I'm still amazed at how quickly the college hockey seasons goes from no games to vitally important and challenging games. The Gophers open the season with three away games in their first four games against rivals who will be fighting with each other in the upper half of the WCHA. The second half of their opening four games are going to be in Madison at what Gopher Puck Live describes as "one of the wildest atmospheres in college hockey." And if you thought our opening schedule was tough just take a look at who the Badgers have faced (and lost to).
- #4 - Boston College
- #3 - New Hampshire
- #2 - Denver (twice)
The Gophers took care of business last weekend sweeping St. Cloud on the strength of their junior class and of course goalie Alex Kangas. I would assume those two will be the biggest factors to Gopher success for the rest of 2008, until the freshmen can get comfortable and really contribute beginning in January.
This should be a key weekend series as Minnesota and Wisconsin were picked by the WCHA coaches to finish tied for fourth in the conference. This is an opportunity to bury the 0-4 Badgers and separate themselves as a top tier team again this season. DWG picked the Badgers to finish third in the league but WCHA blog picked them as seventh so that doesn't really bring any clarity to me.
What do I know about Wisconsin? Well as I've done some research I find that they finished just ahead of Minnesota last year. They were a young team who lost their top scorer but returned their next five scorers. They are deep, have a solid goalie, and are good on defense.
Offensively they are middle of the WCHA pack and should be at a disadvantage with their best forward Ben Street (SR) out with an injury. Their real strength is their blueline. Jamie McBain is potentially first team all-WCHA defenseman. Ryan McDonagh is a very talented sophomore and freshman Jake Gardiner should also be an impact player on the defense. All three guys are from Minnesota so one might expect they'll have a little extra pop in their hits this weekend.
It should be fun to watch for Gopher fans to see how our offense will stack up against one of the best defenses in the WCHA. Can we score a couple goals on the Badger D and can Kangas withstand the crazy Badger fans this weekend?
With Street injured and Minnesota riding some momentum from the opening weekend sweep I think this will be a successful weekend. Friday's game will be on FSN and Saturday's will be on The Big Ten Network.
After sweeping the Huskies, the Gophers had a good week on the recruiting trail as they signed two players. I'll provide the links and names you can read up on them at your liesure.
Christian Isackson - Forward who plays for St. Thomas Academy. Will likely make his debut in 2010 and chose the Gophers over Wisconsin and North Dakota.
Max Gardiner - Minnetonka forward, his older brother played for Wisconsin.