Welcome back to all six of you who who are still looking forward to the Gopher Hockey previews. After a long month off, the Gopher Hockey team is still the #1 ranked team in the nation, and will begin the second half of their season this weekend at home hosting the Mariucci Classic. The Gophers will play Colgate Friday night, and then will face either RPI, or in what most hockey fans hope happen, #2 Ferris State on Saturday.
The Gophers lead the Big Ten standings with 10 points, however they have played four Big Ten games while all of the other conference teams have only played two. The Gophers will restart their Big Ten season next weekend with the "much anticipated" inaugural trip to Happy Valley to play Penn State. Which makes this series even better is the surely to be audience grabbing Sunday/Monday night schedule for these games.
Then the Gophers get into their "gimmick" portion of the season, with the outdoor on the "frozen tundra" Hockey City Classic at TCF Bank Stadium against Ohio State, the early face-off Saturday game against OSU on Hockey Day in Minnesota, and then the following week, the North Star College Classic at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
After that weekend, its all about getting down to business as the Gophers will end their season with six straight series against Big Ten Conference foes. They will finish off the season with the Big Ten Tournament at the X, and barring a major collapse in the next few months, the NCAA West Regional at the X as well. If all goes well, and they can advance, the Frozen Four is in Philly this season.
So far in this season, the two teams that appear to be actual threats to the Gophers run for a Big Ten title are Michigan and Wisconsin. The Gophers took care of the Badgers at home after Thanksgiving, but Wisconsin is 8-0-1 at home and with a quirky Thursday/ Friday series in Madison, The Gophers will need to be on their A game. The Gophers still have both home and away series's left against the Wolverines. Michigan comes to Mariucci Valentine's Day Weekend, and the Gophers will end the regular season in Ann Arbor in a two game set that may determine the regular season champion.
The story of the Gopher's season so far, and one that hopefully will continue to broaden in 2014 has been the performance of the freshman class for Minnesota. Justin Kloos leads the Big Ten freshman in scoring with 17 points, and has been an anchor on the second line along with Taylor Cammarata. Hudson Fasching, who is gaining great attention with his outstanding performance for the US Junior National Team currently has been a surprise on the first line for Minnesota, and has played great on both the power play and penalty kill for the Gophers. On the defensive side, both Micheal Brodinski and Jake Bischoff have proven themselves ready to play at this level, and have brought an offensive spark to the blue line.
This weekend's games will be a bit of a challenge for the Gophers due to the fact that they will not have the services of Fasching or Brady Skeji, both of whom are playing on the US junior National Team in Malmo, Sweden currently. Don Lucia is also the coach of the US squad who are undefeated so far with a game this morning against Canada to finish up pool play. The US will either be the #1 or #2 seed after pool play when the knock-out rounds start on Thursday.
The lack of Skeji is what will hurt the Gophers the most, coupled with the injury to Jake Paranteau, as Minnesota will only have five active defensemen for the tournament this weekend, instead of the usual six. The Gophers have said that they will just play with five and an extra forward this weekend rather than move a forward to defense.
Colgate comes into the game on Friday night with a 7-9-2 record on the season. They split a series with Ferris State to open the year, and were also swept by St. Cloud State. The Gophers have never lost to the Raiders, with a 6-0 record all-time including a 9-0 win in their last meeting in 2001. Their leading scorer is #21 Mike Borkowsi, a sophomore forward who has 17 points on the season. Colgate has played three goalies this season with Freshman Charlie Finn and Senior Erik Mihalik splitting most of the time. Finn is 4-4-1 on the season and Mihalik is 3-4-1.
The Gophers will either play RPI or Ferris State in the second game of the weekend. RPI is 8-6-4 this season with a notable 7-2 loss to Boston College. The Gophers have a 9-2 record all-time against the Engineers. Ju nior forward Ryan Haggerty leads the nation in goals with 18.
Ferris State is currently the #2 ranked team in the county and comes in with a 14-2-3 record. They hold the nation's longest unbeaten streak having gone 12-0-2 in their last 14 games. They are the seventh highest scoring team in the nation at 3.58 goals per game. On offense they are lead by forward Garrett Thompson who has 20 points on the season. Junior Goalie C. J. Motte is the star of the Bulldog squad who is 14-0-3 and has a 2.03 goals against average and a 93% save percentage. The Gophers are 3-1-1 all-time against the Bulldogs including a 2-2 tie in the third place game of the Mariucci Classic on January 1, 2011.
Both games will face-off at 7:00 for the Gophers this weekend. Friday night's game will be on FSN, and Saturday night's game will not be televised. Plenty of tickets will be available as the students are still on break, so if you want to see #1 vs #2 in the nation, you are going to have to be there in person. I see a 5-2 win Friday night, and due to the lack of Fasching and Skeji a 3-2 loss on Saturday.