Friday, January 22, 2010

Red-Hot Huskies Offer Gophers Formidable Challenge

It has been well-documented that the Gopher hockey team was 6-0-0 against St. Cloud State during the 2008-09 season. Two of those victories came at the National Hockey Center in St. Cloud; two more came in the first round of the WCHA Playoffs. For a Gopher team which won 17 games all season, the Huskies accounted for a very significant amount of Minnesota's victories last season. Simply put, the Gophers ruined St. Cloud's season.

Fast forward one year, and the stakes couldn't be much higher for the Gophers coming into this weekend's home-and-home matchup against the Huskies. Minny is a disappointing 7-7-2 in WCHA play this season, good for seventh place in the league, but playing much better as of late and coming off a three-points-out-of-four weekend against North Dakota. The Gophers have six regular season series remaining this season, and all but one of those matchups pits them against teams ahead of them in the standings. Although in seventh place, Minnesota is five points out of third place with two games in hand over three teams ahead of them. It's crunch time for the maroon and gold.

St. Cloud, on the other hand, has played very well in what many believed to be a transition year. The team's only experienced goaltender, Jase Weslosky, was booted from the squad because of academic issues over the summer, leaving the inexperienced junior Dan Dunn and incoming freshman Mike Lee to handle the action between the pipes. Both Dunn and Lee have responded well to the rigors of WCHA play. Dunn leads the league in save percentage (.929) and is third in goals against average (2.17). Lee is seventh in save percentage (.908), eighth in goals against average (2.67), and recently led the US Junior Team to gold in the World Junior Championships.

Goal-scoring was not thought to be an issue for St. Cloud going into the season, with returnees Ryan Lasch and Garrett Roe leading the way. Roe (6-16-22) and Lasch (11-9-20) have delivered this season as promised, and have been joined atop the scoring leaders by junior Tony Mosey (9-9-18) and freshman forward Ben Hanowski (6-7-13).

St. Cloud is hot right now, winning six consecutive games, including a road sweep over a ranked Quinnipiac team last weekend. At 14-7-3 overall and 9-5-2 (tied for fourth place, one back of Colorado College for third), the Huskies find themselves ranked #12 in the poll and are sixth in the all-important PairWise rankings. Coach Bob Motzko has done a wonderful job of retooling this squad, and a healthy Gopher/SCSU rivalry is good for the league. Remember, this rivalry was as good as it got in the late-90s and early 2000s.

The Gophers also come into the weekend series hot, with a 7-1-1 mark in their last nine games. They have inched their way back into the PairWise rankings and are definitely in the hunt in the WCHA thanks to their solid play of late. They absolutely need things to continue in a positive direction this weekend. The Gophers are in a position of having to take at least three of four points a weekend for the foreseeable future, and need things to start properly this weekend.

It'll be hostile in the old barn in the Granite City Friday night, and one hopes Mariucci will be hopping again on Saturday. The rush for the NCAA Tournament continues this weekend.

Rivalry Gets Short-Changed:  Why the hell are the Gophers and St. Cloud playing only one series this season? They are 50 miles apart for crying out loud! This is a great rivalry which needs to feature four games each season - and I'm not just saying this because the Gophers went 6-0 against them last season!

I understand the "natural rival" concept and the unbalanced schedule, but exceptions need to be made. It's ludicrous that the Gophers face off for two series against Alaska-Anchorage this season and only play St. Cloud (and North Dakota, for that matter) for one series.

The Gophers' traditional rival for purposes of scheduling is Wisconsin, meaning the two teams are guaranteed to play two series in the regular season each year. Geographically, this makes sense, as the Minneapolis campus is closest to Madison. St. Cloud's rivals are Minnesota State, which make sense geographically as well (although the Minnesota campus is closest to each of those schools). With Bemidji State and Nebraska-Omaha coming into the fold next season, scheduling will have to be re-visited, and one hopes Minnesota and St. Cloud will come out playing twice each season.

Of course, that would make sense, making it less likely that the WCHA will adopt this sensible position.


  1. The Gophers did play North Dakota twice this year (WCHA opener in October, Grand Forks).

  2. Right you are. I meant to say that the UND series should get the same treatment, but it came out poorly.