The ‘State of Hockey’ is back at the top. An impressive three-win week for the University of Minnesota men’s hockey team has them firmly sitting as the No. 1 team in the nation.
The rare Tuesday meeting with No. 2 Notre Dame could have been a step back for the Gophers. A loss to the Fighting Irish wouldn’t have been devastating, but it certainly would have raised some eyebrows to the ability of this year’s team to win big games.
The Gophers answered the call and convincingly defeated Notre Dame 4-1 in front of a raucous Mariucci Arena crowd. Freshmen goaltender Adam Wilcox continued his stellar play and stopped 22 of the 23 Irish shots on goal in the victory.
The offensive fire power started early and set the tone for the contest. Defensively Minnesota had one of its better outings of the season. Minnesota captain Zach Budish, sophomore Sam Warning, and junior Nate Condon all recorded a goal and an assist on the game to pace the Gophers.
Coming off that big win and looking ahead to a struggling University of Alaska-Anchorage team was another hurdle for the Gopher as they only had two days off between games.
Friday’s series opener turned out to be tougher than expected. The Seawolves of UAA have played well recently over the last couple seasons at Mariucci Arena and that confidence on Friday looked to be spilling over.
The Seawolves led 3-2 with under five minutes remaining in the third period. UAA senior forward Tyler Currier laid a questionable check from behind on Budish and was given a 5:00 major-penalty.
On the ensuing power play Minnesota tied the game at three thanks to a goal from junior Nick Bjugstad. This his twelfth goal of the season was the team high for the season.
Being as it was a major-penalty, Currier was not able to leave the penalty box and the Gophers capitalized once more with the player advantage thanks to the game-winning power play goal form defenseman Ben Marshall.
The win was improbable and at the same time was impressive. Minnesota was given an opportunity to win the game with the extended power play and the did just that. The road ahead for the Gophers will be tough and a win like that was just more preparation for the future.
The wake up call from the night before must have jogged their memory as to the outcome that playing a team like UAA should produce.
In Saturday’s series finale the Maroon and Gold dominated. The 7-1 final score was a proven mark of the No. 1 team in the country.
Sophomore forward Kyle Rau recorded his first career hat trick in the win and took over the team goals lead from Bjugstad with 13.
Another positive from the blowout win was the almost 8:00 of time goalie Michael Shibrowski played in the game. Shibrowski come in for Wilcox who started the game for the Gophers and was given some much needed rest for the freshmen who had played every minute for Minnesota since Oct. 19, 2012.
Small things like extra rest for your No. 1 goalie could pay dividends as the season moves along. It should definitely help Minnesota as they welcome rival North Dakota to campus next weekend.
The always physical and heated games against the University of North Dakota are just as mentally tiring for players and coaches.
Minnesota head coach Don Lucia will need to prepare the Gophers for war. That may seem like an exaggeration for just some hockey games, but if you are at Mariucci Arena next weekend, you may think that the only thing missing are the tanks and fighter jets.
Currently Minnesota and UND are tied for third in the WCHA conference standings with 19 points. Conference leaders Nebraska-Omaha and Denver sit just one point ahead in the standings and each have played two more conference games than Minnesota and UND.
Anything over a series split in the games will be bonus for Minnesota. The Gophers have not lost since November but even the best teams in the country are due for a loss every now and then — albeit at home and against the club’s top rival.