Faceoffs quietly key Minnesota’s success

One of the most overlooked statistics in hockey gives the Gophers women’s team a steady stream of scoring opportunities.

by Nate Gotlieb

Tied 1-1 with rival Minnesota-Duluth midway through the second period Jan. 14, Gophers junior Jen Schoullis skated into the faceoff circle for the most common play in hockey.

The referee paused and then dropped the puck. Schoullis boxed out the opposing center and slid the puck to a waiting Megan Bozek.

Bozek fired a shot that cleared the first wave of UMD players. Slashing in front of the net, forward Sarah Erickson tipped the puck, directing it past Bulldogs goalie Jennifer Harass to give the Gophers a 2-1 lead.

While the Gophers ultimately played UMD to a 2-2 tie, the goal highlighted an oft-overlooked strength of this Minnesota team: winning faceoffs.

The Gophers own a .563 faceoff win percentage this season, their highest mark in that category since the 2007-08 season. ItâÄôs a mark that head coach Brad Frost says is crucial to the teamâÄôs success.

âÄúThatâÄôs arguably been one of the biggest things for our team,âÄù Frost said after that game. âÄúWhen you can win draws and then maintain possession, thatâÄôs a big deal.âÄù

One of the few stationary moments in the 60 minutes of a hockey game, the faceoff represents a possible change in possession, advantageous ice position for one team and presents opportunities to make plays in transition. By winning the faceoff a team is rewarded, at least in the offensive zone, with a quick scoring opportunity. Lose it, and the other team has the opportunity for an offensive rush.

âÄúYou have that puck, so you can make a play,âÄù Frost said. âÄúYou lose the draw, and all of a sudden you donâÄôt, so being able to get the puck and maintaining possession should create some opportunities.âÄù

Leading the Gophers in faceoff winning percentage is freshman center Sarah Davis. Davis has won 364 of her 571 (.637) face-offs, a mark that most NHL players would envy.

âÄúI look at every faceoff as a battle where I can help my team.âÄù Davis said. âÄú[I] go into every faceoff with an intensity, and itâÄôs not just me, itâÄôs also my wingers âĦ They really do a good job getting into the âÄòDâÄô or getting into the net.âÄù

Davis said the mark is due to an intensity the team brings to the circle.

âÄúWe went through a stage where we really focused on faceoffs and the draw to really get possession of the puck.âÄù Davis said. âÄúItâÄôs just transferred over to these past couple months. ThatâÄôs why weâÄôre so successful.âÄù

DavisâÄô tenacity on the draw was rewarded last weekend against Wisconsin. With the Gophers down 2-1 early in the third period, Davis won a draw in the offensive zone and slid the puck to freshman Kelly Terry, who tied the game with a back-door goal.

SaturdayâÄôs crowd a learning experience

While the Gophers will most likely not see a crowd as large as the one they played in front of against Wisconsin last weekend, Frost said that it was a great learning experience for his team.

âÄúWe havenâÄôt been in front of a crowd of more than 3,000.âÄù He said. âÄúIt bodes well now that weâÄôve had that experience, and we should be able to use it down the stretch.âÄù

The crowd of 10,668 was the biggest crowd the Gophers have played in front of by more than 8,000 people this season.

The Gophers are down in attendance this season at home, averaging 848 per game this season, after averaging 1,126 fans per game last season.