The #1 ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers will get back on the ice to play a game in nearly a month when they host their first of two non-conference series against the Arizona State Sun Devils at 3M Arena at Mariucci Sunday and Monday. The Sun Devils will return to Minneapolis for a second series in less that three weeks on January 21st and 22nd. Minnesota still be without the services of their top three defensemen in Jackson LaCombe, Ryan Johnson and Brock Faber for the series as they are still with the US Junior National Team at the World Juniors Tournament in Canada through early this week.
The Gophers who are 8-0 for the first time since 1987-88 will look to continue their hot streak in their first non-conference series of the season. All seven Big Ten teams reached a scheduling agreement with Arizona State that the Sun Devils would play each conference team four times in their home arena. This series will mark just the second time the Gophers and Sun Devils have faced off with the other series being the final one of the 2018-19 season. Minnesota earned a sweep over ASU in that series, but it was marred by very chippy play by Arizona State that saw several of their players get thrown out of one or another of the games.
Minnesota will look to get great goal scoring from their forwards. Scoot Reedy comes in leading the team six goals in Minnesota’s eight games and is just one goal off of the national lead. His four game-winning goals lead the nation and he has an assist in a fifth game-winning goal for the Gophers. He is getting help from sophomore forward Ben Meyers who is tied for the team lead with reedy with nine points. Meyers currently has a six game scoring streak heading into the series against ASU.
Defensively Minnesota has been stellar. Jack LaFontaine deserves most of the credit. He is a perfect 8-0 on the season and leads the nation in both goals against average at 1.0 goals per game, and in save percentage at .965. He earned his first two career shutouts already this season and is one of the main reasons why Minnesota has not trailed for a single second of the season thus far.
Another reason is that the Gophers have been great in the special teams portion of the game. Minnesota is a perfect 17-17 on the penalty kill so far this year and is 9-31 on the power play—good for a 29% success rate which leads the Big Ten and is fifth in the country. Minnesota is playing much more disciplined 5 on 5 as well as they are the nation’s least penalized team averaging just 5 penalty minutes per game.
Arizona State enters the series with a 4-6-2 record this season. They have played each Big Ten school other than Minnesota once already with their four wins coming over Ohio State, Notre Dame and a sweep of Wisconsin. The Sun Devils are led in scoring by a freshman named Mathew Kopperud who leads the team with 13 points on seven goals and six assists. Edina grad Demetrious Koumontzis has eight points in second place on the team. The Sun Devils have missed senior forward Johnny Walker who was a Hobey Baker Finalist a season ago with an injury. Arizona State has split time in net between two goalies. Evan DeBrouwer is their main goaltender and is 3-4-1 on the season and is expected to start Sunday. Their other goalie Cole Brady is 1-2-1 on the year.
The Sun Devils have has success this season on the power play, so with the Gophers still playing three d-men short it will be important for the Gophers to try and keep out of the box. The Gophers still have a strong trio of defensemen to play including Matt Staudacher, Ben Brinkman and Mike Koster, and saw even their fill ins look great in the final season of 2020 at Michigan. Minnesota also gets the return of senior forward Brannon McManus who has missed the last five games with an injury and should provide another scorer in the top six forwards for the Gophers. As long as Minnesota does not come out flat after the long lay-off, they should be able to keep their season success going this weekend before getting ready for a quick turn around to restart Big Ten play Friday night in Madison against the Badgers.
HOW TO WATCH:
Arizona State Sun Devils @ #1 Minnesota Golden Gophers
Where: 3M Arena at Mariucci, Minneapolis, MN
When: 3PM Sunday/ 7PM Monday
TV: Fox Sports North, Fox Sports Arizona, (Fox College Sports— check this if you have Hulu/You Tube TV, etc)
Radio: 1130 AM/103.5 FM/ I Heart Radio App