Gophers, Catamounts Meet For The First Time This Weekend
After winning a pair of high-scoring and exciting games last weekend on the road against Minnesota Duluth, the Gophers return to non-conference action this weekend as they host the Vermont Catamounts in a Friday / Sunday series at Mariucci Arena.
After an expected (and dominating) sweep of an undermanned Sacred Heart to start the seasons, it was tough to tell how the team would do against the Bulldogs considering how poor of a team Sacred Heart was. But the Gophers passed last weekend’s test with flying colors, though there are still plenty of things for the team to work on moving forward.
Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first. The biggest concern coming off the UMD weekend is the fact the team gave up 100 shots in the two games. Senior goalie Kent Patterson proved why many consider him one of the best goalies in the nation by making 92 saves combined, but that’s not a long-term recipe for success.
The team’s young defensive core showed signs of brilliance – such as Nate Schmidt becoming a very viable power play quarterback – but also, as you’d expect, showed some warts as well, such as Ben Marshall being turned inside-out on Friday night. Again though, the defensive unit is a work in progress and with Mike Guentzel coaching the young but talented group up, there’s no reason to think that area of the team won’t improve as the season goes on.
One other issue from the weekend was the lack of even strength goals. On Friday night, three of the team’s goals were scored on the power play and another was scored with Patterson pulled for an extra attacker. The team scored three power play goals again on Saturday, which is great in terms of the power play being red-hot, but long-term, the team will need to score more five-on-five goals to be as successful as they hope to be.
Freshman Kyle Rau continued his strong start as he scored three of the team’s six goals with the man-advantage over the weekend. He’s second on the team to sophomore Erik Haula’s five goals. Haula also leads the team in total points with nine in four games. Senior Jake Hansen has eight points, while sophomore center Nick Bjugstad has seven.
One guy who really came on last weekend was sophomore Nate Condon, who was one of the few Gopher forwards who didn’t score a goal during the seasons’ opening weekend. Condon scored the game-winner in overtime on Friday against UMD and then scored twice in Saturday’s victory.
The team’s depth at forward has really come through as head coach Don Lucia thought it would, so hopefully their ability to roll four lines – three of which can score – can continue through this upcoming weekend and beyond.
This will be the first ever meeting between the Gophers and the Catamounts, who enter this game having not yet played a regular season game. Their lone action on the season was a 2-1 overtime loss to the U.S. Under-18 team last Friday, which isn’t of course a good sign for their fortunes this season.
Vermont, who finished in seventh place last year in Hockey East, finished with an 8-20-8 record a season ago. However, they were an NCAA Tournament team the previous two seasons, even making it to the Frozen Four during the 2008-09 season. They return four of their five leading scorers from last season, including junior Sebastian Stalberg, whose brother Viktor is playing for the Chicago Blackhawks. Five of their players are NHL-drafted, and two of the kids on the team – sophomore Anthony DeCenzo (Hibbing) and freshman Blake Doerring (Chanhassen) – are Minnesota natives.
Last year, they were tied for eighth in Hockey East in scoring offense, averaging just 2.22 goals per game. The Gophers, of course, have had zero problems putting up crooked numbers on the scoreboard this season, so that bodes well for the Maroon and Gold.
One concern for this young Gopher team is a possible letdown on Friday night. Coming off an emotional road sweep of the national champion Bulldogs and coming home to play a non-descript eastern team could make for a slow start, but hopefully the team’s talent-edge over the Catamounts should help them overcome.
Depending on how the Mariucci Classic goes in December, these may be the team’s only two games vs. a Hockey East opponent, so getting a pair of wins could go a long way come March and the all-important Pairwise Rankings.
Both games will air live on FSN, though note that Friday’s game starts at 6 p.m. and the second game of the series is Sunday at 1 p.m. due to homecoming at the U.