Gophers Wrap Up First Half vs. Improved Huskies
In sports, you often hear the phrase “it’s not how, but how many?” That expression applies to last weekend’s sweep of Minnesota State by the Golden Gophers, as they won both games in rather ugly fashion, but got a much-needed four points and retained first place in the WCHA.
In Friday’s 4-2 win, the game was tied heading into the third period and the Mavericks were outshooting the Gophers 23-17. However, the Gophers dominated the third period, outshooting the Mavs by a 13-5 margin and scored a pair of goals, including the game-winner by Erik Haula via a blast from the point while on the power play.
Saturday’s game was ugly as they come, thanks in large part to some questionable refereeing that saw both teams fall victim to several head-scratching calls. In total there were 22 penalties called, with the Mavericks having nine power plays to the Gophers five. Minnesota got out to a 3-0 lead and appeared to be in cruise control, but the Mavs scored early in the second while on the power play to make it a 3-1 game. The Gophers were unable to extend their lead and early in the final frame, MSU would score again on the man-advantage. There were some dicey moments down the stretch, but the Maroon and Gold held on for a 3-2 win.
With the two wins, the team improved to 13-4-1 on the season and is now 10-2-0 in WCHA play. Of their final 19 games, 12 of them are at home, including a pair against the much-improved Michigan Tech Huskies this weekend before heading into the midseason break.
The Huskies are 8-7-1 on the season, which is certainly respectable, but they have slowed as of late after a 6-2-1 start. Most recently, they were swept by the hottest team in the nation – the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs – by a 5-3 score on both nights in Houghton. The Huskies are 6-3-1 at home on the season but are just 2-4 on the road in three series against Bemidji State, Alaska Anchorage, and St. Lawrence. So, the Gophers will pose the stiffest road test that the Huskies have seen so far when they clash this weekend.
They key to Tech’s turnaround, which is spear-headed by new head coach Mel Pearson, a Tech alum who assisted Red Berenson at Michigan for several years, is their defense. In WCHA play, they are third in scoring defense at just 2.92 goals per game. Their penalty kill is also in the upper-third of the league, due in large part to senior netminder Josh Robinson, who is 7-5-1 with a .920 save percentage and a 2.45 goals against average.
Offense is still an issue for the Huskies, as it usually is, as they rank in the bottom-half of the league in scoring offense and power play proficiency. Seniors Brett Olson (17 points) and Jordan Baker (13 points) lead the way up front, while junior defender Steven Seigo leads the charge from the backend with 12 points. Six Tech players have ten or more points, compared to eight for the Gophers.
Despite Tech being improved, this is another series where the Gophers should be able to get four points out of, though last weekend’s performance against Minnesota State was disconcerting given the fact the Mavs are a last place team. However, the Mavs have played very well against the Gophers in recent years, so you need to give them some credit as well.
Sophomore Nick Bjugstad was held off the goal-sheet last weekend, so that bodes well for the Gophers in that there won’t be too many instances this season where he goes back-to-back weekends without lighting the lamp. He and freshman Kyle Rau were named to the U.S. World Junior preliminary roster this week as well, so both of those players should have some extra jump in their respective steps when they take the ice this weekend.
Tech is likely going to take a page out of Minnesota State, North Dakota, and Wisconsin’s playbooks in terms of how to defend the high-powered Gophers. Those three teams all tried to stack three of four defenders at the blueline and force the Gophers to chip the puck in and go get it, and all of said squads had varying degrees of success with said formula.
Also key for the Gophers this weekend will be staying out of the penalty box. They are second in the WCHA in terms of penalty minutes per game, and you don’t want to give an offensively-challenged team like Michigan Tech too many chances on the power play.
Friday’s game starts at 7 p.m. and will air live on FSN. The Saturday rematch doesn’t start until 8 p.m. and will air live on an FSN alternate channel. Check the main page of GPL for more info once it becomes available.