Weekend Preview: Minnesota-Duluth
Last Time Out: The Golden Gophers split a home series with Alaska Anchorage last weekend, winning 5-1 on Friday and falling 1-0 on Saturday. Five different Gophers scored on Friday and Kent Patterson made 28 saves to lead Minnesota to a WCHA win against the Seawolves. Minnesota skated out to a 2-0 lead just 5:32 into the game when freshmen Nate Condon and Tom Serratore scored goals 62 seconds apart. The Seawolves scored a late first-period power play goal, but it was all Gophers after that. Minnesota increased its lead to 4-1 on second-period tallies from Nick Larson and Jake Hansen. Junior Aaron Ness capped the scoring with a third-period goal at the 10:54 mark.
On Saturday, Minnesota held Alaska Anchorage to only 22 shots (fewest amount of shots against the Gophers this year) but the Seawolves escaped with a 1-0 win. The game was knotted 0-0 after 40 minutes of play and the Gophers entered the third period tied for only the second time this season (tied 2-2 with Union on Dec. 31 after two periods; lost 3-2 in overtime). Matt Bailey scored the only goal of the game and the game-winner for Alaska Anchorage 1:18 in the third period. The Gophers took 30 shots (16 in the second period), but freshman netminder Chris Kamal turned them all aside. The 1-0 defeat was the first for the Gophers since they lost at home to Colorado College on Dec. 14, 2008.
Minnesota vs. Minnesota-Duluth: Minnesota is 128-71-14 all time against its in-state rival. This weekend will be the third and fourth meeting between the two squads this season, as the Gophers beat and tied the Bulldogs on Dec. 10 and 12. On Dec. 10, Minnesota got goals from Nick Larson, Nico Sacchetti and Jay Barriball to take a 3-1 lead into the third period. Minnesota-Duluth scored its second power-play goal of the game with 4:53 left in the third period, but was denied an equalizer. Kent Patterson made 37 saves as the Gophers toppled the No. 2 Bulldogs. The second game of the series was pushed back to Dec. 12 because nearly two feet of snow fell in the Twin Cities on Dec. 11. This time, Minnesota-Duluth took a 2-1 lead into the third period, but Jacob Cepis scored the game-tying goal for Minnesota at the 5:24 mark. The Gophers then killed off a five-minute penalty to earn the tie behind Patterson's career-high 41 saves.
About The Bulldogs: Minnesota makes its first-ever visit to the new Amsoil Arena this weekend for a pair of games with No. 4 Minnesota-Duluth. The Bulldogs, who are 17-5-3 overall and 12-4-2 in the WCHA, are 1-2-0 in their new building and enter the weekend after sweeping Michigan Tech on the road two weeks ago by counts of 5-0 and 3-0. The Bulldogs, who were off last weekend, are led by junior Jack Connolly and senior Justin Fontaine, who have 35 and 33 points on the year respectively. Connolly scored two of Minnesota-Duluth's four goals against the Gophers in December and Fontaine assisted on both of them. The Bulldogs' have two efficient goaltenders. Junior Kenny Reiter has played in 16 games and has a 9-3-2 record. He has a .913 save percentage and a 2.21 goals-against average. Freshman Aaron Crandall has seen action in 12 games and is 8-2-1 this season with a .912 save percentage and a 2.19 goals-against average. Both goalies earned a shutout two weeks ago at Michigan Tech. The Gophers beat Reiter 3-2 this season, while Crandall helped Minnesota-Duluth earn a 2-2 tie against Minnesota.
Bouncing Back: The Gophers were blanked 1-0 last Saturday by Alaska Anchorage. It was the second time Minnesota was blanked this year, as they fell 6-0 to Wisconsin on Nov. 5. The Gophers bounced back a day later to earn a tie with the Badgers and have recent history of playing well after being shut out. Minnesota was shut out six times last season and posted a 3-2-1 record in games immediately following those defeats. Including the six games last season and the one shutout this year, Minnesota has averaged 2.71 goals per game immediately following a shutout.
Beating The Best: Minnesota is 3-1-1 against teams ranked in the top 10 by USCHO.com this season (rankings at time of the game), which is the best record among WCHA teams. The Gophers, who play at now No. 4 Minnesota-Duluth this weekend, are 1-0-1 against No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth, 1-1-0 against No. 2 North Dakota and 1-0-0 against No. 8 Michigan.
A Look Ahead: Minnesota has 10 WCHA games left this season and its next six games are against teams ranked in the seven by USCHO.com. The Gophers play at No. 4 Minnesota-Duluth this weekend before hosting No. 2 Denver on Feb. 11-12. The Gophers then travel to No. 7 Wisconsin on Feb. 18-19.
Below Average: Minnesota-Duluth enters the weekend averaging 3.48 goals per game. Minnesota allows only 2.88 goals per game. The Gophers held Minnesota-Duluth to an average of 2.00 goals per game in the first two meetings this season.
Get Up Early: Minnesota and Minnesota-Duluth are both very good at holding a lead. Minnesota is 10-1-1 this year when leading after the first period and 11-0-1 when leading after 40 minutes. Minnesota-Duluth is 8-0-0 on the year when they lead after the first period and 12-0-1 when they take a lead into the third period. Their lone blemish is a 2-2 tie against the Gophers on Dec. 12. Jacob Cepis scored the game's only third-period goal to level the game.
Be The First: The first goal of the game usually spells success for both Minnesota and Minnesota-Duluth. The Gophers are 10-2-2 when they score first and the Bulldogs are 12-0-1 when they light the lamp first.
Pop-A-Shot: In last Friday's 5-1 win against Alaska Anchorage, the Gophers attempted 96 shots (also attempted 96 shots in a 6-4 win at Michigan Tech on Nov. 19). Minnesota put 48 shots on goal on Friday (had a season-high 50 on Nov. 19 and Dec. 4 at Minnesota State) and hit two posts. They also shot wide 23 times and had 23 shots blocked. Friday marked the sixth time that Minnesota put 40 or more shots on net in a game this year (Gophers are 3-3-0 in those games).
Five Spot: Minnesota's five goals last Friday against Alaska Anchorage tied the most they have scored in a home game this year. It was the first time the home crowd saw the Gophers score five goals since Oct. 8 and Oct. 9 when Minnesota scored five times in wins against Massachusetts.
Life on the Road: Minnesota averages 3.00 goals per game this year (72 goals in 24 games), but that number rises when the Gophers leave the Twin Cities. Minnesota has scored 30 goals in eight road games this season to average 3.75 goals per game. The Gophers average 2.62 goals per game at Mariucci Arena (42 goals in 16 games).
Three Please: Three continues to be the decisive number for the Gophers. Minnesota is 10-1-1 this year when scoring three or more goals in a game. Conversely, Minnesota is 1-9-2 this season when failing to score three goals.
Just One: Jay Barriball needs one more assist to reach 75 for his career. His next point will also be the 125th of his career. Barriball registered the 50th career goal of his career on Jan. 1 at home against Ferris State.
Streak Snapped: Freshman Mark Alt saw his 12-game streak of being even or better end last Saturday. Alt was +6 during the span, but was a -1 on Saturday night. It was only his fifth minus game in 23 contests this season.
Positive Thinking: Fifteen Gophers were +1 or better last Friday. The exception was the top line of Mike Hoeffel, Erik Haula and Jay Barriball, as all three of them were even for the game. Kevin Wehrs, Justin Holl, Nick Larson and Jake Hansen were all +2.
Goaltender Remix: Senior goaltender Alex Kangas underwent successful surgery to repair a labral tear in his left hip on Jan. 14, and will miss the remainder of the season. That left the Gophers with only two goaltenders - Kent Patterson and Jake Kremer - so coach Don Lucia brought in Alex Fons to serve as the team's third netminder. Fons, 19, is from Minnetonka, Minn., and played high school hockey at Hopkins last year. He was 11-12-1 for the Royals with a 3.02 goals-against average and a .912 save percentage. Fons played five games this year for the Alexandria Blizzard in the North American Hockey League and was 1-2-0.
Kangas In The Books: Alex Kangas will leave quite a legacy at Minnesota when this season is over. He has played 108 career games for the Gophers (third most in school history) en route to a 47-41-16 record. His .912 career save percentage is a school record and his 2.56 goals-against average is fourth-best all-time. Kangas has 2,802 career saves to join Adam Houser (3,777 saves) and Kellen Briggs (2,968 saves) as the only Minnesota goaltenders to post more than 2,800 career saves. He set single-season records during his freshman year (2007-08) with a .930 save percentage and a 1.98 goals-against average in 31 games.
Patterson Starting: Junior goaltender Kent Patterson will get the start for the Gophers this weekend, like he has 16 previous times this year. Patterson is 9-5-3 on the year with a 2.41 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage. He is at his best when seeing a lot of shots, as the Gophers are 4-1-1 this year when Patterson makes 30 or more saves.
Minnesota Nice: The Gophers have 10 regular-season games left on their schedule and they will play eight of them (four at home) in the state of Minnesota. The Gophers will not leave Minnesota again until they head to Wisconsin for a pair of games on Feb. 18-19.
Building Blocks: Minnesota blocked a season-high 31 shots in a 3-2 win at North Dakota on Jan. 14. It was the third time this season that the Gophers blocked 20 or more opponent shots, as they turned aside 29 shots in a win against Massachusetts on Oct. 9 and 24 shots in a loss to St. Cloud State on Oct. 22.
Limited Opportunity: In six of the last nine periods Minnesota has played they have held their opponent to 10 shots or fewer for the period. In three instances the Gophers yielded five shots or less. On Jan. 15, North Dakota took four shots in the second period and five in the third. Last Friday, Alaska Anchorage took 10 shots in the first period and three in the third. A day later the Seawolves had only seven shots in the first period and four in the second.
O From the D: The Gopher defense has been helping out the offense this year. The six defensemen who have appeared in the most games this year have combined for 45 points (8g-37a) and each has at least two points. Cade Fairchild leads the group with 11 points (3g-8a). Next is Aaron Ness (1g-9a), Kevin Wehrs (1g-8a), Seth Helgeson (1g-5a), Justin Holl (1g-4a) and Mark Alt (1g-3a).
Going Deep: Every Gopher (except goaltender Jake Kremer) has played in at least three games this year and only six (Jay Barriball, Jacob Cepis, Jake Hansen, Taylor Matson, Aaron Ness and Seth Helgeson) of 24 skaters have played in all 24 games. Twenty-two players (including goalie Kent Patterson) have at least one point this year and 20 players have scored at least one goal. The four skaters who do not have a goal this year are defenseman/forward Nate Schmidt (one assist in nine games), forward Jared Larson (zero points in seven games), defenseman Jake Parenteau (zero points in five games) and forward Joe Miller (zero points in three games).
Fresh Idea: There are 10 freshmen on the Minnesota roster this year and all 10 have played in at least five games. Eight of them have at least one point and have combined for 49 points (16g-33a). Erik Haula leads the group with 16 points (3g-13a) and is followed by Nate Condon (6g-5a), Nick Bjugstad (2g-4a), Justin Holl (1g-4a), Tom Serratore (2g-2a), Mark Alt (1g-3a), Max Gardiner (1g-1a) and Nate Schmidt (1a).
Outside the WCHA: Minnesota wrapped up its non-WCHA part of the schedule at the Mariucci Classic. The Gophers played six games this season against non-conference opponents and were 3-2-1 in those games. Minnesota defeated No. 8 Michigan (CCHA) and earned two wins against Massachusetts (Hockey East). The Gophers tied No. 18 Ferris State (CCHA) and lost to No. 12 Union (ECAC) and Michigan State (CCHA).
Bjugstad, Haula Play Well at WJC: Freshmen Nick Bjugstad and Erik Haula missed the Dec. 31-Jan. 1 Mariucci Classic because they were representing their respective countries at the World Junior Championship in Buffalo, N.Y. Bjugstad played for the United States, while Haula played for his native Finland. The event began on Dec. 26 and ended on Jan. 5. The two Gophers faced one another in their first game on Dec. 26. Haula assisted on Finland's game-tying goal with seven minutes left in the contest. Bjugstad, who was the youngest player on his team, then scored the overtime game-winning goal to give Team USA a 3-2 victory. In six games, Bjugstad had two goals and two assists for the bronze-winning U.S. squad. In addition to scoring the game-winning goal against Finland, Bjugstad also scored the goal that secured the bronze medal for the U.S. against Sweden (1/5). Haula had four goals (including two shorthanded strikes) and three assists in six games for Finland.