It was just over a year ago when the University of Minnesota Men’s Hockey team last visited Sullivan Arena in Anchorage, Alaska. They went to “The Last Frontier” and came home with four points in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association standings.
This weekend the Golden Gophers will need to replicate those victories from a season ago as well as to get back on track scoring goals. Lots of goals.
The No. 2 ranked team in the nation hasn’t looked that sharp seven games into the 2012-13 season. If you add exhibition contests in to the mix, the 2-2 tie with the US Under-18 Team still looms over the heads of the Gophers.
Combine that tie with the home-and-home split last weekend with Minnesota State-Mankato and there are plenty of questions still to be answered by Don Lucia’s squad.
Will we see a time share in the nets at the goalie position? Will the coaches continue to move the extra defensemen up to a forward line? Will someone, or some line, step forward and take over the offensive responsibility? Or will it continue to be a scoring by committee offense?
The answers to those questions will only come with time and the Seawolves of the University of Alaska-Anchorage will be a tough challenge, especially on the road.
This pesky Seawolves team has shown in recent time that no wins are guaranteed in the WCHA. Just look back two years when the Seawolves came into Mariucci Arena and took the best of three series in just two nights to start the 2011 WCHA Playoffs.
UAA capped off that series sweep with a 2-0 shutout by then freshmen goaltender Chris Kamal. He is a junior this season and would welcome another opportunity to blank the Maroon and Gold.
Statistically, Minnesota ranks No. 8 in the country in goals per game average with 3.57. Looks good on paper, but remove the twelve goals they scored in the season opening series sweep of Michigan State and the Gophers have yet to score four total goals in a single night since.
One factor that has been a pleasant surprise for Minnesota is the lack of penalty minutes the team has accumulated so far. They rank dead last in combined penalty minutes per game in the nation. Number 59 out of 59 total teams in Division I Men’s Ice Hockey.
A pleasant sign to see for any coaching staff and fan base. Though I wouldn’t get to accustomed to those numbers as the Gophers still have ten total games on the schedule against rivals Wisconsin, Denver, the University of Minnesota-Duluth, and the University of North Dakota.
All games in which we have seen standing room only seating in the penalty boxes over the years.
It is the longest trip on the season schedule for Lucia and his team this year. It will be their last trip to Anchorage as WCHA regular season foes. It will take some leadership and probably a bounce or two in the Gophers favor to come back with a sweep.
Predictions: Friday – Minnesota 4, UAA 2 | Saturday – Gophers 3, Seawolves 3
Player of the Series: Nate Schmidt (Jr. Defense) — 2 Goals, 2 Assists, +3 overall
Where to watch: Online webcast ONLY via the UAA: http://bit.ly/Uhfsaw - Friday and Saturday 10:00 p.m. CST
Where to listen: AM-1500 ESPN in the Twin Cities