Weekend Preview: St. Cloud State
Last Time Out: Minnesota, playing as the No. 1 team in the nation for the first time since 2008, split a weekend series at Wisconsin. The Gophers fell 3-1 on Friday, but then won convincingly 4-1 on Saturday night. Saturday's game was tied 1-1 entering the third period, but Minnesota then erupted for three goals to win going away. Scoring for the Gophers were Jake Hansen on Friday and Seth Helgeson, Taylor Matson, Nick Bjugstad and Nate Condon on Saturday. Kent Patterson made 18 saves on Friday and 13 on Saturday.
Minnesota vs. St. Cloud State: Minnesota and St. Cloud will renew their in-state rivalry this weekend with their 19th all-time home-and-home series. After the Gophers swept SCSU in six games in 2008-09 and the Huskies took both 2009-10 meetings, the teams split two games at Mariucci Arena last season. Minnesota holds a 48-26-12 edge in the all-time series, which started in 1990. In home-and-home series in which the Huskies host the first game, UM is 10-6-2 in the first game and 11-3-4 in the weekend finale. Minnesota will host St. Cloud on Jan. 27 and will finish the regular-season series against the SCSU at the National Hockey Center the following night.
About The Huskies: St. Cloud State started the 2010-11 season as the nation's fourth-ranked team, but dropped out of the polls quickly after a 5-11-2 start. The Huskies got back in the race with a 10-4-4 finish to the regular season, but they bowed out in the first round of the WCHA playoffs after losing a heartbreaking triple-overtime decision against eventual national champion Minnesota Duluth. This year, SCSU struggled in its first four games but has improved since, going 4-2-2 in its last eight games. Overall, the team is 5-5-2 with a 3-2-1 ledger in the WCHA (seventh place). The Huskies are 2-0-2 at home and have won both of their Friday night games at the National Hockey Center. St. Cloud State has been led by 2009 Minnesota Mr. Hockey finalist Ben Hanowski with 13 points (7g-6a). Captain Drew LeBlanc is next on the list with 12 points (2g-10a), but he will be out several months with a leg injury he suffered against Wisconsin two weeks ago. Nick Jensen leads SCSU defensemen with eight points (1g-7a). With standout goaltender Mike Lee also out with a long-term injury, freshman Ryan Faragher has taken the reigns in net and has been impressive. He has a 2.43 goals-against average and .925 save percentage. He is 3-3-1 in seven starts so far and has a 44-save shutout win at North Dakota under his belt.
In The Polls: The 10-2-0 Gophers are the No. 1-ranked team in the country for the second straight week. Minnesota retained its No. 1 ranking after splitting at rival Wisconsin last weekend. The Gophers began the year at No. 19 in the USCHO poll and were unranked in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll. However, after five weeks they have climbed to No. 1 in both polls.
Winning At No. 1: The Gophers beat Wisconsin 4-1 last Saturday. It was Minnesota's first win as the No. 1 team in the country since it beat Denver 5-2 on the road on Nov. 21, 2008. Minnesota is now 3-6-1 in its last 10 contests as the top-ranked team in the country.
Staying No. 1: Minnesota stayed No. 1 in the polls this week, which means the Gophers will play four straight games as the top-ranked team in the nation for the first time since 2008. Minnesota played four consecutive games as No. 1 from Nov. 21-29, 2008, (split at Denver, lost to Michigan and tied Michigan State). The last time the Gophers played more than four straight games as No. 1 was during the 2006-07 season. The Gophers played 18 straight games as the No. 1 team in the country from Nov. 18, 2006 - Jan. 27, 2007 (record was 13-4-1 in those games).
300: The Gophers 4-1 win on Saturday was Don Lucia's 300th as head coach of Minnesota. Lucia's first win at Minnesota was a 6-5 overtime triumph against Boston College on Oct. 29, 1999, which was his fifth game as bench boss of the Gophers. Lucia is 300-161-53 at Minnesota and joins Doug Woog as the only Minnesota coach to reach 300 wins.
Let's Split It: Minnesota split last weekend on the road against rival Wisconsin. The Gophers fell 3-1 on Friday, but then rallied for a 4-1 win on Saturday. Minnesota has not been swept in Madison since Nov. 12-13, 1999.
Road Trip: Minnesota is in the midst of playing five of six games on the road. They won and lost last weekend at Wisconsin and play a home-and-home series this weekend against St. Cloud State before traveling to Michigan State for two games. The last time Minnesota played five of six games on the road was during the 2009-10 season when they did it twice. They were 4-2-0 (Nov. 27-Dec. 12) and 1-5-0 (Jan. 22-Feb. 13) during the six-game stretches.
Road Tough: Minnesota's 3-1 setback on Friday was its first loss on the road this year. The Gophers bounced back with a 4-1 win on Saturday and are now 5-1-0 on the road. Minnesota is 12-5-3 in its last 20 road games dating back to the start of last season. The Gophers are off to their best road start since the 2006-07 season when they opened 5-0-1 on the road (sweeps at Ohio State and Minnesota Duluth and a tie at St. Cloud State). That year, Minnesota was 8-0-1 on the road before suffering a 2-1 loss on Jan. 12, 2007, at Wisconsin.
WCHA Points: The Gophers are 7-1-0 in the WCHA and have 14 points. The last time Minnesota had 14 league points after eight games was the 2006-07 season. That year the Gophers were 6-0-2 after eight league games (sweeps of Colorado College, Minnesota Duluth and Wisconsin and two ties against St. Cloud State). Last year, Minnesota reached 14 WCHA points on Dec. 12, 2010, with a 2-2 tie against Minnesota Duluth (14th WCHA game of the season). The last time Minnesota won seven of its first eight league games was the 1990-91 season (started 7-0-1 in WCHA play that year).
Scoring Goals, Not Allowing Goals: The Gophers have outscored their opponents 53-20 this season. The Gophers have the second-best offense in the nation, as they are averaging 4.42 goals-per-game (Colorado College, who has played five less games, is averaging 4.43). Minnesota's defense is the fourth-best in the country allowing only 1.67 goals-per-game (Merrimack first at 1.33, Yale second at 1.50 and Ferris State third at 1.58).
Five Shutouts For Patterson: Goaltender Kent Patterson has five shutouts this season. His most recent was on Nov. 4 against North Dakota (24 saves in 2-0 win). Patterson is tied with Robb Stauber with five shutouts (1987-88 season) in a season, which is the most in program history. Patterson is 10-2-0 and has a 1.66 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage this year. He was named national player of the month for October.
Team Defense: Minnesota has allowed 29 or fewer shots in 10 of its 12 games this year and is 8-2-0 in those games. In 36 games last year the Gophers allowed 29 or fewer shots in 13 games. Minnesota held Vermont (17 shots on Oct. 21), North Dakota (19 shots on Nov. 5) and Wisconsin (14 shots on Nov. 12) to under 20 shots in games this year. The Gophers did not do that once last year. The last time Minnesota gave up 14 shots or less was March 11, 2007 when Alaska Anchorage took 12 shots in a 3-1 Gopher win.
Scoring First: Minnesota has scored the first goal of the game 10 times in 12 games this season. The Gophers are 9-1-0 when they score first (lone loss was 5-4 against Vermont on Oct. 23) and 1-1 when their opponent scores first (5-4 win at Minnesota Duluth on Oct. 15 and 3-1 loss at Wisconsin on Nov. 11).
Scoring Last: The Gophers have scored a goal in the final minute of regulation in five of 12 games this year and only one of those goals was an empty-net goal (Kyle Rau shorthanded at Alaska Anchorage on Oct. 29). The Gophers have a goal in the final five minutes of regulation seven times this year.
GWGs: Taylor Matson scored the game-winning goal at Wisconsin last Saturday. It was the first game-winner scored by an upperclassman this year. Freshmen have combined for five game-winning goals (Kyle Rau has four and Sam Warning has one). Sophomores have combined for four game-winning goals (Nate Condon has two, while Erik Haula and Nick Bjugstad each have one).
Three-Goal Periods: Minnesota scored three third-period goals to pull away from Wisconsin in a 4-1 win last Saturday. It was the fifth time this year that the Gophers had scored at least three goals in one period. Minnesota scored four goals in the second and third periods against Sacred Heart on Oct. 7 (9-0 win) and scored three goals in the first and second periods against Vermont on Oct. 21 (6-0 win).
Once Every 20 Minutes: The Gophers have played 37 periods of hockey this year (counting the overtime at Minnesota Duluth on Oct. 15) and have scored in 30 of them. Last Friday (3-1 loss at Wisconsin) was the first game this year that the Gophers failed to score in more than one period of play. Minnesota did not score in the first or second period last Friday. Prior to last Friday, the Gophers had previously scored in all 13 road period this year, including overtime at Minnesota Duluth.
Super Sophomores: Minnesota has been paced by its sophomore class this season. The Gophers have combined for 137 points (53g-84a) and 80 of those points (30g-50a) have come from the sophomore class. Three of Minnesota's top four scorers are sophomores. Leading the sophomore class is Erik Haula with 18 points (7g-11a). Nick Bjugstad has 16 points (9g-7a) and is followed by Nate Schmidt (13 points), Zach Budish (11 points), Nate Condon (10 points), Justin Holl (5 points), Mark Alt (5 points) and Tom Serratore (2 points). Jake Parenteau is the only sophomore who has played a game who has yet to register a point this year.
No Help Needed: Minnesota has six unassisted goals this year and three of them are from Nate Condon. The sophomore had unassisted goals at Wisconsin (Nov. 12), at Alaska Anchorage (Oct. 29 and at Minnesota Duluth (Oct. 15). Nick Bjugstad has two unassisted goals this year and Kyle Rau has one.