Friday, January 1, 2010

Back to the Ice for Gopher Pucksters

It has been three weeks since the Gopher hockey team has taken the ice in a game. Thanks to three victories in a row to close out the first half of the WCHA schedule, the Gophers find themselves 8-9-1 overall and 6-7-1 in WCHA play. That mark is good for seventh place in the conference, one point behind sixth place North Dakota. Pre-season prognosticators could not have predicted the Gophers and Sioux residing in seventh and sixth place, respectively. Perhaps 1-2, but not 6-7.

Perhaps more strikingly is that the Gophers are nowhere to be found in the PairWise standings after three months of play.

With the Dodge Holiday Classic taking place this weekend, the Gophers have a chance to continue their winning streak and keep some momentum going as they look toward a tough second half in the WCHA. However, their non-conference opponents this weekend - Bowling Green and either Northern Michigan or Clarkson - are a combined 13-32-8 and will provide no leverage in improving the Gophers' RPI mark. Next weekend, Minny plays another non-conference series against Harvard, and the Crimson are struggling mightily at 1-8-2 this young season.

Simply put, the Gophers will absolutely need to make a run in the WCHA in the second half.

That is definitely a possibility, although the team has shown little in the form of consistent play all season long. The Gophers have struggled on Friday nights this season (2-6-0 with three shutouts against) and have not managed much on specialty teams. Scoring has been sporadic all season long, and the team has battled the injury bug. At least the goaltending has been consistent.

Minny's second half conference opponents are as follows, with the current PairWise overall ranking in parentheses:
  • North Dakota (12)
  • St. Cloud State (17)
  • Alaska-Anchorage (NR)
  • Denver (4)
  • Colorado College (5)
  • UMD (11)
  • Wisconsin (7)
Of the 14 games, seven are at home and seven are on the road. The Gophers play a home-and-home with St. Cloud State and will host North Dakota, Colorado College, and Wisconsin. That means UAA, Denver, and UMD will be on the road, with each venue representing not an easy place to win.

The Gophers put themselves into the situation in which they currently reside and now need to make some hay in the league. As fans of the WCHA, this is why conference play is so important. As Gopher fans, however, we're not sure if this year's collection has the wherewithal to make a sustained run toward the NCAA Tournament. With a regional at the Xcel Energy Center this spring, the Gophers are hosting for the second year in a row. If they miss out again, despite serving as a tournament host, calls for change will be loud.

Dodge Holiday Classic: The Gophers will face off against Bowling Green on Saturday night and will then face the winner of Northern Michigan and Clarkson on Sunday. The BGSU Falcons emerged from talk of eliminating the program last spring and have managed a horrible 2-14-2 start this season. Their 2-10-2-2 mark is last in the CCHA, and both of their victories have come via shootouts (The CCHA has adopted them this year). BGSU comes into Mariucci on an 0-6-1 winless string.

Freshman forward Jordan Samuels-Thomas leads the Falcons in scoring (6-9-15 in 18 games) and senior forwards Tomas Petruska (4-10-14) and Tommy Dee (6-5-11) follow. Goaltender Nick Eno (.901 Sv%; 3.14 GAA) has been decent in the nets. The Falcons' main problem has been that they just don't score goals, and have been out-scored 64-35 in their 18 games this season.

In the other semi-final, Northern Michigan will take on Clarkson. NMU is 7-8-4 on the season and is currently in 7th place in the CCHA. The Wildcats sport victories over UMD, Michigan State, and Notre Dame this season, but, like the Gophers, have struggled with consistency. Although Northern has scored 50 goals in its 19 games this season, the team has received production from junior forward Mark Olver (10-11-21), junior defenseman Erik Gustafsson (2-14-16), and junior forward Gregor Hanson (5-10-15). Brian Stewart (.908 Sv%, 3.00 GAA) and Reid Ellingson (.926 Sv%, 2.16 GAA) have both been solid in the nets for NMW.

Clarkson is 4-10-2 and is near the bottom of the ECAC standings. The Golden Knights have been out-scored 60-42 in their 16 games this season and their 42 goals scored rank eighth among the twelve ECAC teams, despite playing at least three more games than the others. Clarkson is led in scoring by senior forward Matt Beca (8-8-16), junior forward Scott Freeman (3-12-15), and sophomore defenseman Mark Borowiecki (6-7-13). Sophomore Paul Karpowich gets the bulk of playing time in the nets and has posted a .893 save percentage and 3.60 goals against average this season.

The Gophers are more talented than the other three teams in town this weekend and should sweep the two games. A Minnesota sweep would make it five victories in a row, with a chance for seven after next weekend's series against a poor Harvard squad, and would create an opportunity for some much-needed momentum as critical conference play returns.

Donny Puck Prediction: Gopher Sweep

1 comment:

  1. It will be great to watch Minnesota Golden Gophers, i have bought tickets from looking forward to it.