Men’s hockey pre-game: Minnesota vs. Alaska Anchorage

Max Sanders

Tonight the Gophers men’s hockey team (0-3-1) will host Alaska Anchorage (3-3-0) in the first of a two-game Friday/Sunday set, in which Minnesota will try and earn its first win of the 2009-10 season.

Heading into this weekend the Gophers have more questions than answers, and all are focused around one aspect: putting the puck in the net.

Having not scored a goal in six periods of regulation play, Minnesota simply needs its forwards to start stepping up and putting goals on the board, or this young season could start to slip away quickly.

Head coach Don Lucia has juggled the lineup throughout the first two weekends, trying to find a combination that can produce chemistry and goals. So far, those efforts have been in vain, and tonight Lucia is returning to an almost identical starting lineup as the one seen on opening night.

Minnesota First Line:

Left Wing-Mike Hoeffel

Center-Jordan Schroeder

Right Wing-Jay Barriball

Perhaps a good omen for this weekend’s series, senior Jay Barriball has apparently recovered from an injury that kept him sidelined for most of last weekend’s series vs. Denver. Losing Barriball certainly hurt the Gophers in the goal department but his return and subsequent pairing with Schroeder is good news for Minnesota fans.

Defense:

Left-Nick Leddy

Right-David Fischer

Arguably the lone bright spot of the Gophers early season has been their defensive play. Despite changing the lineup virtually every game, Lucia has remained steadfast with the Leddy-Fischer defensive first line.

Goalie:

Alex Kangas

In goal for the Gophers is Alex Kangas. While Lucia has voiced support for Kangas, the junior is allowing 3.02 goals per game. Kangas has faced increased shots and the nation’s top talent in the opening two weeks and has yet to match the play of his stellar freshman year. During Wednesday’s media day Kangas expressed the desire to be the permanent starting goalie for the Gophers instead of the current two-goalie platoon with Kent Patterson. If Kangas hopes to make that desire a reality, he must start putting together a string of strong efforts in between the net, starting tonight.

Alaska Anchorage First Line:

Left Wing-Tommy Grant

Center-Josh Lunden

Right Wing-Kevin Clark

Clark and Grant are the leaders of a Seawolves team that split its series last weekend against North Dakota. Both forwards currently share the team lead with six points, and will present a sufficient challenge for Kangas and the Minnesota defense tonight.

Defense/Goalie:

Left-Lee Baldwin

Right-Jared Tuton

Goalie-Bryce Christianson

 

Final Pre-game note: Multiple Minnesota players acknowledged this week that while the team may not necessarily be feeling a sense of urgency, they clearly need to start putting together three or four point weekends. Minnesota has struggled out of the gate, but they also have faced two of the nation’s elite talents in North Dakota and Denver. A two-win or win and tie weekend over a dangerous yet vulnerable Alaska Anchorage team could ease the pain of the last two weekend’s and head the Gophers off in a better direction. However, if Minnesota experiences a repeat of last weekend’s performance, it could signal the beginning of a very long year for Gophers men’s hockey.