Weekend Preview: Minnesota State
Weekend Overview: The Gophers play their fifth and sixth road games of the season this weekend, but their first against an in-state opponent. Minnesota will make the 90-minute trek down US-169 to Mankato to for a pair of games against rival Minnesota State. The Gophers are a perfect 4-0-0 on the road this year and have outscored their opponents 23-10. The Mavericks are 1-1-2 at home and Friday's game will be Minnesota State's first home game since Oct. 23.
Last Time Out: The Gophers closed out the final and 18th edition of the College Hockey Showcase in style with a 3-1 upset of No. 8 Michigan. Nate Condon opened the scoring for the Gophers at the 14:50 mark of the first period. The goal was the end result of a crisp blueline-to-blueline pass from defenseman Cade Fairchild to forward Jacob Cepis. Condon went five-hole on Michigan goaltender Bryan Hogan after Cepis fed him with a nifty saucer pass over a defenseman's stick. Nick Larson put Minnesota up 2-0 after he scored his first goal of the year at the 17:10 mark of the second period. The Wolverines would cut the lead to 2-1 with a goal 55 seconds later, but freshman Erik Haula restored the two-goal advantage with a power-play strike with 16 seconds left in the second period. Goaltender Alex Kangas, who started for the first time since Nov. 5, made 36 saves to pick up his second win of the year. Minnesota fell 5-2 to Michigan State on Friday.
Series History: Minnesota leads the all-time series with Minnesota State 29-6-6, but the series has been competitive recently. In the last 10 meetings the Gophers hold a slim 5-4-1 advantage against the Mavericks. Minnesota State had won three straight against Minnesota, but the Gophers ended that streak last year with a 6-2 romp on Dec. 5, 2009, in Mankato.
About The Mavericks: Minnesota State returns home for the first time in more than a month after playing all eight of their November games away from Verizon Wireless Center. Over 40-day span, the Mavericks have traveled more than 8,400 total miles with trips to Alaska-Anchorage, Nebraska-Omaha, Denver, and UMass-Lowell. They are 3-4-1 in their last eight road games and are looking forward to playing a home game again. Last weekend they swept Hockey East's UMass-Lowell, taking down the River Hawks 8-3 and 3-2. The Mavericks, who lost five of their top six highest-scoring forwards from last year, are led up front by reigning WCHA Rookie of the Week, Chase Grant (4g-5a) and Michael Dorr (3g-6a). Senior defenseman Kurt Davis leads the team with 11 points (3g-8a) and junior Justin Jokinen leads the team in goals with six after recording a hat trick against UMass-Lowell last week. Davis is third among defensemen in WCHA scoring with eight points (2g-6a). Last year's leading scorer, defenseman Ben Youds, has seven points (1g-6a). In goal, sophomore Phil Cook has started 11 of the team's 14 games. Cook sports a 3-6-2 record, a 3.33 GAA and a save percentage of .901.
Worth the Wait: Minnesota State played its last home game 40 days ago on Oct. 23. The long break between home games for Minnesota opponents is nothing new this year. The Gophers faced Colorado College after the Tigers were away from the Colorado Springs World Arena for 20 days. Minnesota prevailed 4-1 in that meeting and took the second game 9-4. The Gophers then faced Michigan Tech at the John MacInnes Student Ice Arena after the Huskies had been away from home for 33 days. Minnesota prevailed 6-4 in the first game and won the second game by a 4-1 margin.
Road Success: Minnesota is 4-0-0 on the road this year with two wins each at Colorado College and Michigan Tech. The Gophers have scored 23 goals on the road (only two on the power play) and are averaging 5.75 goals per game. On the flipside, Minnesota has allowed only 10 goals in road games this year for an average of 2.5 goals per game.
One Year Ago: Minnesota will play its 15th and 16th games of the season this weekend when they travel to Minnesota State. The Gophers also played the Mavericks in Games 15 and 16 last year, but enter this series better off than they were a year ago. When the two teams met last year at this time, the Gophers were 5-8-1 overall and had scored only 24 goals. Mike Hoeffel was the only player on the team with five goals and goaltender Kent Patterson was winless in two games. This year, the Gophers enter the series with an 8-5-1 record and have scored 51 goals. Five Gophers have at least five goals and Patterson has a 6-1-1 record.
First Period Goals: Good things continue to happen to the Gophers when they score a first-period goal. Minnesota is 8-0-1 this year when scoring in the first period and 7-0-1 when scoring the first goal of the game. Minnesota is 0-5-0 this year when not scoring a first period goal.
Kangas Bounces Back: Senior goaltender Alex Kangas had not played since Nov. 5 before he was forced into action at the 8:48 mark of the first period last Friday against Michigan State. He entered with the Gophers trailing 3-0, but played admirably for the next 50:53 recording 21 saves on 23 shots. One of the two goals that got by him came on the power play and the other was a Michigan State pass that deflected off defenseman Seth Helgeson's stick as he attempted to break up a two on one. Kangas got the start last Sunday against No. 8 Michigan and stymied the powerful Wolverines, making 36 saves as Minnesota won 3-1. For the weekend, Kangas played 109:48 and stopped 57 of 60 shots (.950 save percentage).
Kangas in the Record Books: Alex Kangas entered his senior season fourth all-time in program history with 2,571 saves. The 23-year-old has played in seven games this year and has stopped 210 shots. He now has 2,781 career saves, which ranks third all-time in school history behind Adam Hauser (3,777 saves) and Kellen Briggs (2,968 saves). Kangas (107 games) is also third in program history for games played by a goalie. Briggs is second with 132 career games played and Houser owns the record with 151 games.
Killed It: Minnesota entered Sunday's game with Michigan having allowed a power-play goal in six straight games and in 10 of 13 games this season. The Gopher penalty-killing unit was tested against the Wolverines, but stood tall and was successful in killing all 11 minutes (including a five-minute major to Aaron Ness) that Michigan had a man advantage.
Minnesota Nice: The Gophers have 20 regular-season games left on their schedule and they will play 16 of them (10 at home) in the state of Minnesota. The Gophers will not leave Minnesota until mid-January when they travel to face North Dakota (Jan. 14-15). Minnesota's final road trip is Feb. 18-19 at Wisconsin.
Pretty Offensive: Minnesota is seventh in the country in scoring offense with a 3.64 goals-per-game average. Yale leads the country with a 5.22 average. Nebraska-Omaha (4.17), Minnesota-Duluth (4.07), Union (3.92), Miami (3.75) and Wisconsin (3.75) round out the top six. Minnesota has already played Nebraska-Omaha and Wisconsin (play the Badgers again on Feb. 18-19). Minnesota plays Minnesota-Duluth (Dec. 10-11 and Feb. 4-5) and Union (Dec. 31) this season.
Going Deep: Every Gopher (except goaltender Jake Kremer) has played in at least three games this year and only nine of 24 skaters have played in all 14 games. Twenty-one players (including goalie Kent Patterson) have at least one point this year and 18 players have scored at least one goal. The only six skaters who do not have a goal this year are Aaron Ness (seven assists in 14 games), Mark Alt (two assists in 13 games), Jared Larson (zero points in six games), Nate Schmidt (zero points in five games), Joe Miller (zero points in three games) and Jake Parenteau (zero points in three games).
One and Done: Minnesota has yielded only one goal in four of the last nine games, which has helped the Gophers to a 6-2-1 record in those games. Minnesota is 4-0-0 on the year when allowing only one goal and 5-0-1 when allowing three or fewer goals.
Good Point: Jay Barriball, Erik Haula, Jacob Cepis and Mike Hoeffel all average at least a point per game. Barriball (17 points in 14 games) leads the group with a 1.21 points-per-game average. He is followed by Haula (1.07), Cepis (1.00) and Hoeffel (1.00).
O From the D: The Gopher forwards haven't been the only ones doing the scoring this season. The six defensemen who have appeared in at least half of the team's games have combined for 28 points (5g-23a) and each of them has at least two points. Cade Fairchild leads the group with nine points (2g-7a). He his followed by Aaron Ness (7a), Kevin Wehrs (1g-5a), Mark Alt (2a), Seth Helgeson (1g-1a) and Justin Holl (1g-1a). Fairchild and Ness are tied for 15th in WCHA scoring among defensemen with six points each, while Wehrs is in 16th place with five conference points. Fairchild is one of two defenseman with a shorthanded goal in the WCHA this year.
Captain Jay: Senior captain Jay Barriball leads the team with nine goals in 14 games. He does not have a goal in his last four games, but he still ranks tied for eighth in the country in goals. His five power-play markers tie him for fourth in the country with four other players. Barriball has at least one goal in seven of 14 games this year. He also recorded a hat trick on Oct. 9 in a 5-4 win against Massachusetts. It was the first hat trick for a Gopher since Blake Wheeler had one in a 4-2 win against Wisconsin on March 16, 2007.
He Can Pass Too: Coach Don Lucia called Jay Barriball "a pure gold scorer" earlier this year and while that is true, Barriball has been displaying his passing skills in recent games. Barriball, who leads the Gophers with nine goals, has five assists in his last four games. He had a career-high three helpers on Nov. 19 at Michigan Tech and picked up an assist on both Minnesota goals last Friday against Michigan State. Barriball is third on the team in assists behind Erik Haula (12) and Jacob Cepis (9).
Be Like Mike: Senior Mike Hoeffel had three goals and three assists in his first five games of the year. In the next five he recorded a single assist. Hoeffel has found his scoring touch again and is the only Gopher who has a point in his last five games. During that span he has four goals and four assists. Minnesota has scored a combined 15 goals in its last four games and Hoeffel (4g-3a) has had a hand in seven of those goals.
More Hoeffel: Mike Hoeffel leads the Gophers with a +9 rating on the season (Erik Haula is second at +7). Hoeffel has been a plus player in nine of 14 games this year and began the year with a five-game streak of being +1 or better. He did not have his first minus game until Nov. 5 against Wisconsin (ninth game of the season) and he has been a minus player only twice this year. He is a combined +4 in his last four games.
Fairly Positive: Cade Fairchild was -7 after the team's first six games of the season. However, in the last eight games he is +7 and has gotten back to even on the season.
Lend a Hand: Junior Jake Hansen began the year with one point (a goal) in his first seven games. However, in his last seven he has six points (2g-4a).
Let's Play Two: Minnesota has scored 23 combined goals (3.28 goals per game) in the first seven games of each weekend series and are 3-4-0 in those games. The Gophers have scored 28 combined goals (4.00 goals per game) in the second game of a weekend series and are an impressive 5-1-1 in those games.
Matson Matters: Junior Taylor Matson entered the season with three career goals in 32 games. He has six goals (third on the team) in 14 games. Matson had zero points in the first four games of the year, but has since found his scoring touch. In the previous 10 games he has six goals and two assists. Matson also leads the team in faceoffs for anybody who has taken a significant number of draws. He has won 56.5 percent (100 of 177) of his draws. Matson has more career goals (9) than career penalties (7) and the same number of career points and career penalty minutes (14).
Fresh Idea: There are 10 freshmen on the Minnesota roster this year and all 10 have played in at least three games. Seven of them have at least one point and Erik Haula leads the group with 15 (3g-12a). He is followed by Nate Condon (5g-3a), Nick Bjugstad (1g-2a), Max Gardiner (1g-1a), Justin Holl (1g-1a), Tom Serratore (1g-1a) and Mark Alt (2a). Last Friday's game against Michigan State is the only game all season (not including shutout to Wisconsin on Nov. 5) that a freshman has not had at least one point.
Transfer Agreement: Senior Jacob Cepis, a transfer from Bowling Green, is playing in his first full season with Minnesota this year. He missed the first half of the season a year ago because of NCAA transfer regulations. He joined the lineup at mid-season a year ago and has averaged nearly a point a game since. He had 19 points (7g-12a) in 21 games en route to receiving the team's Unsung Hero award and has picked up this year where he left off last year. Cepis has five goals and nine assists in 14 games this year and now has 33 points (13g-20a) in 35 career games.
Can Do Condon: Freshman Nate Condon had a night to remember on Oct. 30 at Colorado College. Condon scored twice, had three assists, recorded a plus-five rating and was named first star in Minnesota's 9-4 romp. Condon was the first Gopher to record five points in a game since Ryan Potulny (4g-1a) against St. Cloud State on March 17, 2006 in the WCHA Final Five and the first freshman since Phil Kessel (1g-4a) on Nov. 11, 2006, in a 9-0 rout of Alaska Anchorage.
Budish Update: The one player who was not back from injury for the Michigan Tech series was right wing Zach Budish. The sophomore was injured in a moped accident on Nov. 1 and will miss the rest of the season. He underwent successful surgery on his right knee on Nov. 22.
Minnesota vs. Michigan: Minnesota is 3-1-0 against schools from Michigan this year. The Gophers beat Michigan on Nov. 28 and are also 2-0-0 against Michigan Tech. The Gophers have three more games against a school from Michigan. Minnesota hosts Ferris State on Jan. 1 and then hosts Michigan Tech on Feb. 25-26. The Gophers lone loss to a school from Michigan was a Nov. 26 setback to Michigan State.
Preseason Picks And Rankings: Minnesota began the year ranked No. 15 in both the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine and the USCHO polls. That ended a 10-year streak of being ranked in the top 10 to begin the season.
Noticeable Draft: Nineteen Gophers have been drafted by NHL teams. The junior and freshman class each have six draftees, the senior class has five and both of the team's sophomores have been drafted. Freshmen Nick Bjugstad, Mark Alt, Justin Holl and Max Gardiner were selected in the 2010 NHL Draft, with each of them going in the first three rounds (top 74 overall). Other than Bjugstad, senior Patrick White (No. 22 in 2007) is the only other first-round pick.
Excuse Me Mr.: The highest distinction a high school hockey player in Minnesota can receive is being named Mr. Hockey. This year's team has two players - junior Aaron Ness and freshman Nick Bjugstad - who received that honor. Jay Barriball, Nick Larson, Taylor Matson, Joe Miller, Patrick White, Justin Holl, Max Gardiner and Mark Alt were finalists.
You're Not From Around Here: With the additions of freshmen Nate Condon (Wausau, Wis.), Tom Serratore (Colorado Springs, Colo.) and Erik Haula (Pori, Finland), the Gophers now have four players (joining Jacob Cepis who is from Parma, Ohio) from outside of Minnesota. The last time Minnesota's roster featured at least four players from outside the state was during the 2005-06 season when there were six non-Minnesotans.
Gracious Hosts: Minnesota hosts the 2011 NCAA Men's Frozen Four from April 7-9 at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. The last time the Frozen Four was held in Minnesota was 2002, when current Gopher assistant coach Grant Potulny scored the overtime game-winning goal against Maine to give Minnesota its first national championship since 1979. Minnesota also hosts the 2012 West Regional at Xcel Energy Center.