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Minnesota Gophers Hockey: Weekend Preview vs. Alaska Anchorage SeaWolves

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So after a week off, the Gophers welcome the Seawolves to town in a series they really need to sweep. Well ok, both teams need to sweep. They usually do, especially when the middle of the WCHA standings are as close as they are. The Gophers are tied for 6th with 16 points (with two games in hand) while UAA is two points back in ninth. The Seawolves are coming off a miserable weekend in Denver where they lost 3-2 and 5-1. Their coach was so angry he wouldn't even let them go back to Alaska...ok so actually, they decided with back-to-back road weekends to just fly from Denver to Minneapolis, and have been staying on campus all week. Will two weeks in hotels living away from home have more of an impact than flying all the way in from Anchorage on a quick trip? We shall find out soon enough.

Expect two low scoring games, as UAA has scored the third-fewest goals with 38 in 18 conference games, as well as the lowest overall with just 52 goals on the season. The Gophers haven't fared much better the past few weeks, as they've notched just 21 goals in their last 10 (my math wizardry tells me that's an average of just 2.1 goals per game. Jacque Lemaire would be so proud!), which does not include the 9-0 exhibition drubbing of the USA U-18 squad a few weeks ago.

The Seawolves are even younger than the Gophers with just five seniors on the roster. They're led in scoring by senior forward Tommy Grant, who has 20 points (10 G 10 A) on the season, and is one of just four players on the squad with at least 10 points on the year. The Gophs are lead by their trio of senior forwards Jay Barriball (11 G-11 A- 22 pts), Jacob Cepis (7-12-19), and Mike Hoeffel (9-8-17). If the line pairings from Wednesday's practice are any indictation, Roman says it looks like Hoeffel is hoping up to the top line with Eric Haula and Barriball while Nick Bjugstad (who still has just two goals. Wow would it be nice to see him bust out this weekend!) centers Cepis and Jake Hansen. The Don needs to do something to shake the Gophs out of this scoring slump, so we'll if some new line combos can result in more goals. Excluding that exhibition win against Team USA, the Gophers haven't scored more than 3 goals in a game since they drubbed Michigan Tech 6-4 and 4-1 all the way back in late November.

Defensively UAA has shown their youth, giving up 54 goals in WCHA games. Both teams are lacking scoring from the backend, as senior Cade Fairchild is the top scoring Gopher defensemen with just 11 points (3 goals- 8 assists) while the SeaWolves have three defenders tied for their lead with just seven points. Yikes. Their goalie is freshman Rob Gunderson, who is just ahead of Gopher goalie Kent Patterson's 2.60 GAA with a 2.58 GAA. However, his save % is only good for 12th at just .896%. Still, as Roman notes in that same blog post, UAA has still managed to keep things close with 12 one-goal games and 3 ties in their 20 games overall.

With Duluth, Denver, and Sconnie coming up after this series, the Gophers really, really need a couple of wins. Start putting the biscuit in the basket (as they say), shore up their woeful penalty kill, and start building some confidence. Minnesota haven't played especially well at home (are they playing worse at home because of less people showing up, or are less people showing up because they're playing worse at home? Yes?), so let's hope they come out with the effort we saw two Friday's ago up in Grand Forks, and carry that right through the weekend and into their toughest stretch of the season.