Gophers begin tough WCHA season against Bulldogs

David La

Minnesota averages eight goals per outing through two games this season.
Minnesota-Duluth put nine goals past its opponent in an exhibition game last weekend.
The recent scoring sprees will likely end when the Gophers (2-0-0) start-up their WCHA season hosting the Bulldogs this weekend.
“Those days are over,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said. “Now it’s back to the games where you have to win with three or four (goals).”
Minnesota-Duluth will deal with changes all season, as coach Scott Sandelin takes over for Mike Sertich, who resigned last season after 18 years at the helm.
Prior to arriving in Duluth, Sandelin spent six years as an assistant to Dean Blais at North Dakota. The Fighting Sioux won three WCHA and two NCAA titles during Sandelin’s tenure.
“Scott’s played and coached in this league,” Lucia said. “He knows what to expect. I think he’s a great choice and there’s no question in my mind that he’s going to do a good job.”
Sandelin will be tested. The Bulldogs finished 8th in the WCHA last season, plagued by an anemic scoring output of 2.51 goals per game, lowest in team history.
Searching for a remedy in both production and attitude, Sandelin hopes last weekend’s point barrage against the University of Regina resulted in some self-assurance for his team.
“It was nice to see some guys who struggled last year offensively get off to a good start in scoring goals and building confidence,” Sandelin said. “We saw some good things from a puck-movement and play-making standpoint.”
Two of Minnesota-Duluth’s four walk-ons got off to a fast start. Jim Murphy notched a pair of goals, while Jay Hardwick tallied an assist. In all, eight Bulldogs scored a combined nine goals.
“But against Minnesota everything is going to change,” Sandelin said. “They have a lot of skill. I don’t know if we can get into a run-and-gun game with Minnesota, they’ve got four good lines and six good defensemen.”
While scoring goals is important, stopping them is essential. The departure of goaltender Brant Nicklin — the Bulldogs all-time leader in appearances, shutouts and save percentage — left a hole which one of three young stoppers hopes to fill.
Sophomores Jason Greoire and Rob Anderson, along with freshman Adam Coole, each saw one period of action against Regina. Greoire allowed the only goal. Sandelin plans to name his starter today.
The Bulldogs top returning scorer, senior forward Derek Derow, had arthroscopic knee surgery in September and will make his season debut this weekend.
“We’ll watch him,” Sandelin said. “Derek’s a little behind in conditioning, but hopefully he can do some of the things he’s capable of.”
In a season where Sandelin hopes to coax more goals out of the lineup, he’ll need every one available to contribute.
ù Lucia said of the roster, “Now that we’re at home in a two-game set, you probably will see some changes. (Matt) Leimbeck and (Mark) Nenovich will get in this weekend.”

ù Bulldogs sophomore center Michael Miskovich is the younger brother of Gophers senior wing Aaron Miskovich.

ù Minnesota is 8-1-1 over the last 10 games against Minnesota-Duluth. But Sandelin said there is no intimidation factor. “Certainly not on my part,” he joked. “I’m used to beating them.” North Dakota went 15-7-5 against the Gophers in Sandelin’s six seasons behind the Sioux bench.

David La Vaque covers men’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]