Minnesota Prepares for Final Showdown with North Dakota
Jan. 16, 2013
The top-ranked Minnesota men's hockey program returns to Western Collegiate Hockey Association action this weekend with a two-game series against No. 6 North Dakota at Mariucci Arena. The Gophers (16-3-3 overall, 8-3-3 WCHA) open the weekend at 7 p.m. on Friday night before Saturday's game begins at 5 p.m. as part of Hockey Day Minnesota. FOX Sports North will broadcast both games (Doug McLeod, Kevin Gorg). Radio broadcasts for both games are available on 1500 ESPN and Gophersports.com (Wally Shaver, Frank Mazzocco). Minnesota is 144-130-14 all-time against North Dakota (13-6-3, 8-3-3) including a 81-52-6 mark in Minneapolis.
Last Time Out
Minnesota picked up its first WCHA sweep of the season last weekend, topping Alaska Anchorage 4-3 on Friday before completing the sweep with a dominant 7-1 win over the Seawolves on Saturday night. Minnesota is now on an eight-game unbeaten streak and a five-game winning streak with Saturday's win highlighted by Kyle Rau's first collegiate hat trick and a four-assist night from Nate Schmidt.
Best in the WCHA
Minnesota currently boasts the WCHA's top offense, defense, power play and penalty kill. Not only does the Gophers' offense lead the league -- it also leads the nation at 3.82 goals per game. Minnesota's defense also ranks highly in the nation stats -- third at 1.61 goals against per game. Minnesota's power play ranks tied for second at .250 (27-for-108 this year) while the penalty kill ranks seventh nationally at .905 (67-74). The Gophers are the only team in the nation to be ranked among the top-ten in all four categories.
Back to the WCHA Grind
With the nonconference schedule in the rearview, the Gopher close out the season with 14-straight WCHA games. The Gophers finished the nonconference season with an 8-0-0 mark outside of the WCHA including four wins over nationally ranked opponents.
No Place Like Home
Mariucci Arena has been especially kind to the Gophers this season -- the team is 11-1-1 on its home ice in 2012-13 including the Gophers' current five-game winning streak.
Wilcox Stays Hot
No goalie in the WCHA has more wins (15-2-3), a better winning percentage (.825; second in the nation) or a better goals against averagae (1.65) than Minnesota freshman Adam Wilcox. The rookie also ranks fifth in the nation and first among rookies in GAA and third in the league with a .929 save percentage. Wilcox, who is tied for the WCHA lead with three shutouts this season, is unbeaten in his last eight games.
Gophers Against Ranked Foes
Minnesota is currently 6-1-1 this season in in eight games against nationally ranked opponents this season. With two games against No. 6 North Dakota this weekend, the Gophers will have played four top-ten teams in the last 20 days -- topping No. 1 Boston College 8-1 on Dec. and No. 2/3 Notre Dame 4-1 on Jan. 8. The Gophers opened the season with a two-game sweep over No. 16 Michigan State (Oct. 12-13), split a pair of 3-2 league games with No. 13/14 Omaha (Nov. 30-Dec. 1) and picked up three league points at No. 19 Colorado College (Dec. 7-8).
Rau Earns WCHA Offensive Honors
Not only does Kyle Rau rank second in the nation with five game-winning goals (one off the national lead) after tallying the deciding goal on Saturday against UAA, a point by the sophomore has been a good sign for the Gophers all season. Minnesota is 15-0-1 this season when Rau notches a point and 7-0-0 when he records multiple points (18-2-0 career record with multiple points from Rau). The sophomore has tallied a point in six-straight games including his first collegiate hat trick on Saturday.The sophomore was selected as this week's WCHA Red Baron Offensive Player of the Week after a six-point week.
Schmidt Sets the Pace
Nate Schmidt leads all Division I defensemen with 22 points, 19 assists and an average of one point per game this season. The junior picked up six points over the last week including a career-high four in Saturday's win over the Seawolves (all assists). Schmidt's 19 helpers this year are tied for fourth overall in the WCHA while the defenseman is tied for the league lead with 14 power-play points (2-12-14). Schmidt is the Gophers leader in WCHA points this year with 18 (two goals, 16 assists) -- a stat that ranks 10th overall in the WCHA this year.
The Last Five Games
Minnesota has shined at both ends of the net over the last five games. The Gophers have outscored their last five opponents -- Air Force, No. 1 Boston College, No. 2/3 Notre Dame and Alaska Anchorage - by a combined score of 27-6. Minnesota, which has given up a WCHA low 40 goals this season (including a league low 14 in the third period) , also leads the nation in scoring margin at 2.00. Defensively, Minnesota has given up one goal or less in four of the last five games.
Haula Nears Century Mark
Junior Erik Haula leads Minnesota with 26 points (nine goals, 17 assists) and ranks eighth in the WCHA scoring race this season. The forward, who ranks eighth in the NCAA with 1.37 points per game, sits with 99 career points and needs just one more to become the first Gopher to hit 100 points since Jay Barriball did so on Oct. 30, 2009. Haula, who has tallied a point in 14-straight appearances and has missed the last three games with an injury (the first college games Haula has missed in his career other than for the World Junior Championships), is questionable for this weekend.
Unusual Second Half
After Minnesota's first half took the team across the country to Alaska Anchorage, Colorado College and Vermont, the Gophers only leave the state of Minnesota one time for the remainder of the regular season -- Minneosta heads to Madision in mid February before moving on to Chicago for the OfficeMax Hockey City Classic two days later.