Gophers Host Red-Hot Omaha in WCHA Action
Nov. 28, 2012
Two of the hottest teams in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association meet this weekend at Mariucci Arena as the No. 3 Minnesota men's hockey team hosts No. 13/14 Omaha in the final WCHA regular-season series between the two programs. Minnesota (9-2-2 overall, 4-2-2 WCHA) is unbeaten in its last six games while the Mavericks (8-3-1, 4-1-1) have won six-straight -- the two teams are in a four-way tie for the third longest active unbeaten streak in the country. Minnesota's newest rivalry in league play, the Gophers lead the all-time series with Omaha 3-2-0 and most recently swept a WCHA series last season in Omaha.
Last Time Out
Minnesota picked up its first road sweep of the season in the team's first-ever trip to Vermont last weekend, taking down the Catamounts 5-1 on Friday and 3-1 on Saturday. The Gophers, who split the first-ever series with Vermont last season at Mariucci Arena, are now 3-1-0 all-time against the Catamounts. 15 Gophers tallied points over the weekend including 11 in Friday's opening win while eight different skaters scored for Minnesota. Kyle Rau paced the Gophers over the weekend with three points (one goal, two assists) while Mikey Reilly scored his first career goal and Adam Wilcox earned his first career point (an assist) in Friday's win. A.J. Michaelson also earned his first career point with an assist on Friday before notching his first goal as a Gopher in Saturday's win. Wilcox earned the win both nights to improve to 8-1-2 in his freshman campaign.
Scouting the Mavericks
Omaha hasn't lost in the month of November -- a six-game winning streak that date's back to Oct. 27 in a 3-2 home loss to Bemidji State. Since then, the Mavericks have swept Michigan Tech in Houghton and picked up sweeps over Minnesota-Duluth and Alabama in Huntsvillve at home -- the team outscored the Chargers 11-2 last weekend including an 8-0 score last Saturday. Omaha features the second best offense (3.75 goals per game) and defense (2.08 goals allowed per game) in the WCHA this season. Ryan Walters paces the Mavericks this season and ranks tied fifth in the WCHA this year with Erik Haula with 16 points (six goals, 10 assists) -- one point off a four-way tie for the conference scoring lead. John Faukner is a perfect 7-0-1 in net for the Mavericks and ranks second in the WCHA behind Adam Wilcox with a 2.03 GAA. His .913 save percentage ranks eighth in the league.
Omaha is led by former Golden Gopher forward Dean Blais, who scored 139 career points (56 goals, 83 assists) in 124 games for Minnesota from 1970-1973. Gophers associate head coach Mike Guentzel served as an assistant under Blais at Omaha for the 2010-11 season.
Weekend of Firsts
Three freshmen tallied important points over the weekend -- highlighted by A.J. Michaelson's first career point on Friday night and hist first career goal -- the eventual game winner -- in Saturday's win over the Catamounts. Mike Reilly, who entered the series with six assists) lit the lamp for the first time as a Gopher in Friday's opener while goaltender Adam Wilcox picked up an assist in the opener -- the first point by a goaltender since Kent Patterson earned an assist on Jan. 21, 2012 in a 2-1 win over Colorado College.
Getting the Shot
Minnesota has outshot its opponents in 12-of-13 games this season with the odd game out coming on November 3 in a 5-3 loss to Minnesota State in Mankato (shots were 35-28 in favor of the Mavericks). Minnesota has outshot opponents 446-289 on the season and has held a shot advantage in every period this season -- including just 84 shots against in the third period this year. Furthermore, the Gophers are outhshooting foes 7-0 in three overtime periods this season.
Starting Off Strong
The Maroon and Gold are the WCHA's most dangerous team in the first period with 18 goals this season in the opening stanza (Denver ranks second with 17). That stat is a big reason why Minnesota is 6-0-0 when leading after the first period and 7-0-2 when scoring the first goal.
While the Gophers start off strong offensively, they tighten up defensively late in games this season. The team has allowed just six third period goals this season (second fewest in the WCHA this season; UNO with four). The stingy third period defense has helped the team earn a 6-0-0 record when leading after the second period.
Penalty Killing Leaders
Power-play goals will be at a premium this weekend with the WCHA's top two penalty killing teams in action. Minnesota leads the league while at a disadvantage (38-for-42, .905) -- ranking fifth in the nation on the penalty kill. Meanwhile, Omaha ranks second in the league (46-for-53, .868). The Gophers are 8-0-1 this season when the team doesn't surrender a power-play goal.
Roll with Rau
Kyle Rau three-point weekend increased the team's record to 9-0-0 this season when the sophomore records a point -- meaning the forward has notched a point in every Minnesota win this season (and hasn't tallied a point in any of Minnesota's losses or ties). The sophomore (6-7--13) ranks tied for third in the nation this season with three game-winning goals including Minnesota's deciding goal on Friday.
The Wilcox File
The statistics are starting to add up for rookie netminder Adam Wilcox. The South St. Paul native leads the WCHA and ranks fourth in the nation this season with a 1.46 GAA. Wilcox (8-1-2) is the only goalie in the WCHA with eight wins this season while his .818 winning percentage ranks tied for third in the nation this year. Wilcox's .931 save percentage ranks second in the league behind North Dakota's Clarke Saunders (.934). Wilcox made his 10th-straight start for the Gophers on Saturday.
More on Wilcox
The rookie has allowed just seven goals during Minnesota's current six-game unbeaten streak (4-0-2) and only 17 goals against in 12 total games this season. Wilcox has allowed one goal or fewer in seven games this season including a pair of shutouts and has allowed more than two goals just once.
Ambroz, Boyd Poised for Break Outs
Sophomore forwards Seth Ambroz (4-3--7)and Travis Boyd (3-6--9) are both poised to set career marks for the Gophers. Ambroz, who scored Minnesota's first goal Friday, needs one goal and one point to equal his freshman totals. Boyd has already tripled his goal scoring from his rookie season and equaled his freshman point total with an assist in Saturday's 3-1 win.
Haula Earns the `A'
Minnesota head coach Don Lucia has announced that junior Erik Haula will serve as an alternate captain for the remainder of the season. Haula leads the Gophers and ranks fourth in the WCHA with 16 points this season while his 10 assists are also a team high. Additonally, Haula is Minnesota's active scoring leader with 89 points (32 goals, 57 assists) in 90 career games and has a eight-game point streak entering the weekend.
Rare Trip Out East
Last weekend's series in Vermont marked Minnesota's first regular-season road trip to the east coast since the 2004-05 season. The Gophers split a pair of 2-1 games with Boston University on 1/2-3/05 and have only returned to the east coast on two occasions since -- the 2008 NCAA West Regional in Worcester, Mass., and the 2012 NCAA Frozen Four in Tampa, Fla.