Pair of Gophers earn conference awards, Huskies rolling

Mark Remme

Two members of Minnesota’s men’s hockey team received individual honors for their play in last weekend’s College Hockey Showcase.

Senior defenseman Mike Vannelli took home Western Collegiate Hockey Association Co-Defensive Player of the Week honors with St. Cloud State senior goaltender Bobby Goepfert, while Gophers freshman center Jim O’Brien was named WCHA Rookie of the Week.

Coach Don Lucia said Vannelli’s play as a defenseman, as well as his leadership as a captain, has helped Minnesota to its 12-1-2 start.

“Mike has elevated his game,” Lucia said. “He is playing by far his best hockey as a Gopher.”

O’Brien scored his first two goals in a Gophers uniform in Minnesota’s 8-2 victory over Michigan on Saturday night.

“It was nice for Jimmy,” Lucia said. “You could see it coming but he just hadn’t had any success on the score sheet, so I think he feels a lot better about his game today.”

Strong WCHA showing

Top-ranked Minnesota and unranked Wisconsin delivered another strong showing against Central Collegiate Hockey Association foes Michigan and Michigan State in the annual College Hockey Showcase.

The Gophers earned wins against the Spartans and Wolverines, while Wisconsin went 1-1 and ended its current six-game losing skid with a win over Michigan State on Saturday.

With the 3-1 mark on the weekend, the WCHA duo added to its dominance in the showcase over the past four years.

Since collectively going 0-3-1 against the Spartans and Wolverines in 2002-2003, Minnesota and Wisconsin have racked up an impressive 13-2-1 record in the past four years.

“It goes either way,” Lucia said. “You get a little puck-luck here and there and a hot goaltender like (senior goaltender) Kellen (Briggs), who has been very good – beating Michigan four times (in his career).”

Badgers back on track

It doesn’t get much uglier for a defending national champion.

Before playing host to Michigan State on Saturday in the tail end of the two-game College Hockey Showcase, Wisconsin had lost six straight games.

But, in typical Badgers form, the team rebounded to beat the Spartans, 2-0, largely due to lights-out goaltending.

The only difference is Saturday’s shutout came thanks to Wisconsin’s backup netminder, sophomore Shane Connelly – not All-American senior Brian Elliot.

Connelly steered away all 19 Michigan State shots in front of 14,120 at Kohl Center, and delivered a much-needed victory for the reeling defending champs.

Coach Mike Eaves told The Capital Times the team was at the point where it did not matter who was in net, and Connelly was part of the winning formula on Saturday.

Huskies move up

St. Cloud State showed its grit three weeks ago by handing Minnesota two ties, something no other team has been able to do during the Gophers’ 14-game unbeaten streak.

And, for the 10th-ranked Huskies, that was only the beginning.

St. Cloud State swept Minnesota-Duluth on the road last weekend, thanks to timely scoring and solid goaltending from senior netminder Bobby Goepfert.

“Early on, Bobby was a victim of a few bad shots here and there,” coach Bob Motzko said. “But his play was strong, his demeanor was strong, and it was only a matter of time where he would get more confidence.”

That same combination has contributed to the Huskies’ 4-0-3 record over its last seven games, and, consequently, the team is tied with Denver for second in the conference.

In order to keep that streak intact, St. Cloud State must win in Houghton, Mich., this weekend. Michigan Tech owns a mediocre 6-4-2 record, but has been unbeatable at home, earning a 4-0-1 mark at John J. MacInnes Ice Arena.

“We’ve been pretty decent on the road and one of our successful things is we’ve been,” Motzko said. “We need to stay out of the penalty box and need to win the special teams battle.”