Gophers Host Bemidji State in WCHA First Round Playoffs
March 13, 2013
The Co-MacNaughton Cup champion Minnesota men's hockey team opens its final Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs this weekend with a first-round, best-of-three series against Bemidji State at Mariucci Arena. Game One and Game Two (Friday and Saturday) will be broadcast on FOX Sports North and 1500 ESPN while Game Three (Sunday, if necessary) will move to FOX Sports North PLUS with 1500 ESPN retaining radio rights. All three games are slated for 7 p.m. CT. The Gophers (24-7-5 overall, 16-7-5 WCHA) are 12-1-1 all-time against Bemidji State (6-20-8, 5-16-7) including an active five-game winning streak. This weekend marks the first-ever playoff meetings between the two in-state rivals.
Last Time Out
Minnesota picked up its second WCHA sweep of the season and fourth overall sweep in 2012-13 last weekend at Bemidji State, rallying for a 4-3 win in Friday's series opener before dominating a 5-1 victory on Saturday in the team's last-ever WCHA regular-season match up. The sweep, coupled with a St. Cloud State split at Wisconsin, allowed the Gophers to earn a piece of the MacNaughton Cup as WCHA regular-season champions. Nick Bjugstad and Erik Haula paced Minnesota with four points each over the weekend while Adam Wilcox picked up both wins for the Gophers to move to 23-6-5 in his rookie campaign with the Maroon and Gold.
Keeping the Cup
Minnesota earned a share of its second-straight MacNaughton Cup and its fourth WCHA regular-season championship in the last eight years. The Gophers rallied from a four-point deficit on March 2 to tie St. Cloud State atop the league standings for Minnesota's 14th conference regular-season championship. Also of note, the Gophers went the entire 2012-13 regular season without leading the WCHA until tying for the MacNaughton Cup on Saturday night in the regular-season finale.
Lucia and the MacNaughton Cup
This year's MacNaughton Cup marks Minnesota head coach Don Lucia's seventh career WCHA regular-season championship -- a conference record. Lucia has won four MacNaughton Cups with the Gophers, twice going back-to-back in 2005-06 and 2006-07 and again in 2011-12 and 2012-13. Lucia's also won three-straight regular-season league titles in his first three seasons with Colorado College (1993-94, 94-95, 95-96).
Minnesota, which has gone 7-0-0 after a loss this season, has not lost back-to-back games all season. The last Gophers squad to accomplish that feat was the 2003 national championship team. In fact, the 2002-03 season was Minnesota's second-straight season without suffering back-to-back losses as the Gophers went on to win two-straight NCAA titles.
Jake Parenteau set a new career-high in Saturday's 5-1 win over Bemidji State with two points (a goal and an assist) and the junior has three points (one goal, two assists) in his last two games. Minnesota is 7-0-1 this season when the junior tallies a point.
While sophomore Kyle Rau is tied for the most game-winning goals in the nation this year with six, Nick Bjugstad is quickly making a run at his teammate. The junior forward has tallied each game-winning goal during Minnesota's three game winning streak and now sits with five game-deciding goals in 2012-13.
An Extended Series
In a unique twist of fate, the Gophers will play at least four (possibly five if needed) games in a row against Bemidji State including this weekend's playoff series. The last time Minnesota played more than three games in a row against one opponent was under similar circumstances in 2003-04. Minnesota closed out the regular season with a two-game sweep over St. Cloud State before sweeping a WCHA playoff series against the Huskies (all four games were played at Mariucci Arena). The Gophers outscored St. Cloud State 24-10 in that series.
A Deadly Combination
Minnesota is 13-1-0 when the trio of Kyle Rau, Erik Haula and Nick Bjugstad (the Gophers' three leading scorers this season) tally in the same game. The group has 117 total points this season (50 goals, 67 assists) and account for 51 percent of Minnesota's scoring in 2012-13.
The Wilcox File
Rookie netminder Adam Wilcox has started the last 33-straight games for Minnesota and has emerged as one of the premiere netminders in the nation. Wilcox (23-6-5) ranks tied for second in the Minnesota record book for win by a rookie and needs just two more wins to tie Kellen Briggs for the school record (25-11-3 in 2003-04). The rookie, who ranks seventh in the nation with a goals against average of 1.85 and also has a .924 save percentage, is also 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 also ranks second in the nation and first in the WCHA this year in wins (23; one off the national lead).
No Place Like Home
Mariucci Arena continues to be kind to the Gophers in 2012-13. Minnesota is 14-3-3 on its home ice this season and looking back even further, the team is 31-9-3 at Mariucci Arena since the start of the 2011-12 season.
Power Play Advantage
Minnesota boasts the nation's top power play this season at .252 (39-for-155) while the Gophers have scored at least one power-play goal in every series of the 2012-13 schedule. Saturday's 5-1 over the Beavers marked the first time this season that the Gophers power-play lines did not have a chance to hit the ice (0-for-0). This year's power-play unit is the best at Minnesota since the 2003-04 season (56-for-214, .262) when the Gophers finished the season as the top team in the nation while on the advantage.
Minnesota's Hot Offense
The Gophers also maintain the nation's top scoring offense this season with 131 total goals and an average of 3.64 goals per game. The last time Minnesota had a better goals per game average was in 2006-07 when the team averaged 3.66 goals per game (the third best figure in the nation that season).
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 71 goals against this year, compared to 131 goals scored by the Maroon and Gold, and is averaging just 1.97 goals against per game (Minnesota ranks fourth nationally in scoring defense). On the penalty kill, the Gophers have successfully killed .870 percent (94-for-108) 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.
Points for Good Behavior
Minnesota and St. Cloud State -- this year's Co-MacNaughton Cup champions -- are also the two least penalized teams in the WCHA at 347 and 291 total penalty minutes, respectively. The Gophers rank 53rd nationally in penalty minutes per game at 9.6 while St. Cloud State ranks 59th out of 59 teams at 8.1 penalty minutes per game.