When the season began, most casual observers knew that Minnesota would be a very talented team. Despite losing five of its top scorers from the previous year, a strong group of freshmen had the potential to score a lot of goals and turn heads in the conference and nationally. However, no one could have predicted that an offense that lost Nick Bjugstad, Eric Haula, Zach Budish, and Nate Schmidt would be this good.
The Golden Gophers score a whopping 3.40 GPG in a conference full of quality goaltenders and defenses that allow fewer than three goals per game. Perhaps more than any other team in the conference, Minnesota scores by committee. Leading scorer and junior Captain Kyle Rau chalks up .9167 points per game, so when TV talking heads say Minnesota scores without prototypical "stars" they’re not kidding.
Instead, Minnesota leaned heavily on the incoming crop of freshmen, who haven’t disappointed. Hudson Fasching and Justin Kloos lead that class with 12 goals each, but every freshman skater on the roster has at least two goals. Connor Reilly has made great strides in the second half of the season and earned additional playing time.
Even though the freshmen have been brilliant, the fact that Minnesota has three full lines of legitimate scoring threats is what led to the gaudy goal totals. The leading goal scorer on the team is junior Seth Ambroz, with thirteen, followed closely by another junior, Sam warning with 12, and Rau with 11. The best power play threat on the team might be junior Travis Boyd, who has nine goals on the year.
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While the offense was good enough to make the Gophers a contender for the conference championship, it was the defense that locked the title down. Minnesota is the only team in the conference to allow fewer than two goals per game; an astounding 1.85 goals against per game.
The obvious place to begin the discussion is with Hobey Baker candidate Adam Wilcox. Wilcox’s brilliant play changes the momentum of games. He allows his teams to weather the storms caused by shifts in the momentum of each game. He’s also usually good for a couple of circus saves each game where he looks beaten but makes the save anywhere. His most obvious analogue is Dominique Hasek. He definitely deserved the B1G Ten Player of the Year and Goaltender of the Year awards that picked up this week.
No discussion of the Minnesota defense is complete without mentioning B1G Ten Defensive Player of the Year, sophomore defenseman Mike Reilly. Reilly won the award for his playmaking ability. He is, perhaps, the most talented skater, puck-handler, and passer on this team. He should probably play forward, but he has a remarkable ability to carry the puck from the defensive zone, through neutral ice, and into the offensive zone with possession and the potential to create scoring chances. Because of that, he might be a great threat to opposing teams as it’s hard to set a trap for a defenseman in the neutral zone.
To compliment Reilly’s skill, the Minnesota also has a corps of shutdown defensemen led by sophomore Brady Skjei and senior Justin Holl.
The Golden Gophers are obviously the most dangerous team in this tournament, and the favorite to hoist the inaugural B1G Ten Tournament banner next year.