Yeah, that'll do.
Gopher hockey came into the weekend series with defending national champ UMD looking to prove they're back, and they left Duluth with a sweep of the Bulldogs. With 5-4 victories both nights, Minnesota found ways to win in a hostile environment and without playing their best hockey- and little to no defense- yet they got it done. When's the last time we've been able to say that about a Gopher hockey team?
Saturday's victory was nothing short of bizarre, as UMD out shot Minnesota 50-16 yet couldn't solve Gopher netminder Kent Patterson or the Gophers special teams. At the other end, a night after standing on his head for the Bulldogs in a loss, Kenny Reiter allowed 5 goals on just 16 shots although his own defenseman scoring on him didn't help. Nate Condon was credited with that "own goal" in the first period yet didn't register a shot on the official score sheet. Again, bizarre.
For the Gophers, definitely some positives to take away from the weekend. UMD peppered goalie Kent Patterson with 50 shots both nights, and both nights Patterson tied a career high with 46 saves. Simply amazing. Same could be said for Minnesota's special teams, as the Gophs' scored all three times with the man advantage Saturday and for the series they were 6-9 on the power play. Their penalty kill was just as impressive, holding a lethal UMD power play to just two goals in 11 chances.
Converting 67% of their power play chances is completely unsustainable for the season, but it shows the Gophers could have one of the top power play units in the conference. Also completely unsustainable is allowing an average of 50 shots per game and continuing to win. Yes UMD is skilled and fast and were playing at home, but that's not a great sign that they could get THAT many pucks on net. We knew coming in that the Gophers were young and inexperienced on defense, and boy did they show it. A lot of talent back there and Mike Guentzel is the right coach to fix it, but they have some work to do defensively five-on-five.
On the other hand, the forwards looked pretty solid offensively. Center Nick Bjugstad played like the team's best player with a five point weekend, and Kyle Rau and Nate Condon each notched 3 goals in the series. Head coach Don Lucia kept his top lines the same both nights with Rau-Bjugstad-Zach Budish on the top line, Sam Warning-Eric Haula-Jake Hansen the second and Condon-Taylor Matson-Seth Ambroz a very impressive third line. Interesting to see if he shakes things up at all this weekend, perhaps to try and get his two big guys- Budish and Ambroz- going, as despite the success of their linemates both were held scoreless in Duluth.
So some things to work on, but a lot of positives for a young team early in the season. Not only did the Gophers look like a team that could contend in the WCHA, but the rest of the conference looked like they're going to give them the opportunity. #1 CC took care of business against Bemidji, but North Dakota lost and tied Maine, Wisconsin was swept by Michigan Tech (!!!), Denver split with BC, and way up at the Brice Alaska Gold Rush tourney in Fairbanks, UNO lost both games while UAA won both.
Sweeping the defending champs in their own rink was a great, and looking around the conference gave even more hope. For the first weekend of conference play yeah, that'll definitely do.