Gophers have no easy series with Alaska

Brian Deutsch

With two of its assistant captains out due to injuries, the Minnesota men’s hockey team will have its hands full this weekend when the team hosts Alaska-Anchorage.

MEN’S HOCKEY PREVIEW

WHERE: Mariucci Arena
WHEN: 7:07 p.m., tonight and 7:07 p.m. Saturday
TV: Fox Sports Net North
RADIO: KTNF 950AM/KUOM 100.7 FM/107.5 FM (Fri) WCCO 830 AM (Sat)

Minnesota leads the all-time series 43-14-5

The 12th-ranked Gophers and the unranked Seawolves will face off Friday and Saturday night at Mariucci Arena. Both games are scheduled for 7:07 p.m.

The two teams had very similar starts to their seasons with each going undefeated in nonconference play but being held winless during their first four games of Western Collegiate Hockey Association games.

“(Alaska-Anchorage) is off to a great start,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said. “They’re much improved from a year ago, and they can score goals.”

Last year, the Seawolves had one of the conference’s worst offensives, which averaged fewer than 2.5 goals per game, but this year, Alaska-Anchorage (3-2-3 overall, 0-2-2 WCHA) is off to the second best start in program history.

Meanwhile, the Gophers have dug themselves out of one hole and into another.

One would think the Minnesota offense, which lost only two forwards from last year’s squad that led the WCHA in scoring, would have had all the options it could possibly need when the team brought in three NHL offensive prospects before this season.

But what the Gophers (6-4-0 overall, 2-4-0 WCHA) couldn’t expect was the number of veterans who would be unable to suit up.

MINNESOTA

(6-4-0 overall, 2-4-0 WCHA) National Ranking: 12

Minnesota Stat
Last weekend, the Gophers picked up their first two WCHA wins of the season – ending what was nearly the team’s worst start in conference competition at 0-4-0.

PLAYERS TO WATCH
Senior forward Ben Gordon: Only senior defenseman Derek Peltier has played more games against the Seawolves (14) than Gordon. But Gordon is Minnesota’s leading scorer when it comes to Alaska-Anchorage. He’s got 16 points (six goals and 10 assists) in 13 games.
Freshman forward Drew Fisher: With Howe out for the series and the Gophers needing every forward they can get their hands on, Fisher has a chance to earn a more permanent spot on Minnesota’s roster.

First, sophomore forward Mike Carman was ruled academically ineligible for the first half of the 2007-2008 season.

Then junior forward Ryan Stoa went down in the opening weekend with a severe knee injury that will keep him out of the lineup all season.

And to top everything, senior forward Mike Howe went down with a concussion last weekend, which will keep him off the ice at least this weekend.

With three forwards already out, the Gophers’ offensive options are limited, Lucia said.

“We only have 12 forwards (left in the lineup), so everybody gets to play,” Lucia said.

The open roster spot will give freshman forward Drew Fisher an opportunity to see some substantial ice time this weekend.

Alaska-Anchorage

(3-2-3, 0-2-2 WCHA) National Ranking: N/A

Alaska-Anchorage Stat
The Seawolves only win in their last 13 games with Minnesota came during last year’s conference playoffs when Alaska-Anchorage beat the Gophers 2-1 in overtime to force a deciding third game, which the Seawolves would lose 3-1.

PLAYERS TO WATCH
Sophomore forward Kevin Clark: Clark leads Alaska-Anchorage with 10 points (four goals and six assists). He’s also ranked seventh in the WCHA in points this season.
Sophomore forward Josh Lunden: With five goals in just eight games, Lunden is tied for the sixth most scores in the conference. He leads the team in goals scored and his three power-play points (two goals and an assist) are second most on the Seawolves squad.

“Obviously, it’s unfortunate that (Howe) went down,” Fisher said. “I’m real excited. It’s a great opportunity for me to establish myself and create a role for myself on this team.”

Fisher has only seen action in four games this season, but his inexperience doesn’t have his teammates concerned according to junior Blake Wheeler.

“He’s going to play hard, we know that for sure,” Wheeler said. “He’s a skilled player Ö hopefully he can come out with a lot of confidence and let his ability take over.”