Weekend Preview: Mariucci Classic

Go Gophers! Sophomore Erik Haula has 25 points in 20 games.
Go Gophers!
Sophomore Erik Haula has 25 points in 20 games.
Go Gophers!

LIVE BLOG: Niagara at Minnesota (starts at 7 p.m.)

Dec. 27: Daily Clips

Dec. 28: Q&A With Kent Patterson l Lucia talks Mariucci Classic, WJC and more

Dec. 30: Daily Clips l Q&A With Jake Kremer

Minnesota notes for Dec. 30 Get Acrobat Reader

Mariucci Classic Overview: Minnesota welcomes Niagara, Northeastern and Princeton this weekend for the 21st annual Mariucci Classic. The Gophers have won 12 tournament titles, with the last one coming in 2008 when they beat Northeastern 3-2 in overtime. Complete Mariucci Classic historical information can be found on pages 86-89 of the 2011-12 media guide. Northeastern and Princeton play the early game on Friday, while Minnesota and Niagara will face one another in the evening game. Friday’s winners will play one another on Saturday for the tournament title.   

Minnesota Vs. Niagara: Minnesota and Niagara have not played each other outside of a two-game series on Jan. 6-7, 2006. The Gophers won 5-2 and 7-1 at Mariucci Arena, which took place before the Purple Eagles moved from now-defunct College Hockey America to the Atlantic Hockey Association. The Gophers swept Sacred Heart, the teams’ lone common opponent, to open the season, winning 9-0 and 6-0, while Niagara beat Sacred Heart 3-2 and also played to a 4-4 tie.

About The Purple Eagles: Like Minnesota, Niagara’s 2011-12 team is young. The Purple Eagles have just one senior forward and one senior defenseman. They entered the winter break with a record of 5-5-6, including a 4-2-5 mark in Atlantic Hockey. Niagara’s six ties are more than any team in the country and its 13 conference points put them in fifth place. The Purple Eagles have lost only two games since Halloween after winning only one game in October and head into the Mariucci Classic on a six-game unbeaten streak. Sophomore forward Scott Arnold leads the team with 12 points (7g-5a) and 24 penalty minutes, while fellow second-year forward Patrick Divjak leads with seven assists. Cody Campbell, Chris Noonan, Colby Drost, and Carsen Chubak have each made appearances in goal for Niagara. Campbell (2-1-3; 2.54 GAA; .918 save percentage) has logged the most minutes, but Noonan (2-1-2; 2.32 GAA; .928 save percentage) has started each of the Purple Eagles’ last three contests.

Minnesota Vs. Princeton: All-time, the Gophers have faced Princeton nine times, but Minnesota has only played the Tigers twice since it swept Princeton in a home series on Jan. 2-3, 1982. Princeton beat the Gophers in the first round of the 1998 Mariucci Classic before taking down Boston University to win the title. That loss marked the last time Minnesota lost to an Ivy League opponent (it is 8-0-0 since). Minnesota returned the favor in 2003 tournament by routing the Tigers 9-0 before taking the championship against New Hampshire. Princeton has a 14-26-0 all-time record against current members of the WCHA while the Gophers are 82-21-0 against current ECAC members.

About The Tigers: Off to a 4-9-2 start, the Tigers will look to finish out their 2011-12 non-conference schedule strong when they visit Mariucci Arena for the first time since losing an overtime heartbreaker to Minnesota-Duluth in the first round of the 2008-09 NCAA Tournament. Sitting in seventh place in the ECAC with a 3-7-1 conference record under first-year head coach Bob Prier, Princeton went 2-2-1 in its final five games before the break. Sophomore Jack Berger’s 11 points (6g-5a) lead a young team, which only has three seniors on its roster. Junior defenseman Michael Sdao (5g-4a) and sophomore forward Andrew Calof (4g-5a) each have nine points. Sean Bonar has posted a 4-6-3 record in goal with a 2.96 goals against average and a .897 save percentage.

Minnesota Vs. Northeastern: Dating back to Dec. 21, 1963, Minnesota has a 8-4-0 record against Northeastern. With the exception of the 1998-99 Mariucci Classic championship where the Huskies defeated Minnesota 4-1 in Minneapolis, the home team has won every meeting between the two schools. Since that game, the Gophers have only played Northeastern once. Minnesota won that game 3-2 in overtime to capture the 2008-09 Mariucci Classic on Jan. 3, 2009. Against Vermont, the team’s lone common opponent thus far in 2011-12, the Gophers won 6-0 on Oct. 21 and lost 5-4 on Oct. 23, while Northeastern won its only meeting with the Catamounts, a 4-1 decision on Nov. 19.

About The Huskies: After the preseason departures of head coach Greg Cronin and star defenseman Jamie Oleksiak, Northeastern struggled out of the gate in 2011-12, getting off to a 1-7-2 start through Nov. 12. However, under first-year bench boss Jim Madigan, the Huskies won six straight games to finish out the first half. With a 4-7-2 Hockey East record (7-7-2 overall), Northeastern currently has a seventh-place conference standing. Northeastern is led in scoring by senior forward Steve Quailer’s 16 points (6g-10a). Quailer is followed by freshman Ludwig Karlsson, who has 14 points (6g-8a). Cody Ferriero has eight points (4g-4a) in his last six games to pace the Huskies during their current winning streak. Between the pipes, junior Chris Rawlings has gone 7-6-2 with a 2.30 goals against average. His .933 save percentage is good for eighth in the nation.

Missing Bjugstad And Rau: Minnesota will be without sophomore Nick Bjugstad and freshman Kyle Rau for the Mariucci Classic, as both players are competing for the United States at the World Junior Championship in Canada. Bjugstad (16g-11a--27p) and Rau (12g-10a--22a) account for 28 of Minnesota’s 83 goals (33.7%). They also account for 21 of the team’s 136 assists (15.4%) and 49 of the team’s 219 points (22.3%). Bjugstad played for Team USA last year, while Rau is playing in the World Junior Championship for the first time.

Transfer Student: Minnesota sophomore blueliner Chris Student began his collegiate career at Northeastern. The Edina, Minn., native played one year for the Huskies before he transferred to Minnesota. Student had two assists and six penalty minutes in 24 games as a Husky during the 2009-10 season. He has not yet played in a game for Minnesota.

In The Polls: The Gophers are No. 2 in both major polls after going 14-5-1 in their first 20 games of the season. Minnesota has been ranked in the top five in both the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll and the UCSCHO.com poll for the last eight weeks. Minnesota began the year No. 19 in the USCHO.com poll and was unranked in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll.

14 Wins: The Gophers are the only team in the nation with 14 wins. Ohio State has 13 wins, while Minnesota Duluth and Boston College each have 12 wins.

10 Straight: Minnesota began the year by playing 20 games in 10 straight weekends. The Gophers did not have a weekend off from Oct. 7-8 to Dec. 9-10, before having the last two weekends off. It was the first time since the 1990-91 season that Minnesota played 20 or more games before Christmas. Similar to that season, this year's squad had no weeks off between the start of the season and Winter Break. In 1990-91, the Gophers were 15-2-3 in the first half with a 12-1-3 record in WCHA play. This year, they are 14-5-1 with an 11-3-0 conference ledger.

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 9-2-0 this year and have outscored their opponents 50-16. Minnesota is in the midst of playing seven straight games at Mariucci Arena. The Gophers last played on the road Nov. 25-26 at Michigan State and do not play another road game until Jan. 13-14 when they head to North Dakota for a pair of games.

Outside The WCHA: Fourteen of the 20 games that Minnesota has played have been against WCHA competition. However, the Gophers next three games (Niagara, either Princeton or Northeastern and Notre Dame) will all come against non-league foes. The Gophers venture back into WCHA play when they head to North Dakota in mid-January. Minnesota is 3-2-1 against non-WCHA schools this year.

Friday Funk: Minnesota is 6-4-0 on Fridays this year. The Gophers began the year 5-0-0 on Fridays this season, but are 1-4-0 in their last five Friday games. In those last five games (three of which came on the road) Minnesota has been outscored 16-13. Outside of a 3-1 loss at Wisconsin, the other three defeats were all one-goal games.

Saturday Success: The Gophers are undefeated on Saturdays this year with an 8-0-1 record and are 5-0-0 at home on Saturdays. Minnesota has outscored its opponents 39-16 on Saturdays so far this season.

Effective Offense: Minnesota, which has the second best offense in the nation by averaging 4.15 goals-per-game (Colorado College is first with a 4.19 average), has scored 83 goals in its first 20 games. Last year, the Gophers scored 63 goals in their first 20 games (3.15 goals-per-game). This year, Minnesota has scored three or more goals in 17 of its 20 games. Last year, the Gophers scored two or fewer goals in 10 of its first 20 games.

First And Third: Minnesota has dominated the first and third periods of play this year. The Gophers are outscoring their opponents 26-12 (17-9 in WCHA) in the first period and 34-10 (24-6 in WCHA) in the third period this season and overall have outpaced their opposition 83-41.

Scoring First: Minnesota has scored the first goal of the game 15 times in 20 games this season. The Gophers are 13-2-0 when they score first (lost 5-4 against Vermont on Oct. 23 and 3-2 in overtime against Michigan Tech on Dec. 10) 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).

Getting To Three: Minnesota has scored three or more goals in 17 of its 20 games this season and is 13-3-1 in those games (Gophers are 10-1-1 when scoring four or more goals this year). Minnesota is 1-2-0 in scoring less than three goals this year (beat North Dakota 2-0, lost 3-1 at Wisconsin, lost 3-2 in overtime against Michigan Tech).

Super Sophomores: Minnesota’s sophomore class has produced the bulk of the scoring for the Gophers this year. The Maroon and Gold has 219 points (83g-136a) this year and the sophomore class has recorded 126 of those points (44g-82a) points (57.5%). 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 27 points and is followed by Erik Haula with 25.

Three-Goal Periods: The Gophers have scored three or more goals in eight periods this year, including four goals in the third period of a 6-2 win against Michigan Tech on Dec. 10.