Gophers exhibit early power-play skill

Minnesota scored four power-play goals in a sweep last weekend.

by Ben Gotz

In the early part of the Gophers’ season, there have been two constants: Adam Wilcox in net and success on the power play.

Head coach Don Lucia said Wednesday that the team needs to play better 5-on-5 hockey. But with a man advantage, the Gophers have been strong.

So far, the Gophers have scored six goals off the power play in 17 opportunities, and they’ve scored at least one power-play goal in each of their four games — all of which were victories.

“Our special teams [have] been good to begin with,” Lucia said. “We have six power-play goals, so right now … that’s strong.”

Sophomore forward Taylor Cammarata said the team’s power play was “discombobulated” a few weeks ago, but it has since become one of the team’s strengths.

Power-play goals were crucial in the Gophers’ sweep of Bemidji State, with the team scoring four goals in 10 opportunities.

One of the reasons the power play has been so strong this season is the unit’s continuity. The Gophers’ top two power-play units boast veteran skaters who are well-versed in the team’s systems.

Returners accounted for 34 of the team’s 35 power-play goals last year.

The team’s top power-play line over the weekend — senior Kyle Rau, sophomore Hudson Fasching and senior Travis Boyd — scored more than half of its combined goals on the power play last year.

Rau said returning the same power-play lineup as last year has helped the unit achieve early

“Familiarity with each other and chemistry [are] there,” Rau said. “At the same time, we’re shooting pucks, and Travis Boyd’s been putting the puck in the back of the net, so that’s been the success to our power play so far.”

The Big Ten named Boyd its First Star of the Week on Tuesday, after he scored two power-play goals over the weekend. Boyd also scored the first shorthanded goal of his college career Friday night.

“First time for everything, so might as well be tonight,” Boyd said Friday. “Hopefully [scoring] kickstarts me, and [I] get a lot more to come.”

Boyd was on the team’s power-play unit last year, and Lucia said maturity has helped Boyd develop a bigger role on the team.

“He’s been in good spots,” Lucia said. “He’s always been a good penalty killer. Last year he moved onto the power play, and his shot is much improved.”

Rau has also taken notice of Boyd’s improved shot and said his work over the summer seems to be paying off.

“He’s just in the right spot shooting the puck. He’s got a good shot [and] he can place it well,” Rau said. “He’s having a good year.”

The Gophers power-play unit will face a steep test this weekend against St. Cloud State, which has been stingy on the penalty kill thus far.

But Lucia said the Gophers have worked on improving their weaknesses this week, not their strengths.

“Right now, I think we’re too easy to play against,” Lucia said. “I don’t think our 5-on-5 play is where it needs to be right now, so that’s been a big point of emphasis this week in practice.”