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Gopher Hockey: Mariucci Classic Preview and OPEN THREAD

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GOPHER HOCKEY IS BACK!!!!

Adam Wilcox leads the Big Ten in GAA and save % once again.
Adam Wilcox leads the Big Ten in GAA and save % once again.
Gophersports.com

Well after Wednesday's basketball and yesterday's football disappointments, we now move ahead to the last Gopher men's sport that can try and give us some 2015 joy.  The Gopher Hockey team is back in action this weekend as they will host the 24th annual Mariucci Classic.  The first game of the tournament pits RIT and UMASS-Lowell, and the Gophers will play the nightcap on Friday against Merrimack.

#18 Merrimack Warriors  (10-5-2) at  #8 Minnesota Golden Gophers (10-4-1)

Location: Mariucci Arena, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Gametime: 7:05 PM

TV: FSN+

Live Video Stream: BTN2Go

Audio: Minnesota Athletics Sites and 1500 ESPN

Live Stats: GameTracker and Athletics Game Day Live


Gophers Lines:


#7/9 UMASS-Lowell (12-3-3) vs RIT (5-8-3)

Gametime: 4:00 PM

Live Video Stream:

Gophersports.com--FREE

Live Stats: Gametracker

The Gophers will be looking to get back into the swing of things in the classic before jumping back into the Big Ten Schedule next weekend in Ann Arbor.  If it feels like a while...it has been.  The last Gopher hockey home game (other than the exhibition game against the U-18 team) was on November 15th...a span of 49 days. The Gophers will also be missing several key players this weekend.  Forwards Hudson Fasching and Leon Bristedt and defenseman Ryan Collins are all participating in the World Junior Tournament in Canada.  Fasching and Collins played with the USA team who lost in the quarterfinals to Russia this afternoon.  However, it is unlikely they will play in Saturday night's game even if they are back in town.  Bristedt's Sweden team beat Finland in the quarterfinals today and will play in the semi-finals on Sunday. The Gophers will also be missing defenseman Brady Skeji who remains out with an upper-body injury.  Gopher coach Don Lucia said Skeji is 50-50 to be back in the lineup against Michigan next weekend during his radio show Monday night.

The Gophers will look to continue to get great play on the blue line from Mike Reilly.  Reilly leads the team along with Kyle Rau in scoring with 17 points, and Reilly also leads all Big Ten defensemen in scoring, and is third in the NCAA in defenseman scoring.

Keeping Kyle Rau on the scoresheet the rest of the season will also be critical for Minnesota.  The Gophers have a record of 73-12-7 all time when Rau scores a point, and 36-3 when he scores more than 1 point in a game.

Also key the getting the Gophers scoring attack back on track will be the return of Travis Boyd.  Boyd missed seven games earlier this season before returning in the Gophers last series of 2014 at Michigan State.  He immediately jumped back into the fray with three points against the Spartans...and will be key down the stretch.

Of course the one player the Gophers will need the most both in the Classic and in 2015 will be goalie Adam Wilcox.  Wilcox needs three shutouts the rest of the season to tie Kellen Briggs for the school record of 13.  Wilcox set his career high in saves with 42 in the Gophers last game of 2014--a tie against Michigan State.  Wilcox leads the Big Ten in goals against average at 2.13, and in save percentage at 92.6%.

The Gophers Friday night opponent, Merrimack comes into the Mariucci Classic ranked #18 in the nation.  The Gophers and Warriors have played once before in their history in the 2004 Mariucci Classic. The Gophers would win that game 6-2.  The Warriors are 10-5-2 so far this season, and are tied for 6th place With Boston College in Hockey East.  Bret Seney and Hampus Gustafsson lead the Warriors in points with 15. Their main goaltender is Rasmus Tirronen has played in 12 of the teams 17 games this season and has a record of 7-2-1.

The other two teams in the tournament, are RIT, and UMASS-Lowell.  RIT comes into the game with a 5-8-3 record and are in 7th place in Atlantic Hockey.  The Gophers and Tigers have played once prior, in the 2007 Mariucci Classic where RIT won 4-3.  They will play #7/9 UMASS-Lowell Friday afternoon.  The River Hawks are tied for first place in Hockey East.  The River Hawks are 2-2 against the Big Ten this season after losing a game to Michigan, defeating Michigan State, and spilling a series with Penn State.

The Gophers will play at 7:00 tomorrow regardless if they are playing for third place or a championship.  Merrimack will play the other team at 4:00.