Playing its best hockey of the season, Minnesota (12-10-2; 7-7-2 WCHA) will face its second straight test of the second-half as they take on red-hot St. Cloud State (14-7-3; 9-5-2 WCHA). After opening the yaer 5-6-2, the No. 12 Huskies have been on fire, going 9-1-1 over their last 11 games. St. Cloud State are led by senior Ryan Lasch and junior Garrett Roe. Lasch is the team’s goal-leader with 11, and Roe tops the team in points with 22.
For Minnesota, they enter the weekend on a streak of their own, going 7-1-1 over their last nine games. A key cog in the Gophers offensive output, junior Mike Hoeffel, is out with mononucleosis and will not return until the series against Denver beginning on February 12. The absence of the team’s top goal scorer means even more pressure will be put on the first line, anchored by red-hot transfer Jacob Cepis. The junior has four goals in six games as a Gopher, none bigger than last weekend’s equalizer with two minutes remaining in Friday’s overtime tie against the Sioux. If Minnesota is to keep its streak going, it will no doubt need to continue to receive the play-making, goal-scoring prowess of their 5-foot, 8-inch left winger.
Stat of the night: 2. For the third straight game this is the key number to tonight’s game. The Gophers are 12-0-0 when holding opponents to two goals or fewer, and 0-10-2 when opponents score three or more goals. Junior Alex Kangas appears to be playing his top hockey of the season after a rocky start, capped with a brilliant 35-save effort in last Saturday’s 5-1 thrasing of North Dakota. Kangas along with the defense will need to limit the Huskies chances on net if the Gophers want to have a strong chance at earning two points.
Western Collegiate Hockey Association Conference outlook:
What makes this weekend so critical for both teams is how close the stanidngs are from No. 1 to No. 7. With a sweep, Minnesota would move up three spots in the standings to at least tie St. Cloud State at No. 4. Wisconsin, who also currently sits at No. 4 has a two-game series at the Kohl Center against current No. 2 Denver. For St. Cloud, a sweep would distance themselves from the competition and give the Huskies a serious chance a the conference title.
Minnesota Offensive First Line:
Left Wing-Jacob Cepis
Right Wing-Zach Budish
Notes: Filling in for the sick Hoeffel on the second line is Ryan Flynn, who moves up from the fourth to second line and is playing left wing. At center on the second line is Mike Carman, and Patrick White finds himself on the right wing.
Filling in for Flynn’s spot on the fourth line is Joe Miller. The sophomore has played in just nine games this season and has yet to earn a point.
Minnesota Defensive First Line:
St. Cloud State Offensive First Line:
St. Cloud State Defensive First Line: