Gophers Hope To Rebound After First Winless Weekend
The Gophers concluded arguably their toughest stretch of the season with a winning record, though the final set of that stretch – last weekend at Michigan State – was the team’s first winless weekend of the season. Still though, they went 4-3-1 over their past eight games, and now look forward to seven-straight home games, including a pair this weekend against the struggling Minnesota State Mavericks.
Minnesota certainly didn’t play poorly against the Spartans in East Lansing last weekend. They put up a total of 82 shots in the two games but MSU netminder Drew Palmisano outplayed Gopher goalie Kent Patterson on both nights, as that was the difference on the weekend. Palmisano made several big saves, including a game-saver on Kyle Rau late in Friday’s 4-3 win. Then in Saturday’s 4-4 tie, Patterson again wasn’t as brilliant as he’s often been this season.
Sophomore Nick Bjugstad had a four-point weekend and he continues to be aruglaby the top forward in the nation. Fellow second-year player Erik Haula scored his first goal in a while via a power play tally on Saturday, and Zach Budish also notched his fourth of the year. Despite being denied on Friday night, Rau hit the double-digit mark in goals by getting his tenth of the season on Saturday, which is great for any freshman for a whole season, let alone before the month of December.
Big-picture wise, the Gophers are still in great shape. As previously noted, they ran the gauntlet of playing North Dakota at home, two games at Wisconsin, a home and home vs. St. Cloud State, and then the two at Michigan State and went 4-3-1 over the stretch. Granted the way it ended was negative, but all in all fans have to be happy with the record against several of the team’s top rivals and/or perennial powers.
On the season, the team remains in first place in the WCHA, one point ahead of Minnesota Duluth who has played eight of their ten league games at home compared to the Gophers having played just three at Mariucci vs. WCHA teams.
Now, the Gophers head into a part of their schedule where they can cement their status as a NCAA Tournament team, and it starts this weekend with two games vs. Minnesota State at Mariucci Arena.
The Mavs are just 3-10-1 on the season and ride a five-game winless streak into this weekend’s games. Most recently they lost and tied at home against Anchorage and gave up ten goals on a total of 37 shots on the weekend to a UAA team that had scored more than two goals in a game just five times prior to those games.
Prior to their games vs. UAA, the Mavs lost a pair to the Bulldogs in Duluth by a combined score of 12-5. They have one road win on the season – at Michigan Tech – and have been outscored by a 34-17 margin in their eight games away from Mankato.
This is a series that the Gophers must get four points from. Minnesota’s WCHA schedule is a little tougher than normal, i.e. they only have two games (instead of four) against annual bottom-feeders Alaska Anchorage, Michigan Tech, Bemidji State (just one year in the league, so maybe not “annual,” but not a powerhouse for sure), and Mankato. So they need to take advantage of the games against said teams, especially ones at home.
Minnesota State is horrible across the board and there’s no reason why the Gophers shouldn’t come away from this series with four points.
Looking ahead for the Maroon and Gold, they host Michigan Tech next weekend before the holiday break. They then play host to the annual Mariucci Classic tournament by playing Niagara and then either Northeastern or Princeton, and then play their final non-conference game of the year on January 7 when they host Notre Dame in the Hall of Fame game. It’s reasonable to assume the team could be riding a six-game winning streak heading into their showdown with the Irish, which would put Minnesota’s record at 17-4-1, virtually locking them into that all-important NCAA berth.
Both games start at 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and will air live on FSN; however, Friday's game will air on an alternate channel. Info on that can be found here: http://bit.ly/slrcoI