Regular-Season Home Finale Set for This Weekend Against No. 10/11 Denver
Feb. 27, 2013
The No.2 Minnesota men's hockey program returns to action this weekend with a two-game Western Collegiate Hockey Association series against No. 10/11 Denver at Mariucci Arena. Friday's series opener will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network and 1500 ESPN while Saturday's regular-season home finale is on FOX Sports North and 1500 ESPN. Both games are slated for 7 p.m. starts. Minnesota (21-6-5 overall, 13-6-5 WCHA) is 92-71-12 all-time against the Pioneers including a 51-27-6 mark against this weekend's visitors on home ice. However, Denver (16-10-5, 11-8-5) has won eight out of the last 10 matchups between the two conference competitors.
Last Time Out
Minnesota picked up three points in the WCHA standings last weekend with a win and a tie against in-state rival Minnesota Duluth. The Gophers used a strong third period to pick up a 5-3 win in Friday's opener before settling for a 2-2 overtime tie on Saturday. In a unique twist, the Gophers scored four even-strength goals over the weekend while also picking up a power-play goal, a short-handed goal and an empty-net goal. Sam Warning paced the Gophers with a goal and two assists over the weekend while Erik Haula notched a pair of goals in Friday's win. Adam Wilcox was in net for both games to move to 20-5-5 in his rookie campaign with the Maroon and Gold.
Last Time Around
This weekend's series marks Minnesota's final WCHA regular-season series at Mariucci Arena before the team transitions to the Big Ten Conference in 2013-14. The Gophers were founding members of the WCHA in 1951 (in what was then called the Midwest Collegiate Hockey League) and have won 13 WCHA regular-season titles (including last year's MacNaughton Cup) and 14 WCHA playoff titles. With the top seven teams in the WCHA standings separated by just six points, home ice in the first round is still up for grabs.
Minnesota will honor defenseman Seth Helgeson -- the Gophers' lone senior on this year's squad -- in Saturday's regular-season home finale. Helgeson has played in 142 career games entering the weekend including 114-straight appearances. A New Jersey Devils draft pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft (fourth round), Helgeson has 25 career points (seven goals, 18 assists) and has earned the Donald M. Clark Community Service Award each of the last three seasons.
Rau Strikes Again
Sophomore Kyle Rau snapped an eight-game goal drought with Friday's eventual game winner, moving the forward into a tie for the national lead with six game winners this season. Even more impressive, Minnesota is 18-1-1 this season when Rau notches a point No Place Like Home Mariucci Arena continues to be kind to the Gophers in 2012-13 as the team prepares for its final regular-season home series at the venue. Minnesota is 13-2-3 on its home ice this season and looking back even further, the team is 30-8-3 at Mariucci Arena since the start of the 2011-12 season.
Against Ranked Teams
Minnesota once again takes on a ranked team this weekend in No. 10/11 Denver -- marking the Gophers' 15th and 16th game against a nationally ranked opponent this season. Minnesota is 9-3-2 this year against ranked teams and has played a ranked foe in 14 of the last 19 games. 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).
The Best in the Nation
Minnesota ranks first nationally in both scoring offense and power play this year. The Gophers have successfully converted .254 percent of their power-play chances this year (36-for-142) while the Minnesota offense leads the nation with 117 total goals and an average of 3.66 goals per game. Minnesota also leads the nation in assists (203), points (320), power-play points (106) and points per game (10.00).
The Best in the WCHA
In addition to the nation's top offense and power play, Minnesota also features the WCHA's top scoring defense and penalty kill. The Gophers' defense has allowed just 64 goals against this year, compared to 117 goals scored by the Maroon and Gold, and is averaging just 2.00 goals against per game (Minnesota ranks fourth nationally in scoring defense). On the penalty kill, the Gophers have successfully killed .870 percent (87-for-100) of opponents' power-play chances (Minnesota ranks seventh nationally in the category). The Gophers are the only team in the country to be ranked among the top 10 for all four team statistics.
Against The Best
The University of Minnesota has had remarkable success this winter when taking on the No. 1 team in the nation with the Gophers besting the top-ranked team in three different sports in 2012-13. In addition to Minnesota's 8-1 win over No. 1 Boston College on Dec. 30, 2012, the Gophers wrestling team beat No. 1 Oklahoma State 28-9 in the National Duals finals and the Gophers men's basketball team upset No. 1 Indiana 77-73 at Williams Arena on Tuesday night.
Wilcox Set to Compete for New Marks
Adam Wilcox (20-5-5) ranks tied for fourth in the NCAA in winning percentage this year at .750 and 12th in the nation with 1.89 goals against average -- stats that rank first and third in the WCHA, respectively. The rookie is on pace to compete for Minnesota single-season records for GAA and 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).Wilcox's 35 saves on Saturday were a career-high for the rookie.
29 for 29
Junior Nate Schmidt leads all WCHA defensemen and ranks second nationally with 29 points (eight goals, 21 assists) this year -- one off the nation lead. Schmidt also ranks second overall in the WCHA with 17 power-play points in 2012-13 and is averaging nearly a point a game (.933) over the last two season (.807 points per game for his career). Schmidt has not tallied a point in the last three games -- his longest drought of the season.
The Gophers close out the 2012-13 regular season next weekend with a road trip to Bemidji State. Next weekend's series with the Beavers marks the first and only regular-season meeting with Bemidji State this season for the Maroon and Gold as well as the final WCHA regular-season series between the two in-state rivals. Following that series, Minnesota will compete in the WCHA First-Round playoffs March 15-17 at a site to be determined due to standings. The 2013 Red Baron WCHA Final Five follows on March 21-23 at the Xcel Energy Center in downtown St. Paul.