Hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving. There are a lot of non-conference games this weekend, which means there are plenty of Pairwise implications up for grabs.
In fact, there are only nine conference match-ups on Friday and five of them take place in the WCHA; including the second game of the most unique rivalry in college hockey.
If the non-conference tilts, one series really stands out. The St. Cloud State Huskies travel down I-94 to face-off against the Minnesota Golden Gophers in a Friday-Sunday series.
Last series, the two split a home-and-home series with each team defending its home ice. The Huskies took the first game at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center 4-1 and handed the Gophers its first loss of the season. While the Gophers got revenge the next night in a 4-3 overtime bout.
This year, both games will be played at Mariucci Arena, a place where the Huskies haven’t won since a 5-2 victory on October 22, 2010. Looking at the box score, it feels like it was even longer than that. Gopher goalie Alex Kangas let in all five goals on 23 shots and was pulled in the second period for Kent Patterson. Garrett Roe had a goal and two assists for the Huskies and Mike Lee made 40 saves to earn the win.
The Gophers got goals from Mike Hoeffel and Taylor Matson. Mark Alt and Kevin Wehrs had assists. Feels like forever ago.
The teams are both coming off splits that feel very different from each other. The Huskies split at home to a highly ranked North Dakota Fighting Hawks squad, losing 4-3 the first night and coming back with a 6-1 drubbing the next night. The Gophers split in a home-and-home series with Minnesota State winning the first night at the Verizon Wireless Center and blowing a 2-0 lead the following night at home losing in overtime.
The Gophers have been spinning its tires starting the season, only scoring one goal in the first three games. In the wins, the Gophers have managed four goals in each of them.
Freshman Eric Schierhorn has taken control of the reigns after Adam Wilcox left after his junior year. The Gophers found stability in net, which was the biggest question mark coming into the season. Schierhorn has kept the Gophers in every game this season, sporting an impressive .931 save percentage and a 2.11 goals against average.
The Gophers have been a bit stymied and averaging 2.43 goals per game, which is 38th in the nation and sandwiched in between Western Michigan and Bentley. Leon Bristedt leads the team with five goals, already matching last year’s total.
If the Gophers are going to win, converting on what few chances they get against the Husky defense will be crucial. Minnesota has been able to generate an average of 26.4 shots per game, but the Huskies have the sixth best team defense in the nation, averaging only 1.67 goals against per game.
While goals have been hard to come by for the Gophers, the defense has played very well. The Gophers have given up an average of 2.22 goals per game. When a team defense is that low, it’s only a manner of time before the offense gets rolling.
One of the more compelling aspects of the series will be on special teams. The Gophers penalty kill is clicking at 90.6%, allowing only three power play goals all year. The Huskies power play is very active in creating lanes and is currently at 23.4 percent. Huskies captain Ethan Prow commands the power play on the point and the power play suffered greatly when he was not able to play during the Quinnipiac and Miami series. In fact, the Huskies went 0-for-14 on the power play during those games when Prow was out. With the Sauk Rapids native in the line up, the Huskies power play is at 33.3 percent.
Usually these two teams both play an up-tempo, high offense style, but don’t think that will be the case with how well both defenses are playing. Charlie Lindgren has been nothing short of fantastic in goal, stopping 93.7 percent of the shots he faces.
The Huskies like to eliminate shots from the home plate area, giving Lindgren the easy save. Just take a look at last game against North Dakota, while they may have had 29 shots on goal, but many were from bad angles or from the point. Defenseman Troy Stetcher had six shots on goal for the Fighting Hawks and the lone goal, where he was the trailer and got the puck in a prime spot.
Whatever team can capitalize on the prime changes, which there will be few, will come out ahead in the series.
One WCHA series will end tonight and it happens to me the most interesting rivalry in college hockey. Bemidji State takes on Alabama-Huntsville in the final game of their series. Bemidji State took the first game 4-1 is a game that was much closer than the score indicates with an empty netter and a goal with eight seconds left in the game.
Make no mistake about it; these two fan bases hate each other. It goes back to when the teams were Division II powerhouses. Both teams are looking to claw back into the WCHA race.
Everyone enjoy some hockey this weekend. My shift is over.