Friday, October 30, 2009

A Crucial Series in Late October?

Those who know me will agree that I am not an alarmist when it comes to sports. I do not believe the Gopher football team should have a George Steinbrenner-like hook when it comes to football coaches like some of my faithful readers (for that, I get compared to the senior columnist for the Star Tribune - talk about unfair!). I am also not in the camp of those willing to push a panic button on the Gopher hockey team's slow start to the 2009-10 season. However, if the Gophers get shut out on back-to-back occasions by this weekend's opponent, I may change my tune.

The facts are indisputable:

  • The Gophers are 0-3-1 in the season's first four games
  • They have been shut out in all three losses
  • The team was shut out at home last weekend by Denver's Marc Cheverie, and were shut out for an entire series for the first time since 1930
  • The team has scored just three goals all season long
  • Players who have suited-up for all four games and are yet to score a point include Jordan Schroeder, Mike Carman, Tony Lucia, Nico Sacchetti, Nick Leddy, Zach Budish, Cade Fairchild, and Aaron Ness
  • The Gophers were left out of the and USA Today rankings altogether this week

The Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves come to town this weekend for a two-game set, and you had better believe that the Gophers will feel that this is almost a must-win series.

Now look, it's only the third weekend of conference play and the season is very young, but the Gophers are undoubtedly feeling pressure internally and externally. The team is quite aware that they have had plenty of scoring issues on the young season. This is also a team which, on paper, looked to be as talented as any Don Lucia has put on the ice in his tenure at Minnesota, stretching back to 1999.

However, goals have been hard to come by. The team generated 30 shots on goal in each of the two games of the Denver series, but could not find the back of the net. Plenty of shots were fired squarely into the crest of Cheverie, but the goaltender needs to get his fair share of credit as well. As hard as it may be for some impatient fans to understand, opponents are capable of making good plays from time to time.

There is no reason to panic right now. The opening weeks of the season were going to be tough no matter what. Losing to North Dakota and Denver is not something of which to be ashamed, although it would have been nice to score some goals. In fact, some are calling this year's Denver team the best George Gwozdecky-coached team, and this is a guy who won national championships in 2004 and 2005. Still, if the scoring issues persist after this weekend, then we may have a crisis of confidence on our hands.

Anchorage will be no pushover. They have perhaps the most experienced goaltending duo in the WCHA with senior Jon Olthuis and junior Bryce Christianson sharing the duties. Christianson is fresh off a tremendous performance in the Seawolves' 2-1 upset victory over North Dakota last Saturday night, turning aside 22 UND shots. The Seawolves are 3-3 on the young season, with victories over North Dakota, Mercyhurst, and RPI. They are balanced in the scoring department, with upperclassmen Kevin Clark (4-2-6), Tommy Grant (2-4-6), and Josh Lunden (2-2-4) leading the way. They'll play hard for 60 minutes each night and will not be intimidated by the Gophers.

Still, this is a series the Gophers should win. If nothing else, the team needs a big scoring night just to get some of the swagger back. It doesn't get much easier for the Maroon and Gold, as they must travel to Wisconsin next weekend, followed by home series against ranked teams Bemidji State and UMD before the College Hockey Showcase games at Michigan and Michigan State to close out the month of November. There are no easy games in that mix.

That's why this weekend's series is important. The Gophers may have some guys out of the lineup due to illness, but they'll be ready for UAA. They'd better be, if they don't want the season to get too far away early on.

Prediction: A much-needed Gopher sweep.

No comments:

Post a Comment