Weekend Preview: Minnesota State
Last Time Out: Minnesota went 0-1-1 at Michigan State last weekend. The Gophers dropped a 4-3 decision against the Spartans on Friday despite outshooting Michigan State 43-23. Nick Bjugstad scored twice and Seth Helgeson tallied his second goal of the season in defeat. On Saturday, the Gophers trailed 3-1 in the second period, but then scored three straight goals to take a 4-3 third-period lead. However, Michigan State scored the final goal of the game and the teams tied 4-4. Ben Marshall, Erik Haula, Zach Budish and Kyle Rau lit the lamp for the Gophers, who picked up their first tie of the season.
Minnesota Vs. Minnesota State: For the third time this season, the Gophers will face an in-state rival when Minnesota State comes to town on Friday and Saturday. The Mavericks swept Minnesota in Mankato last year, dropping the Gophers out of the national rankings. That series also marked the last time Minnesota was swept in the regular season. This weekend, the Gophers will look to earn their first home win against Minnesota State since Nov. 10, 2007. The Mavericks have not played a two-game series at Mariucci Arena since Oct. 21-22, 2005. Though Minnesota is 29-8-6 with a 13-3-6 home record all-time against Minnesota State, the Gophers' current senior class is only 2-5-1 against the Mavericks with an 0-2-1 record at home.
About The Mavericks: Looking to end of a three-year string of losing seasons, injury-riddled Minnesota State has gotten off to a 3-10-1 start overall with a 2-7-1 WCHA record. Without the services of top 2010-11 rookie Chase Grant since Oct. 21 after the sophomore was lost for the year with a torn labrum, the Mavericks earned series splits at Michigan Tech and at home against St. Cloud before being swept at red-hot Minnesota-Duluth. Just like Minnesota, the Mavericks lost a one-goal game last Friday before rallying for a tie on Saturday against Alaska Anchorage. Minnesota State, though, erased a 5-1 deficit in the final 28:30 of regulation to tie the score. The Mavericks are led in scoring by freshmen Jean-Paul Lafontaine (7g-3a) and Matt Leitner (4g-6a), who each have 10 points. Eriah Hayes leads Minnesota State, the fifth-most penalized team in the country, in penalty minutes with 44, but is also third on the team with nine points (4g-5a). Redshirt senior netminder Austin Lee is 3-7-0 with a 3.33 goals against average and a .907 save percentage in goal for the Mavericks. Junior Phil Cook, who saved 79 of 82 shots in two wins against the Gophers last year and freshman Evan Karambelas have also seen time between the pipes.
In The Polls: After going 0-1-1 at Michigan State last weekend, the Gophers slipped in the polls to No. 4 and 5, respectively. The Gophers fell from No. 2 to No. 4 in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll and from No. 3 to No. 5 in the USCHO.com poll. The Gophers have been in the top five in both polls for the last five weeks.
11 Wins: The Gophers are the only team in the nation with 11 wins. Boston College, Notre Dame, Ferris State, Ohio State and Lake Superior all have 10 wins. No other team in the nation has double-digit wins.
Leading The WCHA: Minnesota is 8-2-0 in the WCHA and alone in first place with 16 points. Minnesota Duluth, who the Gophers swept on the road earlier this year, is second with a 7-2-1 record and 15 points. Nebraska Omaha, who has played 12 WCHA games, is 6-3-3 and also has 15 points.
Good To Be Home: The Gophers just completed a tough stretch of their schedule where they played seven of 10 games away from Mariucci Arena. The 10-game stretch included two road games at Alaska Anchorage, Wisconsin and Michigan State (last year the Gophers played only eight games outside of Minnesota the entire season). The other road game was at St. Cloud State. Minnesota went 6-3-1 (3-3-1 on the road) during the 10-game stretch. The Gophers won all three home games, as they swept North Dakota and beat St. Cloud State. Minnesota is 12-7-4 in its last 23 road games dating back to the start of last season.
Home Improvement: Minnesota finished last year with a 9-10-3 record at Mariucci Arena (first season under .500 at the new Mariucci). The Gophers are 6-1-0 this year and have outscored their opponents 35-7.
Saturday Success: The Gophers are undefeated on Saturdays this year with a 6-0-1 record.
Effective Offense: Minnesota, which has the second best offense in the nation by averaging 4.25 goals-per-game, has scored 68 goals in its first 16 games. Last year, the Gophers scored 54 goals in their first 16 games (3.37 goals-per-game). This year, Minnesota has scored three or more goals in 14 of its 16 games. Last year, the Gophers scored two or fewer goals in seven of its first 16 games.
Stingy Defense: The Gophers are tied for fifth in the nation allowing only 2.00 goals-per-game. Minnesota has allowed 29 or fewer shots in 12 of its 16 games this year and is 8-4-0 in those games (Gophers are 3-0-1 when allowing 30 or more shots). 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), Wisconsin (14 shots on Nov. 12) and St. Cloud State (18 shots on Nov. 18) to under 20 shots in games this year. The Gophers did not do that once last year.
First And Third: Minnesota has dominated the first and third periods of play this year. The Gophers are outscoring their opponents 20-9 in the first period and 27-7 in the third period this year.
Bjugstad On Board: One of the reasons that Minnesota has been scoring often this year is sophomore center Nick Bjugstad. He is tied for first in the nation in points (25) and goals (15). Bjugstad had 13 points (9g-4a) in eight November games. He had at least one point in seven games and had a goal in six games. In his last four games (all multiple-point games), he had nine points (6g-3a), which included his first career hat trick against St. Cloud State on Nov. 19. He took 26 shots in November and scored on nine of them (34.6%) becoming the first Gopher to score nine goals in a month since Ryan Potulny (March 2006). He was also the first Gopher to score 25 points or more in first 16 games since John Pohl scored 28 points (9g-19a) in first 16 games of 2001-02.
More Bjugstad: Nick Bjugstad has 15 goals in 16 games this year. He is the first Gopher to score 15 goals since Ryan Stoa tallied 24 goals in 36 games in the 2008-09 season. Mike Hoeffel led the Gophers with 13 goals in 35 games last year and with 14 goals in 34 games in the 2009-10 season. In his last 32 games (since returning to the Gophers from last year's World Junior Championship), Bjugstad has 41 points (21g-20a). Also dating back to last season, Bjugstad has 20 goals in his last 22 games.
First In Line: Minnesota's top line of freshman Kyle Rau, sophomore Nick Bjugstad and redshirt sophomore Zach Budish have played all 16 games together. They are the only line that coach Don Lucia has keep together all season and with good reason. The trio has combined for 58 points (3.625 points-per-game) this season. All three players are in the top six in scoring for the Gophers. Bjugstad has 25 points (15g-10a), while Rau has 18 points (10g-8a) and Budish has 15 points (4g-11a).
Rau Scores: Freshman Kyle Rau scored last Saturday at Michigan State and now has 10 goals on the year. He is the first Minnesota freshman to score 10 goals since Jordan Schroeder had 13 goals in 35 games in the 2008-09 season. Prior to Schroeder, Jay Barriball had 20 goals as a freshman in 2006-07. Rau leads all freshmen nationally in points (18) and goals (10).
Super Sophomores: Minnesota's sophomore class has produced the bulk of the scoring for the Gophers this year. The Maroon and Gold has 176 points (68g-108a) this year and the sophomore class has recorded 106 of those points (40g-66a) points (60.2%). There are 11 sophomores on the team and all of them except Chris Student have played. Of the 10 who have played, only defenseman Jake Parenteau is scoreless. Nick Bjugstad leads the way with 25 points and is followed by Erik Haula with 21.
Schmidt Putting Up Points: Sophomore defenseman Nate Schmidt leads the Gophers and ranks fourth nationally with 16 assists (13 have come on the power-play). He also ranks second nationally in scoring by defensemen with 17 points (Justin Schultz of Wisconsin has 25 points).
Scoring First: Minnesota has scored the first goal of the game 11 times in 16 games this season. The Gophers are 10-1-0 when they score first (lone loss was 5-4 against Vermont on Oct. 23) and 1-3-1 when their opponent scores first. The lone win came at Minnesota Duluth on Oct. 15 (Gophers erased a 2-0 first-period deficit).
GWGs: Senior captain Taylor Matson is the only upperclassman with a game-winning goal this year (Nov. 12 at Wisconsin). Freshmen have combined for five game-winning goals (Kyle Rau has four and Sam Warning has one) and so have the sophomores (Nate Condon and Nick Bjugstad both have two, while Erik Haula has one).
Free Hockey: Minnesota was 1-1-6 in overtime games last season. This year the Gophers are 1-0-1 in overtime as they won at Minnesota Duluth on Oct. 14 and tied at Michigan State last Saturday. Saturday's 4-4 tie was the sixth game in the last 12 meetings between the Gophers and Spartans that went past regulation. All of those games ended in ties.
Special Teams: The Gophers power-play is clicking at 25.97% (20-of-77), which ranks fifth in the nation. Conversely, Minnesota's penalty kill is functioning at 87.3% (62-of-71), which is thirteenth best in the country. The penalty kill was an area that plagued the Gophers last year, as they ended the season killing off only 77.4 percent of penalties they had taken.
NHL Draft: Seventeen Gophers have been drafted by an NHL team. Sophomore Nick Bjugstad is the lone first-round pick (No. 19 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 five seniors and freshman have been selected. Freshmen Kyle Rau, Seth Ambroz and Travis Boyd were taken in the 2011 Draft in June.