Sure, it was just opening weekend, and yes they still crown champions in March, not October, but Minnesota Gopher Hockey's sweep of Michigan State was as emphatic an opening statement as they could have possibly made. The Gophers jumped out to quick leads almost as soon as the puck was dropped on both nights, and didn't take their foot off the throttle until the game was well in hand. If they dominated the Spartans in Friday night's 5-1 win, then what would you call Saturday night's 7-1 route of Sparty? "Relentless. Remorseless. Regardless" was how new Gopher Hockey play-by-play man Doug McLeod described what was an absolute clinic in every sense as Minnesota made a resounding statement to the rest of the country that there should be no doubt who the #1 team in the country is.
Friday they scored two quick early goals and led 3-0 after one and never looked back. Tonight it was two quick early goals and led 4-0 after one, and 6-0 after two, and Michigan State was fortunate they hadn't allowed more. We knew Michigan State was young, and they will certainly have better days ahead, but they looked completely and totally overmatched as the Gophers outshot them 42-26 Friday night and 34-11(!!!) on Saturday. Minnesota is one of the fastest, deepest, and most skilled teams in college hockey, and MSU's biggest issue was a complete inability to slow them down. The first two periods of Saturday night's game seemed to be rush after rush after rush from Minnesota's relentless attack as the Spartans failed to maintain any semblance of puck possession or pressure in the Gophers' end. When Michigan State could get possession they didn't keep it long, as the puck would go into Minnesota's zone and then come right back out. There was very little forecheck or pressure, and because of it, the Gophers were able to transition quickly and off they'd go.
And it wasn't like it was just one guy, or one line, doing the damage as the top two lines combined for 18 points- 9 each- on the weekend and in both games five different players scored. It was a true team effort and one that was fun to watch. Head coach Don Lucia's idea to spread out his scoring by splitting up last year's top line of Nick Bjugstad, Kyle Rau and Zach Budish by moving Budish down to the second line could not have gone better. Sophomore Christian Isackson, who had a hat trick in the exhibition game last weekend, kept the almost instant chemistry going on the top line as he picked up a goal in Friday night's win, and one of the prettiest assists you'll ever see on a pass to Rau as from behind the net facing the boards he dropped the puck between his legs right to the tape of Rau who- surprise surprise- was in exactly the right place at the right time as he always seems to be and buried his first of many goals this season. Bjugstad had a goal in each game, and three points on the weekend, as did Rau and Isackson. The Budish-Erik Haula-Sam Warning second line was not to be outdone as Warning had two points in two nights, Haula had three (including a goal each night), and Budish? No goals, but two assists both Friday and Saturday which will give him the early team lead in points. RIght now the top two lines are 1 and 1A.
And the third and fourth lines? Travis Boyd, Nate Condon and Seth Ambroz didn't miss a beat as that line contributed a goal in each ga,e and Tom Serratore, who scored Saturday night, was the one constant on a shifting fourth line as the Gophers kept rolling lines and scoring goals all weekend long.
Defensively the Gophers weren't tested much (especially Saturday) so it's hard to get a great read on that end. As promised both goaltenders got a game to prove their worth, and both goalies allowed just one third period goal and while rarely challenged were up to the task when needed. Expect to see Michael Shibrowski, who got the win Friday night, and Adam Wilcox, who got the win Saturday night, to split starts next weekend when conference play starts at Michigan Tech. It looks like Lucia has decided on his top six defensemen as the top three pairings both nights were Nate Schmidt and Brady Skjei, Mark Alt and Mike Reilly, and Ben Marshall and Seth Helgeson. Jake Parenteau moved up to right wing on the fourth line Friday night and Saturday it was Justin Holl doing the same. The returning defensemen looked as good as we remembered, and Ben Marshall even better as his two goals over the weekend are already half of his total from all of last season. The two freshman were fantastic as Reilly and Skjei contributed at both ends, and Reilly especially showed his offensive prowess with two assists Friday night and time at the point on the second power play unit with Ben Marshall.
They won't all be this easy, but this showed not only just how good Minnesota can be, but that they can do it consistently. They key to success over the long winter season is maintaining your level of play, and if Minnesota can come out like this every night, I mean, my goodness gracious. Again, Michigan State will have better days and weekend, and I'd bet if these two teams met again after Christmas the results wouldn't be so lopsided and one-sided. They gave Minnesota far too much room and because they couldn't control possession couldn't play the physical game coach Tom Anastos is known for. Minnesota simply skated them right off the rink, but I cannot imagine Michigan Tech will allow the Gophers to do what they did tonight and last night.
Gopher Hockey looks like it's back, and there is zero doubt right now they have the best team in the country. Obviously time will tell whether this is still the best team in March and there's still so much hockey to play, but you could not possibly ask for a better start to the season than this. Gopher fans need something to feel good about (especially with how the football game went today) and this is most certainly it, so enjoy this one. Gopher Hockey is back- and they look great.