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Minnesota Hockey: Gophers Open the 2017-18 Season Against a Very Familiar Foe

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Can Minnesota finally get over the UMD roadblock?

Ryan Lindgren and the Gophers will try and finally defeat UMD Friday night.
gophersports.com

The Minnesota Golden Gophers Hockey team will kick off the 2017-18 season in the Annual Ice Breaker Tournament Friday night. But it will not be a easy foe to slide into the season for the Gophers. Minnesota will immediately go into rivalry mode as the Gophers will play host Minnesota-Duluth in the second game of the tournament at 7:30 Friday night. The question for the Gophers and Gopher fans is can Minnesota find a way to actually play well against an in-state foe? Can they get the monkey off their back right away?

Minnesota has a UMD problem. The Bulldogs have defeated the Gophers seven straight times, and have a 8-1-1 record in their ten games against their “Big Brothers”. The last Gopher win came in the opener of the 2014 Ice Breaker Tournament in South Bend, Indiana. But its not just that they haven’t beaten UMD in seven straight games...its that they haven’t even been very competitive in the last few games. In the last seven games Minnesota has only led for 13:46. UMD has had a lead over Minnesota for 308:32 of the last seven games. That’s just flat embarrassing. But, this could be the year that Minnesota finally gets off the schnide against the Bulldogs.

UMD will be trying to adapt after losing the majority of their best players to graduation and professional hockey. UMD graduated stars Dom Tonanato, Alex Iafallo, and Carson Soucy and lost forward Adam Johnson, defenseman Neil Pionk, and goalie Hunter Miska to the pros much earlier than they had hoped. Miska will be the biggest loss as he was 27-5-4 as a freshman last season for the Bulldogs in leading UMD to the NCAA Frozen Four. Miska left to join the Arizona Coyotes organization.

The question is who will step into that starting goalie spot for UMD? The Bulldogs have two sophomore goalies and a freshman on the roster, but the two sophomore returners Hunter Shepard and Nick Deery combined for a 1-2-1 record a year ago in backing up Miska. All three goalies played a period in an exhibition loss to Alberta last weekend with only Shepard having a clean sheet in his period of play—which probably makes him the favorite to start against the Gophers Friday night.

The Bulldogs still pack plenty of talent on their roster. Sophomore Joey Anderson was the Bulldog’s third leading scorer a year ago, and three others who were in the Bulldog’s top ten in scoring from a year ago also return including Captain Karson Kuhlman, Dallas Stars first round draft pick Riley Tufte, and Minnesota Wild draft pick Avery Peterson. It will be the on the blueline where UMD is really tested where they only return one defenseman who played in more than 11 games a year ago. This is where the Gophers must take advantage with their high powered forwards and on the power play.

The Gophers come in off of a 6-2 exhibition win over the same Alberta team that defeated UMD the night before. The Gophers got impressive performances right off the bat from two of their freshmen in Casey MIttelstadt and Scott Reedy. Another great sign was seeing Tommy Novak back at 100%, and the offensive emmergence of Brent Gates, Jr. If all four of these players can have good seasons, coupled with the leadership of Captain Tyler Sheehy and Leon Bristedt, the Gophers could be an offensive juggernaut to be dealt with.

But as it did last season on multiple occasions, the game will come down to the play of Minnesota goalie Eric Schierhorn. Schierhorn can make the hardest play look easy, and the easiest play look hard. If he can find a consistent even keeled groove, Minnesota could be in for a lot of success. But if Schierhorn struggles early, it will be up to the Minnesota offense to try and bail him out.

Minnesota will either play Union or Michigan Tech on Saturday in the second game of the Ice Breaker. The Dutchmen and Huskies play in the early game on Friday, with the two winners facing off for the tournament title and the losers facing off for third place.

The bad news for Gopher fans is that if you wanted to watch this weekend’s games on TV, you better live within range of the Duluth region. The games are only going to be aired on MY 9 in Duluth this weekend. Since Duluth is the host, the NCHC holds the TV rights. Joe Christensen has a good article in the Star Tribune that explains how the right work, and how it also will effect Minnesota’s big rivalry series at North Dakota in two weeks. Basically it boils down to FSN North will not give local TV rights to the other MInnesota teams and North Dakota when they hold them for Minnesota home games, so when MInnesota goes on the road to non-Big Ten Schools where FSN North does not have TV rights, they are being rejected when they ask for permission to broadcast the games as well. It sucks for Minnesota fans, but its business.

The games will be streamed this weekend on NCHC.TV, but it will cost you a pretty penny. If you want to see both games you can buy an Ice Breaker streaming package for $25. You can buy a monthly conference pass for $27 that will get you Friday night’s game against UMD and the two North Dakota games, but you will not get Saturday’s game against either Union or Michigan Tech. Pick your poison I guess.

Also a reminder that Minnesota changed its radio affiliates in the offseason. If you want to listen to Wally and Frank, they are no longer on 1500 ESPN. Beginning this season the Gophers have all joined the IHeart Media family. The Gopher hockey games will air in the Twin Cities on both 1130 KTLK AM, and 103.5 FM. The issue with the switch? Both new stations have considerably less range than 1500 did. The one positive upgrade is that all Gopher games will now be streamed live and for free on the I Heart Radio app. The stream quality should be better and closer to real time than the 1500 stream was, so it is a quite viable option for listening to the game.

No matter the media struggles...hockey is back. And this Gopher team should be good. Hopefully they can get off to a good start this weekend, take down an in-state rival and bring home some hardware to start the season off right.

#3 Minnesota Golden Gophers at #6/12 UMD Bulldogs

Where: Amsoil Arena, Duluth, MInnesota

When: 7:37 PM Friday

TV: MY 9 (Duluth Local)

Stream: NCHC.TV ($$)

Radio: 1130 AM, 103.5 FM

Audio Stream: I Heart Radio App

#3 Minnesota Golden Gophers vs #16 Union Dutchmen/ Michigan Tech Huskies

Where: Amsoil Arena, Duluth, MInnesota

When: 4:00 PM Saturday

TV: MY 9 (Duluth Local)

Stream: NCHC.TV ($$)

Radio: 1130 AM, 103.5 FM

Audio Stream: I Heart Radio App