The Gophers men’s hockey team has had excessive troubles on the blue line.
The deterioration of senior Bill Kohn’s play has been a primary factor. Kohn currently leads the team with 25 penalties and is second with 61 penalty minutes.
The inconsistent play of the two freshmen — Jordan Leopold and Nick Angell — has added to the Gophers’ (10-16-6 overall, 8-11-3 in the WCHA) defensive instability.
However, a hole or two might be filled with the insertion of sophomore Erik Westrum into the defensive lineup.
“Westrum’s presence back there was a big help for us,” Woog said after their 5-1 win over Alaska. “He helped us come out of our (own) zone.”
But the place where Westrum might help the most is as a complement to Kohn.
The lone senior on the defensive roster is in the midst of his worst statistical season since his freshman year, scoring only one goal and assisting on three others. But what might be more disappointing than the numbers is the fact that he has been inconsistent with his puck-handling ability and defensive spacing in the Gophers’ own zone.
But Westrum’s play has seemed to shore up Kohn’s game.
“(Kohn) had a nice night tonight,” Woog said. “(Westrum) helps him a little bit because he can slide up, take the pass. Westrum’s a good stick handler and will be a physical player.”
Westrum has been a forward for most of his career, but he is no stranger to the blue line. He spent some extended time on the defensive unit last year, along with being on the blue line this year since the second game of the Colorado College series two weeks ago.
Gophers senior Mike Anderson went through a whirlwind of emotions during Minnesota’s 5-1 win.
Anderson broke out of a goal-scoring slump when he netted the first goal of the game against Alaska-Anchorage. It was his first goal since scoring against No. 6 Boston College on Jan. 3.
“I’ll be the first guy to say that I haven’t scored as much in the beginning of the year,” Anderson said. “The point is that you have to do something, and hopefully this is a start.”
But in the second period, he misplayed a pass and gave the puck to Seawolf Chris Pont, who took it the length of the ice and beat goaltender Adam Hauser.
Nicknamed “Sugar” by his teammates, Anderson’s offensive output has not been up to his standards this year.
But whenever he does score, it’s cause for a little celebration by his teammates.
“Shu-gee,” senior Reggie Berg giggled. “Sugar finally got one there. We’re just happy to get the win.”
The Gophers’ final six games will all take place in the state of Minnesota, as their next series will be a home-and-home against St. Cloud State, followed by a road trip to Duluth and a home series against Wisconsin.
With a definite possibility of playing a Minnesota team in the first round of the WCHA playoffs, it is realistic that the next time the Gophers leave the state will be for the NCAA regionals. But that will probably require that Minnesota win the WCHA Final Five at the Target Center.