Date: March 9-11, 2012 Time: 7 p.m. (all games) Location: Mariucci Arena (10,000) History: Minnesota leads 52-19-7 (10-3 in playoffs) Television:FOX Sports North Plus (Friday and Sunday) and FOX Sports North (Saturday) Radio: 1500 ESPN or Praise FM 95.3 Live Blog: GopherSports.com Twitter: @GoldenGopherHky Facebook: facebook.com/GoldenGopherHockey
Last Time Out: Minnesota split a weekend series with rival Wisconsin, but claimed the MacNaughton Cup outright with a 2-1 win on Saturday night in front of 10,241 fans at Mariucci Arena. The Gophers, who dropped a 4-1 decision to Wisconsin on Friday night, trailed 1-0 after 40 minutes on Saturday night. Erik Haula spurred a Minnesota comeback when he scored shorthanded to tie the game 1-1. Nate Schmidt then clinched the Cup outright for the Gophers with a brilliant individual effort that resulted in a power-play strike. The Gophers finished WCHA play with a 20-8-0 record for 40 points. They won the league by finishing three points ahead of Minnesota Duluth (16-7-5 and 37 points).
Minnesota vs. Alaska-Anchorage: The last time the Gophers played Alaska Anchorage at home, the Seawolves became the first team to ever beat Minnesota in a playoff series at the current Mariucci Arena, winning by scores of 4-3 and 2-0. That weekend also marked the last time the Gophers were swept at home. Back on Oct. 28-29, in the teams’ only regular-season meeting this year, Minnesota recorded a road sweep of its own by beating the Seawolves 5-0 and 3-1 in Anchorage, Alaska. All-time, the Gophers are 52-19-7 against Alaska Anchorage, including a ledger of 10-3 in postseason games (all at home).
About the Seawolves: After finishing eighth in the WCHA for the second consecutive year and advancing to its second-ever Final Five last season, Alaska Anchorage was unable to recover from an 0-6-0 start in the conference in 2011-12 and finished in last place with a 5-22-1 league record. Four of the Seawolves’ nine overall wins on the season have come against teams from Minnesota. Alaska Anchorage has a 2-3-1 record in road games played in the State of Hockey on the year and upset then-No. 1 Minnesota Duluth at home with a 3-2 victory on Feb. 4. Alaska Anchorage, who has 11 players in double digits in points on its roster, is led in scoring by senior Curtis Leinweber (9g-7a) and junior Mitch Bruijsten (8g-8a), who each have 16 points. Sophomore forward Matt Bailey (8g-7a) and senior defenseman Scott Warner (2g-13a) have 15 apiece while rookie Eric Scheid of Blaine, Minn. has 14 (6g-8a). Aside from Warner, Alaska Anchorage is led defensively by freshmen Austin Coldwell (2g-10a) and Derek Docken (1g-8a) and sophomore Quinn Sproule (3g-7a). Senior Brad Gorham (1g-8a) also has nine points. Sophomores Rob Gunderson and Chris Kamal have split time in goal for the Seawolves. Gunderson is 5-10-2 in 20 games with a 3.61 goals-against average and an .869 save percentage while Kamal is 4-11-0 with a 3.32 goals-against average and an .878 save percentage.
In The Polls: The 24-12-1 Gophers are ranked No. 5 in the USCHO poll and No. 4 in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll. Minnesota spent two weeks at No. 1 in the USCHO.com poll earlier this year and four combined weeks at No. 1 in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll. The Gophers began the year No. 19 in the USCHO.com poll and were unranked in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll. They have been ranked in the top 10 in both polls since Oct. 17.
MacNaughton Cup Champions: With a 2-1 win last Saturday against Wisconsin, the Gophers claimed sole possession of their 13th MacNaughton Cup, clinching the WCHA regular-season title with a 20-8-0 record in conference play. The Gophers won the title for the first time since 2006-07. Minnesota has now won three of the last seven MacNaughton Cups, as they also won the Cup in 2005-06 (20-5-3 WCHA record) and in 2006-07 (18-7-3 WCHA record).
Saturday Night Success: By winning 2-1 last Saturday, Minnesota improved to 14-3-1 on Saturdays in 2011-12, including a 13-1-0 mark in the WCHA (7-0-0 at home). The Gophers have not been swept at home all year after finishing last season by being swept by Alaska Anchorage in the first round of the WCHA playoffs.
Home Ice: Minnesota is playing the first round of the WCHA playoffs at home for the second straight year. The Gophers are 15-6-0 at home this year and 11-3-0 in WCHA games (overtime loss to Michigan Tech, last-minute loss to Colorado College and 4-1 defeat to Wisconsin). Minnesota is 26-3 in first round WCHA playoff games at Mariucci Arena. However, all three setbacks were to this weekend’s opponent Alaska Anchorage. The Gophers lost 4-3 on March 11, 2011 and 2-0 on March 12, 2011 last season as the Seawolves ended Minnesota’s season. The other loss was a 2-1 overtime loss on March 10, 2007.
Just Wins: The Gophers finished the regular season with a 24-12-1 record overall and a 20-8-0 record in the WCHA. The 24 wins regular-season wins are the most Minnesota has had since it won 26 games in 2007-07 (Gophers finished that year with 31 wins). The 20 WCHA wins are the most that the Gophers have had since they went 20-5-3 in 2005-06. The Gophers did not tie a single WCHA game this year. It was the first time since the 1997-98 season (12-16-0 in the WCHA) that Minnesota did not tie a WCHA game.
Streak Snapped: Senior netminder Kent Patterson started his 57th straight game last Friday against Wisconsin, but did not finish it. His streak of 3414:13 consecutive minutes played, which began on Dec. 4, 2010, came to an end after the second period against the Badgers. The streak went through 170 regulation periods and 12 overtime sessions. Prior to Friday, the senior netminder was on pace to become the first goaltender to play every minute of a Gopher hockey season (excluding empty net time) since John Lothrop did it in 1965-66. Patterson started his 58th straight game for Minnesota on Saturday and made 17 saves as the Gophers won 2-1 and won the MacNaughton Cup outright.
Shibrowski Sees Action: Sophomore backup goaltender and Colorado College transfer Michael Shibrowski saw his first action of the season last Friday when he played the third period against Wisconsin in relief of Kent Patterson. Shibrowski turned away all five shots he saw. Prior to Friday, the last time Shibrowski appeared in an NCAA game was on Feb. 6, 2010, when he stopped 31 shots as Colorado College beat Mercyhurst 5-3.
Close Encounters: The Gophers are 24-12-1 on the season. Of their 12 defeats, nine have been by one goal (including two in overtime). Minnesota’s other three setbacks were by two and three goals, respectively. The Gophers lost 3-1 at Wisconsin on Nov. 11 and 5-3 at Denver on Feb. 11. They also lost 4-1 to Wisconsin on March 2. Minnesota has played in 19 one-goal games this year and is 10-9-0 in those games. The 19 one-goal games is a season record (previous was 18 games during the 2006-07 season).
130 Goals: Minnesota has scored 130 goals through 37 games this year. The Gophers scored 113 goals all of last season (36 games). The 130 goals are the most that Minnesota has scored since it tallied 161 goals in 44 games during the 2006-07 season. During the 2006-07 season, the Gophers had scored 138 goals in their first 37 games. Minnesota is outscoring its opponents 47-18 in the third period this year.
Potent Offense, Stingy Defense: The Gophers have the fifth best offense in the nation and are tied with Ferris State for the third best defense in the nation. Minnesota averages 3.51 goals-per-game (Minnesota Duluth leads with a 3.67 average). The Gophers allow 2.11 goals a game, which is third behind Union (1.82) and Miami (2.06).
Youth Movement: Minnesota’s freshman and sophomore classes have dominated the stat sheets this year, as seven of the nine players who have 20 points or more have either freshman or sophomore eligibility. The Gophers have 345 points this year (130g-215a) and the freshmen (72 points) and sophomore (201 points) classes have combined to score 273 points (79.1 percent). They have also scored 102 goals (78.4 percent) and dished out 171 assists (79.5 percent).
Five With 30: Five Gophers have at least 30 points this year. Nick Bjugstad and Erik Haula lead the way with 38. Kyle Rau (34), Nate Schmidt (33) and Jake Hansen (31) have also eclipsed the 30-point mark. Minnesota did not have a 30-point scorer each of the last two seasons. The last time that Minnesota had five 30-point scorers was the 2006-07 season. The Gophers had six that year and were led by Jay Barriball (43 points), Kyle Okposo (40), Mike Vannelli (39), Alex Goligoski (39), Blake Wheeler (38) and Ben Gordon (31). This year, Zach Budish (28 points) and Nate Condon (26) could still join the 30-point club.
Bonus Hockey: Minnesota is 2-2-1 in overtime games this year. The Gophers have overtime wins at Nebraska Omaha (Jake Parenteau scored the game-winner) and at Minnesota Duluth (Nate Condon scored the game-winner). Minnesota tied at Michigan State and lost to Michigan Tech and at Denver in overtime this year.
Schmidt Assists:Nate Schmidt leads the team and ranks sixth in the nation with 30 assists. His 30 helpers are the most by a Gopher blueliner since Alex Goligoski had 30 assists in 44 games during the 2006-07 season. Schmidt needs five more assists this year to tie Dan Trebil (35 assists in 1995-96) for tenth all-time in assists by a defenseman in a season.
Condon Shorthanded: Nate Condon has 10 goals this year, but four of them are shorthanded. He is one shorthanded goal away from tying the single-season school record. Peter Hankinson (1989-90) and Steve Griffith (1982-83) each had five. Condon is tied for second nationally in shorthanded goals (Austin Smith of Colgate leads with 6). Condon has scored shorthanded goals at Alaska Anchorage, against Northeastern, at North Dakota and against Colorado College.
Minnesota Nice: The Gophers finished the regular season with a 9-1-0 record against Minnesota schools. They were 2-0-0 against Bemidji State, Minnesota Duluth and Minnesota State and 3-1-0 against St. Cloud State.
Unusual Win: Minnesota won last Saturday despite not scoring three goals. The Gophers clipped the Badgers 2-1 and are now 4-6-0 when scoring two or fewer goals this year. Conversely, Minnesota is 20-6-1 when it scores at least three goals this season. The Gophers also beat Wisconsin despite not scoring the first goal of the game. Minnesota is now 5-6-1 when its opponent scores first and 19-6-0 when it scores first.