Men’s hockey pre-game report: Gophers vs. No. 20 Minn. Duluth

Max Sanders

The tough competition to begin the year continues for the Gophers, who will play a two-game series against the team that ended their 2008-09 season.

Minnesota will face Minnesota Duluth for the first time since last year’s WCHA Final Five play-in game, when the Bulldogs beat the Gophers 2-1 ending their season.

For the Gophers, after switching their lineup every game through the season’s first four series, head coach Don Lucia seems to have settled upon his current lineup, as it has remained virtually untouched for the past two weekends.

Minnesota Offensive First Line:

Left Wing-Mike Hoeffel

Center-Jordan Schroeder

Right Wing-Nico Sacchetti

The first line has played admirably thus far, gaining a combined 17 points on the season. Hoeffel leads the team with five goals. Schroeder scored his first two goals of the season in last weekend’s series against Bemidji State, stopping a 14-game scoreless streak. The sophomore now has seven points on the season and continues to play solid. Even before Schroeder scored the goals he was consistenly making plays and setting teammates up with quality passes, evidenced by his five assists. When Jay Barriball went down in practice with a season-ending knee injury, many wondered who Lucia would plug in on the first line to take the senior’s spot. Sacchetti ended up getting the call, and has played solid hockey with three points coming by way of one goal and two assists on the season.

Second Line:

Left Wing-Tony Lucia

Center-Patrick White

Right Wing-Zach Budish

Tony Lucia has unquestionably been the best offensive threat for Minnesota thus far. The senior not only scores, but puts pucks in net when they are most needed, evidenced by his two short-handed goals and a critical goal early in the second game against Wisconsin. After a forgettable sophomore year, Patrick White has rebounded early in his junior season. White scored the first two power play goals for the Gophers this season, and has six points. Zach Budish has been the most impactful freshman for the Gophers. The Edina native has seemed to thrive in the second line, scoring three goals, including a two-goal effort against Wisconsin.

Remaining Offensive Lines:

Third Line:

Left Wing-Mike Carman

Center-Taylor Matson

Right Wing-Josh Birkholz

Fourth Line:

Left Wing-Jake Hansen

Center-Nick Larson

Right Wing-Ryan Flynn

Notes:

Carman also ended a long scoring streak, with a third period goal against Bemdiji State Saturday snapping an 18-game scoreless drought. Matson is still searching for his first goal on the year. In 23 games the sophomore has one career goal. Ryan Flynn returns to the lineup after missing last Sunday’s game with a leg injury. Lucia said Wednesday Flynn is likely to play, but will likely only play in one game, so look for the senior captain to rest and be on the bench for tomorrow night’s game.

Minnesota Defensive First Line:

Left-Aaron Ness

Right-David Fischer

Second Defensive Line:

Left-Cade Fairchild

Right-Brian Schack

Third Defensive Line:

Left-Kevin Wehrs

Right-Seth Helgeson

Notes:

The second weekend with just six healthy defensemen, the lack of bench players showed in Sunday’s efforts as they allowed six goals against the Beavers. Perhaps due to fatigue, the Gophers just didn’t put up a fight Sunday on the defensive effort, allowing Bemidji to use its speed to constantly have man-advantages and odd-man rushes. Against a Minnesota Duluth team that has a vaunted offense, the Gophers will need a solid effort both nights from their defensemen if they want a shot at earning key points against a conference rival.

Goalie:

Alex Kangas.

Lucia made it abundantly clear in Wednesday’s press conference that Kangas is his guy. The platoon of Kangas-Patterson seemed to just be an early season situation to allow Patterson to gain game experience and keep Kangas fresh. Last weekend Kangas played extremely well Saturday but was equally dreadful Sunday, getting benched in favor of Patterson in the second period before returning in the third. The junior has had an up and down year, and as Kangas goes the Gophers go. Against a team as lethal as the Bulldogs, Kangas will undoubtedly get a workout and will have to play solid hockey to give his offense a chance to remain in contention.

Minnesota Duluth Offensive First Line:

Left Wing-Cody Danberg

Center-Jack Connolly

Right Wing-Mike Connolly

What makes the Bulldogs so dangerous is how they can beat you. They have four forwards with at least 13 points, and have scoreres on virtually every line. Unrelated, Mike and Jack Connolly have already combined for 31 points on the young season and lead the Minnesota Duluth first line.

Minn. Duluth Offensive Second Line:

Left Wing-Rob Bordson

Center-Travis Oluksuk

Right Wing-Justin Fontaine

Just as lethal as the Bulldog’s first line, the second line features reigning Western Collegiate Hockey Assocation offensive player of the week Justin Fontaine. The nation’s leader in goals scored with 11, Fontaine posted four goals last Saturday in an 8-1 thrashing of Michigan Tech.

Minn. Duluth Defensive First Line:

Left-Scott Kishel

Right-Brday Lamb

Goalie:

Kenny Reiter, Brady Hjelle

The Bulldogs also have a two-goalie system. Playing the first game is Kenny Reiter. The sophomore has played in five games so far and is 2-2-0 with a save percentage of .907 and a goals against average of 2.33. Playing Saturday is Brady Hjelle. Also a sophomore, Hjelle has played in eight games and is 5-2-1 with a save percentage of .903 and a goals against average of 2.97.

 

Final Notes:

This weekend’s series will be won or lost on special teams. The Bulldogs enter the series with an unheard of 22 power play goals. Minimizing Minnesota Duluth’s opportunites to get the man-advantage are key for the Gophers if they hope to remain in contention. Minnesota will also need to capitalize on power plays of its own, and will hope to set the tone early in hopes of keeping the vaunted Minnesota Duluth offense in check.