Gophers Set for WCHA Series with Wisconsin
Feb. 13, 2013
The No. 2 Minnesota men's hockey program returns to action this weekend for a special series against border rival and 18th-ranked Wisconsin. The Gophers (19-5-4 overall, 11-5-4 Western Collegiate Hockey Association) travel to Madison for Friday's series opener at the Kohl Center (7 p.m. CT, FOX Sports North, 1500 ESPN) before both teams square off in Chicago on Sunday at Soldier Field. The OfficeMax Hockey City Classic (approximately 3:30 p.m. CT, Big Ten Network, 1500 ESPN) marks Minnesota's first outdoor game in the modern era with Minnesota and Wisconsin (12-9-7, 9-6-7) following a game between Notre Dame and Miami. The Gophers are 156-86-21 all-time against the Badgers (61-52-13 at Madison, 4-7-0 in neutral-site games).
Last Time Out
The Gophers are coming off a WCHA split at St. Cloud State last weekend with Minneosta opening the series with a 4-2 win on Friday before falling 3-4 in Saturday's finale. Leading scorer Erik Haula led the Gophers with two goals on Friday including the game winner and a pair of assists in Saturday's loss. Nate Schmidt and Nick Bjugstad each tallied two goals (Schmidt also added an assist) while Kyle Rau notched three assists over the weekend. Adam Wilcox was in net for both games, going 1-1-0 over the weekend.
Among the Nation's Best
Not only do the Gophers lead the nation in scoring offense this year, they are among the natin's best in all four major statistics. Minnesota is the nation's top scoring program with 105 goals and an average of 3.75 goals per game, and the team also ranks fourth nationally in scoring defense with 1.93 goals against on average and just 54 goals against. On special teams, the Gophers rank third nationally on the power play (32-for-127, .252) and sixth nationally on the penalty kill (77-for-87, .885). Minnesota leads the WCHA in all four categories and is the only team in the nation to be ranked among the top 10 in all four categories.
Schmidt Steps Up
Junior Nate Schmidt leads all NCAA defensemen this season with 28 points (eight goals, 20 assists) while his eight goals are a career-high for the blue liner. Schmidt has also tallied goals in four-straight games heading into this weekend.
Against Ranked Teams
Minnesota is 8-2-2 this season against nationally ranked programs heading into this weekend's series with No. 18 Wisconsin. The Gophers have played six-straight games against ranked teams and 12 of the team's last 15 games have been played against ranked teams. 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).
Two of the Best on Defense
This weekend's series features two of the nation's top defenses and the best two defensive squads in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. In addition to Minnesota's fourth-ranked defense (1.93 goals against per game, 54 goals), the Badgers rank fifth nationally with 2.04 goals against per game and 57 total goals against.
Look Great, Play Great
On Tuesday, the Gophers unveiled commemorative jerseys for Sunday's OfficeMax Hockey City Classic game at Soldier Field. The new maroon uniform is based off Minnesota's 1960-61 design (featuring a diagonal Gophers text). The 1960-61 season is memorable as John Mariucci led the Gophers to a third-place finish in the NCAA tournament -- Minnesota's first national tournament appearance in six years.The 1960-61 season also marked hockey legend Lou Nanne's first season on Minnesota's varsity squad.
Outdoor Against the Badgers
It's worth noting that this Sunday's OfficeMax Hockey City Classic is Minnesota's first outdoor game in the modern era. But it's hardly the Gophers' first outdoor game ever. Minnesota and Wisconsin actually met for the first time in history outdoors in Madison on Jan. 26, 1922 -- a 3-0 win for the Gophers.
Rau's Streak Finally Falls
For the first time this season, Kyle Rau tallied a point in a Minnesota loss on Saturday with an assist on Nick Bjugstad's 5-on-3 power-play goal in the third period. The Gophers are now 17-1-1 when the sophomore notches a point. Rau, meanwhile, has six points in his last three games.
Offensive Fire Power
Minnesota leads the nation in scoring margin this season at 1.22 (No. 1 Quinnipiac comes in at second 1.43). A major factor in Minnesota reign at the top of the stat category is the team's recent offensive pe formance. The Gophers have scored four or more goals in 11 of the last 13 games (eight of the games coming against ranked opponents) The Gophers have outscored their opponents 53-25 during the 13-game stretch.
Wilcox Set to Compete for New Marks
Adam Wilcox (18-4-4) ranks second in the NCAA in winning percentage this year at .769 and 11th in the nation with 1.80 goals against average -- stats that rank first and second in the WCHA, respectively. 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).
In an odd twist of scheduling, Minnesota will close out the 2012-13 regular season with three WCHA series against teams they have not seen this season. Minnesota closes out a five-game road stretch this weekend before returning to Mariucci Arena next weekend against Minnesota-Duluth followed by Denver. The Gophers close out the regular season on March 8-9 at Bemidji State. All three series mark the first and only regular-season meetings with Minnesota in the team's final season in the WCHA.