Big win leaves hockey searching for answers

Adam Fink

By the end of last Saturday’s game against Ohio State, Minnesota’s men’s hockey offensive arsenal was on full display. Seven different Gophers had scored. Ten players recorded at least one point.

Minnesota beat the Buckeyes 7-2 and held the edge in many of the final statistics, including shots attempted (51-23), power play goals (5-0) and fewer penalties (10 to 14).

The dominating numbers have one clear disadvantage heading into this weekend’s series with No. 3 New Hampshire: The top-ranked Gophers weren’t able to evaluate their potential weaknesses.

With only three seniors on its roster, Minnesota (1-0) would prefer to learn from its mistakes earlier rather than later in the season.

“We couldn’t get that out of our last game,” coach Don Lucia said, referring to assessing the team. “We wanted to evaluate our play without the puck, but we had it most of the game. We wanted to evaluate our goaltender, but he didn’t see a lot of action.”

Minnesota’s speed and size advantage (11 players taller than 6-foot-2 compared to eight for Ohio State) was clearly too much for the Buckeyes. The Gophers were able to fly by defenders and use their bigger frames to easily check defenders.

This advantage kept Ohio State goaltender Mike Betz and the Buckeyes’ defensemen on alert all game.

While the dominant win was exciting for Gophers fans to watch, Minnesota coaches had a difficult time determining which players actually outplayed their opponent.

“Our goal was to play hard for 60 minutes,” forward Matt Koalska said. “We shot the puck well. We wanted to get to the net and record some goals.”

Goaltender Travis Weber would have been happy to field a few more shots. Weber stopped 13 shots through the first two periods, 21 for the game.

After so few shots, assessing Weber, who is competing with Justin Johnson to replace departed four-year starter Adam Hauser, is nearly impossible.

“I expected a tougher game,” Weber said. “We will see more quality shots this weekend.”

The Wildcats are expected to compete for the national title this season and lost only one player from its top two lines in the offseason.

While only boasting four players 6-foot-2 or taller, New Hampshire uses its speed to overcome mismatches. This will give Minnesota its first chance to evaluate potential weaknesses.

Was the Gophers’ physical presence a fluke in the first game? Is Minnesota really this fast?

While nabbing two wins this weekend is important, learning about themselves is high on Minnesota’s priority list.

“We want to continue to evaluate personnel,” Lucia said. “We know we have more elements of the game to work on. We just have to worry about ourselves.”

Goalies set for weekend

Johnson will make his first start of the season Friday night, Lucia said.

On Saturday, Weber will backstop Minnesota.

“This is a big game for us,” Weber said. “They will come at us and we have to be ready to stop them.”

In sparse action over the past year, Weber and Johnson have combined for 10 wins and two losses.

Still No. 1

minnesota remained at the top spot in the USCHO rankings this week. The Gophers gained one first-place vote and earned 24 out of a possible 40 votes.

Denver is second, followed by New Hampshire, coming off a 10-0 win over Vermont.