Tough WCHA opener awaits Minnesota

The Gophers head to Colorado Springs to take on the Colorado College Tigers.

Brian Deutsch

The Minnesota men’s hockey team will open up the Western Collegiate Hockey Association season this weekend against one of the top teams the conference has to offer.

men’s hockey preview

WHERE: World Arena, Colorado Springs, Colo.
WHEN: 8:30 pm., today, 8 p.m., Saturday, CDT
TV: FSN North
RADIO: WCCO 830 AM

Minnesota leads the all-time series 154-79-7

Colorado College will host the Gophers in a two-game series that starts tonight at 8:30 p.m. CDT. Saturday’s series finale is slated to begin at 8 p.m., and both games will be played at the World Arena in Colorado Springs, Colo.

The meeting between the WCHA’s preseason No. 2 Minnesota and No. 3 Colorado College will give both squads a chance to see just how strong the top conference opponents will be this season.

Unfortunately, the teams will get their initial look at a WCHA foe early this year. In fact, this weekend will be Minnesota’s earliest conference opener since 1998 when the Gophers tied Minnesota-Duluth 2-2 on Oct. 16 before edging the Bulldogs 3-1 the following day.

Junior forward Blake Wheeler said he feels this weekend’s series will be a “good measuring stick” for the Gophers, who have won six straight games over Minnesota coach Don Lucia’s former team.

“It will be a good test for us just playing a tough team in our league,” Wheeler said. “It’s always fun to get back into the WCHA season.”

No. 3 MINNESOTA

(2-0-0 overall, 0-0-0 WCHA)

Minnesota Stat
In nine seasons at Minnesota, coach Don Lucia is 19-10-1 against his former team.

PLAYERS TO WATCH
Junior goalie Jeff Frazee: Frazee is coming off a career game in the 4-3 win over Michigan last weekend. The junior made 44 saves in the win and Lucia said Frazee is his man for this Friday.
Sophomore forward Jay Barriball: The forward posted three assists last weekend to extend his scoring streak to seven games. He had six points in four games against the Tigers last season.

Such an early start to conference play can be doubly disadvantageous for a young team like Minnesota, who is still finding its identity, according to Lucia.

Considering the Tigers have only played a pair of exhibition games this year, Lucia said he wasn’t exactly sure what the team can expect this weekend although the same can basically be said about any team at this point of the season.

“It’s so early, I don’t know much about their new guys, but I don’t think their style of play is going to change much year to year,” Lucia said.

Last year, Colorado College couldn’t find a way to beat Minnesota, dropping four regular season matchups in route to the Tigers’ regular season record of 18-17-4 – just the second time in 14 years that the team failed to win 20 games in a season.

No.10 Colorado College

(0-0-0 overall, 0-0-0 ECAC)

CC STAT
With a record of 166-68-18, Lucia is tied for second in wins all time at Colorado. The all-time leader, current coach Scott Owens, is 195-109-24.

PLAYERS TO WATCH
Senior defenseman Jack Hillen: Hillen put up two points in an exhibition game against Calgary last weekend. Behind the senior blue-liner, the team won 6-3.
Senior forward Jimmy Kilpatrick: Kilpatrick led the Tigers last season with 32 points. The New Prague native scored eight game-winning goals last year.

The Tigers have only played a pair of exhibition games this season, winning games against Calgary and the United States under-18 development team, while the Gophers picked up two nonconference wins over RPI and Michigan last weekend.

But earlier this week, sophomore forward Kyle Okposo said there is a definite step up once conference play begins each season.

“You’re competing for so much more when you play teams in your league,” Okposo said. “To have it be the second weekend of the year, it’s going to be a fun test.”