.
New Student: Sophomore defenseman Chris Student played his first game as a Golden Gopher last Saturday against Notre Dame. A transfer from Northeastern of Hockey East, the game was Student's first in 672 days. He last played on March 6, 2010, against Boston University as a Husky. The former Benilde-St. Margaret's star is one of two (Michael Shibrowski) former Red Knights on the Minnesota roster.
Potent Offense, Strong Defense: Through 23 games, the Gophers have scored 93 goals and allowed only 49. Minnesota has the second-best offense in the nation averaging 4.04 goals-per-game. Minnesota's defense, which yields only 2.13 goals-per-game, is the sixth-best in the country.
Schmidt Tied For First: Sophomore Nate Schmidt had one assist against Notre Dame last Saturday and now has 23 assists in 23 games this year. He is tied for first in the nation in assists with sophomore forward Mark Zengerle of Wisconsin. The last Gopher defenseman who led the team in assists was Cade Fairchild, who did it last season with 18 assists. Schmidt's 23 helpers are the most by a Gopher since the 2008-09 season. That year Fairchild lead defensemen with 24 assists in 35 games. Additionally, Jordan Schroeder had 32 assists in 35 games, while Jay Barriball had 23 assists in 34 games.
Playing Every Game: Senior goaltender Kent Patterson has played every minute in net for the Gophers this season. He is second in the country in minutes played with 1380:49 in 23 games (Bowling Green's Andrew Hammond has played 1387:30 in 24 games). Patterson is first in the nation with six shutouts.
First And Third: Minnesota has dominated the first and third periods this year. The Gophers are outscoring their opponents 28-13 (17-9 in WCHA) in the first period and 38-13 (24-6 in WCHA) in the third period this season and overall have outpaced their opposition 93-49.
Getting To Three: Minnesota has scored three or more goals in 19 of 23 games this season and is 14-4-1 in those games (Gophers are 11-1-1 when scoring four or more goals this year). Minnesota is 1-3-0 when scoring less than three goals this year (beat North Dakota 2-0, lost 3-1 at Wisconsin, lost 3-2 in overtime against Michigan Tech and lost 3-2 to Northeastern).
Super Sophomores: Minnesota's sophomore class has produced the bulk of the scoring for the Gophers this year. The Maroon and Gold has 246 points (93g-153a) this year and the sophomore class has recorded 141 (50g-91a) of those points (57.3%). There are 11 sophomores skaters on the team and all of them have played and scored except for Chris Student (0 points in 1 game). Nick Bjugstad leads with 28 points.