Men's Hockey Preview: Minnesota Duluth
Last Time Out: Minnesota began its 91st season of collegiate hockey with a sweep of Sacred Heart. The Gophers turned back the Pioneers 9-0 on Friday and 6-0 on Saturday. Kent Patterson made 20 saves on both nights to earn the shutouts. On Friday, freshman Kyle Rau scored 56 seconds into the game to give Minnesota an early lead. The Gophers added four more goals in the second and third periods and 15 players recorded at least one point. On Saturday, Minnesota scored twice in each period en route to its second win. Ten Gophers had at least one point on Saturday as Minnesota began the season 2-0-0 for the second straight year. Minnesota won its first two games of the season by shutout for the first time since 1936 and its first two games of the season by shutout on back-to-back days since 1933.
Minnesota vs. Minnesota Duluth: Few rivalries are more storied or competitive than the one between Minnesota and Minnesota Duluth. The Gophers lead the all-time series with a 129-72-15 record, but the Bulldogs have won six of the last 10 meetings. The teams played four fantastic games last season and split the season series 1-1-2. Kent Patterson played all four games in goal against the Bulldogs and made 37, 41, 40 and 36 saves, which were his four highest save games of the season (also made 36 saves at Wisconsin on Feb. 18).
About the Bulldogs: Minnesota Duluth finished fourth in the WCHA last year, just four points ahead of the Gophers who finished fifth. However, the Bulldogs made the NCAA tournament and then began a remarkable run to their first national championship, which was culminated when Kyle Schmidt scored an overtime goal to beat Michigan at Xcel Energy Center. Minnesota Duluth lost some key players from their championship run, but still returns plenty of talent. Two-time All American Jack Connolly is back and is the team captain this year. Connolly led the Bulldogs with 59 points (18g-41a) last year. He has speedy sophomore J.T. Brown (16 goals and 21 assists last season) on his right wing. Connolly already has two assists this year, while Brown has a one goal and two assists. The Bulldogs also return championship goalie Kenny Reiter. The Gophers faced Reiter twice last year and were 1-0-1 against him, earning a win at home and a tie on the road. Minnesota Duluth raised their championship banner last weekend and got off to a solid start as they beat No. 1 Notre Dame 4-3 to begin the season. The Irish won 5-3 on Saturday.
Bring On The Champs: Minnesota heads to defending national champion Minnesota Duluth this weekend to begin WCHA play. Since the Gophers won back-to-back national championships in 2002 and 2003, they have played 13 games against defending national champions. Minnesota is 9-3-1 in those games. Minnesota went 2-1 against Denver the year after the Pioneers won the 2004 title. The Gophers were 3-1 against Denver after the Pioneers won the 2005 championship. Minnesota was 4-1 against Wisconsin the year after the Badgers won the 2006 title. Minnesota and Michigan State tied 3-3 in their lone meeting the year after the Spartans won the 2007 championship (game was Nov. 23, 2007 and was the last time that Minnesota played a defending national champion).
Keep Counting: Minnesota began the year with a weekend sweep of Sacred Heart. The Gophers won 9-0 on Friday and 6-0 on Saturday to start the year 2-0-0. The 15 goals were the most that the Gophers have scored against the same team in two consecutive games since they tallied 16 goals at Minnesota State on Jan. 16-17, 2004 (Minnesota won 6-0 and 10-3). The 15 goals were the most the Gophers have scored in a home series since they recorded 16 goals on Nov. 1-2, 2002, against Alabama-Huntsville (Minnesota won 12-1 and 4-2).
Against Atlantic Hockey: The Gophers, who have been challenged by the young Atlantic Hockey Association in the past, swept Sacred Heart to begin the year. In doing so, the Gophers improved to 6-2-1 against AHA opponents since the league began official play in 2003. Last weekend was the second time that the Gophers have hosted an Atlantic Hockey opponent for a weekend series. Minnesota swept Niagara by scores of 7-1 and 5-2 in 2005-06.
A Long, Long Time Ago: The Gophers won their first two games of the season by shutout for the first time since 1936 when Bud Wilkerson blanked Carleton (7-0 on Dec. 11, 1936) and Dartmouth (2-0 on Dec. 29, 1936). This weekend was the first time that Minnesota won its first two games of the season by shutout on back-to-back days since 1933 when it beat North Dakota (4-0 on Jan. 13, 1933 and 9-0 on Jan. 14, 1933).
A First (And Second) For Kent: The shutouts were the first and second of senior goaltender Kent Patterson's career and the first for Minnesota since Alex Kangas made 26 saves to beat Colorado College 3-0 on Feb. 19, 2010. Patterson made 20 saves on both nights and his 20 saves were the fewest in a Gopher shutout since Kellen Briggs also made 20 saves on Oct. 27, 2006 in a 3-0 win against Colorado College. The last Minnesota netminder to make less than 20 saves in a shutout was Jeff Frazee who needed to make only 10 saves in a 4-0 win against Alaska Anchorage on Feb. 25, 2006.
Shutout Stuff: Kent Patterson became the first Minnesota goaltender to shutout the same opponent on consecutive nights since Adam Hauser whitewashed Alaska Anchorage in the WCHA playoffs on March 12-13, 1999. Hauser earned 4-0 and 1-0 wins.
More Shutout Stuff: The last time that the Gophers had back-to-back shutouts was 2006. Minnesota beat Minnesota Duluth 7-0 on March 3 and 2-0 on March 4. The last time the Gophers had three straight shutouts was also 2006, as Minnesota beat Alaska Anchorage 4-0 on Feb. 25, 2006 before sweeping Minnesota Duluth.
Caged Kent: Kent Patterson played both games for the Gophers last weekend and is expected to get the bulk of playing time between the pipes for the Gophers this season. The senior was named to the All-WCHA Second Team last year as a junior. Patterson was the first Gopher to be honored on an All-WCHA team since Ryan Stoa (first team) and Jordan Schroeder (second team) were recognized after the 2008-09 season. He was the first Minnesota goaltender to be named to a postseason All-WCHA team since Adam Hauser (third team) after the 2000-01 season. Patterson led the WCHA with a .926 save percentage and was second in the league with a 2.31 goals-against average. His 67.4 winning percentage was third best in the league and his 13 WCHA wins tied him for third most in the league. Patterson recorded WCHA wins against Alaska Anchorage, Bemidji State, Colorado College, Denver, Michigan Tech, Minnesota-Duluth, North Dakota, St. Cloud State and Wisconsin. The only WCHA team that he played against and did not beat was Minnesota State (0-1-0). Patterson, who played in 30 games, recorded a .920 save percentage for the season tying him with Jack McCartan (.920 save percentage in 15 games in 1956-57) for the second-best mark in school history. Alex Kangas recorded a .930 save percentage in 2007-08 while playing in 31 games.
Hands On: Senior Jake Hansen, who was voted an alternate captain last week, is tied for first in the nation with Alaska Anchorage's Mickey Spencer with six points. Hansen had one goal and five assists against Sacred Heart and his five helpers place him first in the nation in assists. He tallied a career high four assists (and points) last Saturday against Sacred Heart. The last Gopher to dish out four assists was Cade Fairchild, who accomplished the feat on Nov. 1, 2008, against Minnesota State. Hansen is Minnesota's leading returning goal scorer with 11.
Warning: Points Being Generated: Freshmen Sam Warning is tied for seventh in the nation with four points (2g-2a), but he is tied for first among freshmen with Bowling Green's Ryan Carpenter (1g-3a), Lake Superior's Chris Ciotti (1g-3a) and Boston College's Johnny Gaudreau (1g-3a).
Killed It: The Gophers struggled on the penalty kill last season as they successfully killed only 77.6% of the penalties that they took. This past weekend, Minnesota was a perfect 9-of-9 on the penalty kill. They were one of 10 teams not to allow a power-play goal last weekend. The Gophers penalty kill is sure to be tested this weekend. Minnesota Duluth was tenth in the nation last year with a power-pay success rate of 22.83% and is clicking at 21.43% (3-of-14) this year.
A Good Start: After two games, the Gophers rank second in the nation in offense (7.50 goals-per-game) and are tied for first in defense with Boston University and RIT (0.00 goal-per-game).
Facing Off: Faceoffs were not one of the Gophers' strengths in 2010-11. The team won only 47.9 percent of its draws and Erik Haula was leader in faceoff percentage at among players who attempted more than 150 at 49.3 percent. This season has been different so far, as Minnesota has won 56.4 percent (75-for-133) of its faceoffs. Taylor Matson leads the team with 20 faceoff wins in two games.
Shots For: The Gophers took 47 shots against Sacred Heart on Friday and 45 on Saturday. Minnesota took more than 45 shots in only four of 36 games last season (47, 48, 50 and 50).
Shots Against: Minnesota allowed only 20 shots in both games against Sacred Heart. The fewest amount of shots that an opponent took last season was 22.
How About Haula: A year ago, Erik Haula began his freshman season with two assists in each of his first two games. Like last year, Haula posted multiple-point games in his first two games this season. Unlike last year, he is not only recording assists but also scoring goals. Haula had one goal and one assist on Friday and two goals and one assist on Saturday. His five points place him second on the team and tie him for third in the nation in scoring with three others.
Alternate Help: Redshirt sophomore Zach Budish and seniors Jake Hansen and Joey Miller were named alternate captains last week after a team vote. The trio will join senior captain Taylor Matson in leading the Gophers this year.
Fresh Faces: All seven Minnesota freshmen made their collegiate debuts this past weekend against Sacred Heart. Six of them notched their first collegiate point and four of them scored their first goal in the Maroon and Gold. The freshmen combined to register 12 points (6g-6a) and Sam Warning led the way with four points (2g-2a). Seth Ambroz (2g), Kyle Rau (1g-1a) and Blake Thompson each had two points, while Ben Marshall (1g) had one point. Marshall was one of only three Gophers not to record a point on Friday, but he was a +5 in the game and leads the team at +7 after two games. The only freshman not to notch a point was Christian Isackson, who only played in the Saturday day.
Young Bunch: Sixteen of Minnesota's 27 players are either true sophomores (9) or freshman (7). Add sophomore transfers Chris Student and Michael Shibrowski and redshirt sophomore Zach Budish and the Gophers have 19 players who are underclassmen eligibility wise. The youth of the team is especially evident on the blueline, where the Gophers' eight defensemen are made up of one junior, five sophomores and two freshmen. Twenty-four-year-old Joey Miller is Minnesota's oldest player and is six years and three days older than 18-year-old Travis Boyd, the team's youngest player.
NHL Draft: Seventeen of the 27 Gophers have been drafted by an NHL team. Sophomore Nick Bjugstad is the lone first-round pick (19th overall to Florida in 2009), but Minnesota has four second-round selections in Nico Sacchetti, Zach Budish, Mark Alt and Justin Holl. Six sophomores have been drafted, while the senior and freshman classes have five selections. Freshmen Kyle Rau, Seth Ambroz, and Travis Boyd were taken in the 2011 Draft in June.
Out-Of-Staters: Just as in 2010-11, this year's Gopher hockey team has four players from outside of Minnesota. Returning to the team are Wisconsin's Nate Condon, Colorado's Tom Serratore, and Erik Haula of Finland. Joining the squad is Missouri-native Sam Warning, who replaces Ohio's Jacob Cepis as the team's fourth non-Minnesotan. The last time Minnesota's roster had more than four players from outside the state was during the 2005-06 season when six players from outside of Minnesota played for the Gophers.
Budish Is Back: Zach Budish began last year with six points in his first seven games before suffering a season-ending knee injury. After months of rehab, Budish is back as a redshirt sophomore. He has three points (1g-2a) in two games and has been playing on the top line with freshman Kyle Rau and Sophomore Nick Bjugstad.