For a team that’s lacked confidence at times in the season, last weekend certainly didn’t feel like they were missing anything.
The University of Minnesota Gophers, winners now of four straight and six of the last seven, took charge this weekend and controlled the game in a way that could cause a double take.
On offense, the Gophers looked like teams of the past, pummeling opponents for early goals and swift follow-ups. They established their rhythm Friday night against Mercyhurst with a pair of power play goals from Brent Gates Jr. in the first period. Gates finished the hat trick with 14:45 left in the third, but the work was done well before that. Gates played well throughout the night and the persistence of Minnesota led to a fun, if somewhat easy, matchup.
Gates’ first career hat trick propelled the Gophers and set the standard for the rest of the game. They wouldn’t wait for Mercyhurst to find their game, and instead continued to punish them for penalties and mistakes on the ice. Even though every chance didn’t show up on the scoreboard, they were present on the ice in the form of stifling defense and a pressing attack.
Justin Kloos also continued his campaign to show that he’s the captain this Gophers team needs, and was excellent for much of the weekend. To that same end, Eric Schierhorn looked more steady and stable in the net, locking things down and allowing only two goals despite the Gophers allowing an average of 31 shots each game.
The rest of the weekend followed Friday’s mold, with the Gophers putting up four against UMass to win the Mariucci Classic for the 14th time in 26 years. Their wins this weekend bolstered confidence in their all-around system both internally and externally, as they rose from No. 11 to No. 9 in the latest USCHO poll.
This weekend, the Gophers are off, but are surely looking forward to the North Star College Cup, which takes place at the end of the month and features four classic WCHA rivals. The Gophers are set to face off on Friday against the No. 1-ranked UMD Bulldogs in what should be the most watched game of the weekend.
That same night, the SCSU Huskies will meet with a much-improved Bemidji State. This is actually a more interesting matchup than I think we’re expecting, especially given the way BSU has won games this year. They’re sitting on a 15-7-3 record this year, but have only scored 2.3 goals per game against their opponents, while allowing 1.7 goals per game.
In that Friday game, the Huskies will have to be disciplined, as the Beavers have made use of power plays when they get them, converting on 20% of opportunities.
While Fridays’ games are a bit uncertain, they’re uncertain for different reasons. For the Gophers, there’s a lot of reason to be optimistic that they could pull off an upset against the big bad Bulldogs, but all that remains to be seen. As for the Beavers-Huskies game, it’s really a question of who these two teams are this year and how their strengths and weaknesses align.
No matter how those games turn out, though, it should be a good chance to relive some of the old rivalries that have defined Minnesota hockey for so long.