This Week in the WCHA:
Minnesota State at Minnesota Duluth
North Dakota at Bemidji State
St. Cloud State at Minnesota
Nebraska Omaha at Denver
Wisconsin at Colorado College
Michigan Tech at Alaska Anchorage
No. 1 Minnesota vs. unranked St. Cloud State
After a bumpy start to the season SCSU has gone 4-2-2 in its last eight games. Overall, the team is 5-5-2 with a 3-2-1 ledger in the WCHA (seventh place). The Huskies are 2-0-2 at home and have won both of their Friday night games at the National Hockey Center. St. Cloud State has been led by 2009 Minnesota Mr. Hockey finalist Ben Hanowski with 13 points (7g, 6a). Captain Drew LeBlanc is next on the list with 12 points (2g, 10a), but he will be out several months with a leg injury he suffered against Wisconsin two weeks ago. He is a major loss as he was a leader on the power play and penalty kill so his absence leaves many holes to fill. Nick Jensen leads SCSU defensemen with eight points (1g, 7a). With standout goaltender Mike Lee also out with a long-term injury, freshman Ryan Faragher has taken the reigns in net and has been impressive. He has a 2.43 goals against average and .925 save percentage.
St. Cloud gets outshot a lot and their season total is 391 to 319. St. Cloud also leads the league in penalty minutes. The defense is youthful but has some talent, which may be the strongest part of their team as they have some versatility on the blue line.
For Minnesota, they are coming off a weekend split with Wisconsin. Friday night the Gophers were pretty flat and struggled against the Wisconsin trap. Saturday they countered the trap well by transitioning and countering it with good passes and getting the puck up the ice quickly. The Gophers have outscored their opponents 53-20 this season. The Gophers have the second-best offense in the nation, as they are averaging 4.42 goals-per-game. Minnesota’s defense is the fourth-best in the country allowing only 1.67 goals-per-game. Minnesota’s goaltending remains solid as Kent Patterson is 10-2-0 and has a 1.66 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage. He was named national player of the month for October.
Minnesota has been paced by its sophomore class this season. The Gophers have combined for 137 points (53g, 84a) and 80 of those points (30g, 50a) have come from the sophomore class. Three of Minnesota’s top four scorers are sophomores. Leading the sophomore class is Erik Haula with 18 points (7g, 11a). Nick Bjugstad has 16 points (9g, 7a) and is followed by Nate Schmidt (13 points), Zach Budish (11 points), Nate Condon (10 points), Justin Holl (5 points), Mark Alt (5 points) and Tom Serratore (2 points).
Other players making an impression include Seth Helgeson, who has two goals and has been steady with a physical presence. He uses his size wisely and has cut down on penalty minutes after taking 23 minors last season. Helgeson, who hails from Faribault, finished last season leading all defenseman with a plus-7 rating.
Ben Marshall has also been playing well. He’s crafty and is a great skater with really good hockey sense. Serratore is another one who has been playing hard and is a solid checker. He comes from a great hockey family; his father Frank is the head coach at Air Force Academy and his uncle Tom is the head coach at Bemidji. Along with Travis Boyd, who just turned 18 and played at the U.S. National Development Program, and Nick Larson, this fourth line can compete with some of the opponents top units.
This week Minnesota needs to keep the emotion at a manageable level. The Gophers have yet to have a weekend off unlike most teams but look for them to show up at St. Cloud Friday night ready to play.
The Call: 3 points for Minnesota
MINNESOTA STATE AT MINNESOTA DULUTH
UMD hasn’t lost in eight games.
The Call: UMD Sweep
UND AT BEMIDJI STATE
The Sioux has had a week off to regroup. This is typically a pretty intense series.
The Call: 3 points for UND
NEBRASKA AT DENVER
This should be a good series. Denver hasn't yet hit their stride and UNO is "on again, off again."
The Call: Split
WISCONSIN AT COLORADO COLLEGE
CC has some depth and speed along wtih a scoring punch. Playing at home against a Wisconsin team coming off an emotional weekend against Minnesota they should win 2.
The Call: CC sweep
MICHIGAN TECH AT ALASKA ANCHORAGE
Anchorage is due for a WCHA win and at home against a much improved Tech team they should earn one.
The Call: Split