WCHA Showdown Set For St. Cloud State Series
Feb. 6, 2013
The No. 1 Minnesota men's hockey program returns to action this weekend with a Western Collegiate Hockey Association series at No. 8/10 St. Cloud State. This weekend's series marks the final WCHA regular-season series between the two teams before the Gophers (18-4-4 overall, 10-4-4 WCHA) depart for the Big Ten Conference and the Huskies (17-10-1, 14-5-1 WCHA) leave for the National Collegiate Hockey Conference next season. Friday's opener is set for 7:30 p.m. with Saturday set for 7:00 p.m. Both games are at the National Hockey Center in St. Cloud with FOX Sports North PLUS and 1500 ESPN broadcasting the action. The Gophers are 51-27-12 all-time against St. Cloud State including a 17-14-6 mark when on the road.
Last Time Out
Minnesota returns to action this weekend after having a bye the week before. In their last action, the Gophers split with nationally ranked Minnesota State in a home-and-home series. Minnesota had its 10-game unbeaten streak snapped on Friday night in a 2-1 loss at Mariucci Arena before picking up a 4-1 win in Mankato the next night. Nate Schmidt scored a goal in both games including the eventual game winner on Saturday while Kyle Rau had three assists in Saturday's win over the Mavericks.
Against Ranked Foes
This weekend's series marks the Gophers' 13th and 14th game against a nationally ranked opponent this season. The Gophers are 7-2-3 against ranked teams this season and will have played 10 ranked teams in the last 13 games after this weekend. Among the team's wins over nationally ranked wins are back-to-back wins over then No. 1 Boston College (8-1, Dec. 30) and No. 2/3 Notre Dame (4-1, Jan. 8).
Among the Nation's Best
Not only does the Minnesota offense lead the nation this season with an average of 3.77 goals per game, the Gophers lead the WCHA in offensive scoring, defensive scoring (1.85 goals against per game, fourth in the nation), power play (30-for-121, .248, third in the nation) and penalty kill (74-for-83, .892, sixth in the nation) this season. Minnesota is the only team in the NCAA to be ranked in the top 10 for all four categories.
Schmidt Leads All Defensemen
Nate Schmidt's 25 points this season are the most among all Division I defensemen. The St. Cloud, Minn., native has six goals and 19 assists this season for the Gophers including 15 points on Minnesota's power-play -- tied for sixth in the nation amongst all skaters with teammate Kyle Rau.
Wilcox on Set to Compete for New Marks
Adam Wilcox (17-3-4) ranks second in the NCAA in winning percentage this year at .792 and sixth in the nation with 1.70 goals against average -- both stats rank first in the WCHA this year. The rookie is on pace to compete for Minnesota single-season records for GAA an save percentage. Alex Kangas has both records for the Gophers at 1.98 GAA and a .930 save percentage -- both set in his freshman season with the Gophers (2007-08).
The Junior Class
Minnesota's junior class has been firing on all cylinders this season and last Saturday's 4-1 win over Minnesota State was no different. The junior class tallied all nine of the Gophers' points in the win and have a team-high 153 points this season (56 goals, 97 assists) as a class. The Gophers feature five of the top 20 scoring juniors in the nation this year in Erik Haula (T-5th), Nick Bjugstad and Nat Schmidt (T-11th) and Nate Condon and Zach Budish (T-18th).
On the Road
Saturday's contest in Mankato was Minnesota's first road game since Dec. 8 (a 4-4 overtime tie at Colorado College) -- a span of 49 days. The Gophers now continue a five-game road stretch that culminates next weekend at the OfficeMax Hockey City Classic. The Gophers are 6-2-2 on the road this year, and the team hasn't suffered a road loss since Nov. 3, 2012 (a 5-3 loss at Minnesota State).
Of Minnesota's five remaining regular-season series, the Gophers face four opponents for the first time this year. After this year's first series with the Huskies, Minnesota takes on Wisconsin for a second time (Minnesota took three league points from the Badgers earlier this year at Mariucci Arena), and then finishes the year with the first and only series against Minnesota-Duluth and Denver at home before the regular-season finale at Bemidji State.
Haula Hits the Century Mark Again
For the second time this season, Erik Haula reached the triple digit plateau. The junior recorded his 100th career point in the Gophers' 5-1 win over North Dakota on Jan. 19 and the forward made his 100th career appearance on Saturday. Haula has 104 career points (37 goals, 67 assists), averaging to over a point a game.
Offensive Fire Power
Minnesota leads the nation in scoring margin this season at 1.92 (Quinnipiac comes in at second 1.38). A major factor in Minnesota reign at the top of the stat category is the team's recent offensive performance. The Gophers have scored four or more goals in 11 of the last 12 games (seven of the games coming against ranked opponents) with Minnesota's 2-1 loss to Minnesota State on Jan. 25 being the only exception. The Gophers have outscored their opponents 50-19 during the 12-game stretch.
On the Draw
Minnesota's .553 winning percentage on faceoffs make the Gophers the fifth most successful team in the nation on the draw and the second best in the WCHA this season. Of Gophers who have taken 10 or more faceoffs, Tom Serratore is Minnesota's best man on the draw at .667 (22-11) while Nick Bjugstad is a close second at .600 (279-186.