This weekend the second ranked Gophers play one last series before the Christmas break as they host Michigan Tech. Tech's had a Jeckyl-and-Hyde first semester with two wins over Wisconsin (both in OT) and a win and tie vs #13 Denver. However, since the shocking result with Denver they're just 2-5 with splits against Mankato, UAA and something called St Lawrence, and last weekend they were swept by UMD 5-3 both nights (There's no shame in losing to UMD, I just mentioned it so I could point out that in the latest USCHO rankings has Duluth as the new #1 team in college hockey while the Gophers are second- which makes sense because Minnesota swept UMD in Duluth. Of course, this is not college football so these teams will get a chance to settle things on the ice both in the WCHA tourney and the NCAA's. Look at that- mentioned playoff hockey for the Gophers without even thinking about it. Such a nice change from the past three or four seasons).
So in comes Tech looking to upset the Gophers, and they'll try to do it using some ugly defensive hockey that'll make the Jacque Lemaire Wild clubs look downright offensive- ok maybe not that bad, but after an ugly series last weekend vs the Mavs we could be in for another one this weekend. There's few teams in the conference or the country who can skate with Minnesota, and Tech certainly isn't one of them. They're struggling a bit offensively this season at 3 goals per game, but have ramped up their defense, allowing just a shade under 3 per game at 2.92, which is third best in the WCHA. The Huskies will try and clog the lanes and neutral zone as much as possible, hoping to limit the Gophers chance to skate with the puck and force them to play a dump and chase game. Keep them and their shots to the outside, limit their own mistakes, and try to capitalize on the power play when it comes- and considering Minnesota has taken the second most penalties in the conference, those opportunities for Tech WILL come.
For Minnesota the key is to not get frustrated and stay patient. With this much speed and ability, the opportunities will come, and they need to capitalize when they do. Forecheck like crazy, pounce on mistakes, and staying out of the box would be nice. Nick Bjugstad hasn't score for- gasp!- three whole games so he's due, and scoring early would help negate the, um, "strategery" of the defensive-minded Huskies.
Minnesota eeked out a 4-2 win last Friday, and before that dropped their past three Friday games. It'd be great to see the Gophers come out firing in their last series before the Christmas break, and pick up four points this weekend to stay ahead of UMD, who travel to the Kohl Center to play the not-so-Bucky-Badgers. Tonight's game is at 7 on FSN, while Saturday the puck drops at 8 and is available on FSN's alternate feed.