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Minnesota goes for NCAA-best 20th win vs. Denver

Thursday, 02.09.2012 / 4:18 PM / On Campus

By Michael Blinn - NHL.com Staff Writer

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Minnesota goes for NCAA-best 20th win vs. Denver
Minnesota (19-9-1) at Denver (15-9-4)
Friday, 10 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network

MODERN HISTORY:

Denver: Early on, it looked as if Denver was headed for a roller-coaster season that included some dominant performances (a 10-2 win over Minnesota State) and some not-so-dominant ones (a 7-2 loss to Michigan Tech). After going winless against Minnesota-Duluth in early November, the Pioneers started to put it all together. Wins over Colorado College, Nebraska-Omaha, Princeton, Bemidji State, St. Cloud State, Union and Air Force reasserted them as a dominant force. A loss to Alabama-Huntsville to start off the new year was cause for concern, though the response was a five-game winning streak. Last weekend's series against Colorado College ended with a loss and a tie, and you can bet Denver has their response ready -- taking two from Minnesota could vault them as high as second in the WCHA, a climb that can start on Friday.

NCAA Hockey on NBC Sports Network

  • Boston College @ Vermont, Feb. 10, 7:00 PM
  • Minnesota @ Denver, Feb. 10, 10 PM
  • Dartmouth @ Yale, Feb. 17, 7:00 PM
  • Boston U @ Vermont, Feb. 24, 7:00 PM
  • North Dakota @ Denver, Feb. 24, 7:30 PM
  • Denver @ Neb-Omaha, Mar. 2, 7:30 PM
Minnesota: The Golden Gophers got off to college hockey's fastest start this season, going 9-1 out of the gate. While they've slowed down since then, it hasn't been enough for everyone to catch up. Minnesota has swept weekend series with Sacred Heart, reigning champion Minnesota-Duluth, Alaska-Anchorage, and Minnesota State, as well as splitting with Vermont, Wisconsin and Michigan Tech. They've taken three of four from North Dakota and St. Cloud State on the way to being the top team in the WCHA. Outside the league, however, is where Minnesota has faltered with a 4-4-1 record, including losses to Vermont, Michigan State, Northeastern, and Notre Dame. The good news for the Gophers is that non-conference play is long over. A win over Denver on Friday would make them the NCAA's first 20-win team this season, but more importantly would extend their lead atop the WCHA.

INTRODUCTION TO STATISTICS:

Drew Shore's production atop the Pioneers' lineup (17 goals, 40 points) is nothing new; he was a top-20 scorer last season. What's new is that that Panthers' draft pick has kicked it up a notch this season, ranking among the top-five point-getters in the nation, as well as near the top of all major statistics: goals, assists, and power-play goals. Of course, Denver is far from a one-man team; sophomore Jason Zucker (14 goals, 33 points) came in as a highly-regarded freshman, and his 9 points in seven games since returning from the World Junior Championship shows why. Freshman Joey LaLeggia (10 goals, 29 points) was a hot commodity as a recruit, and his performance on the Pioneers' blue line is proof that he can live up to the hype. Things have gotten sticky in net, however; sophomore incumbent Sam Brittain (1-1-0, 2.02 goals-against average) was out of the lineup until two weeks ago, recovering from offseason knee surgery, and his return could mean trouble for freshman Juho Olkinuora (6-6-3, 2.22 GAA) or junior Adam Murray (8-2-1, 3.09 GAA), who will sit out this weekend due to personal issues. A two-goalie rotation can be a coach's advantage, but a three-man system can cause nightmares.

In Minnesota, it's a completely different story, as senior Kent Patterson (19-9-1, 2.04 GAA) is a one-man show in net. He's played every minute of every game for the Gophers this season, with an NCAA-leading six shutouts. He's received plenty of offensive support from players with pretty familiar names for hockey fans: sophomore Nick Bjugstad (21 goals, 33 points) is the nation's second-leading goal-scorer, while Erik Haula's (11 goals, 30 points) second year has seen an explosive increase across the board. Freshman Kyle Rau (13 goals, 27 points) comes exactly as advertised, while Jake Hansen's senior season has reaped the benefits with a career-best point total (10 goals, 27 points) with eight games still left on the schedule. After playing just 13 games as a freshman, defenseman Nate Schmidt (2 goals, 27 points) has emerged as a top-flight power-play quarterback for Minnesota. There are plenty of reasons why Don Lucia's squad has the second-ranked offense and defense in the country, so expect fireworks at both ends of the ice.

Leaders: Minnesota Golden Gophers Leaders: Denver Pioneers
Nick Bjugstad - 27GP-21G-12A-33Pts Drew Shore - 27GP-17G-23A-40Pts
Erik Haula - 29GP-11G-19A-30Pts Jason Zucker - 24GP-14G-19A-33Pts
Kyle Rau - 27GP-13G-14A-27Pts Joey LaLeggia - 28GP-10G-19A-29Pts
Jake Hansen - 29GP-10G-17A-27Pts Nick Shore - 28GP-7G-17A-24Pts
Nate Schmidt - 29GP-2G-25A-27Pts Luke  Salazar - 27GP-6G-12A-18Pts
Kent Patterson - 19-9-1, 2.04 GAA, .918 SV% Juho Olkinuora - 6-6-3, 3.2.22AA, .902 SV%
Sam Brittain - 1-1-0, 2.02 GAA, .934 SV%
RESEARCH LIBRARY:

Minnesota Golden Gophers Denver Pioneers
Coach: Don Lucia (574-333-91) Coach: George Gwozdecky (563-372-80)
Record: 19-9-1 (15-5-0 WCHA) Record: 15-9-4 (10-6-4 WCHA)
PP: 22.9% (8th) / PK: 84.4% (14th) PP: 23.5% (35th) / PK: 80.9% (35th)
Drafted: Marl Alt (CAR), Seth Helgeson (NJD), Justin Holl (CHI), Ben Marshall (DET), Seth Ambroz (CBJ), Nick Bjugstad (FLA), Travis Boyd (WSH) Zach Budish (NSH), Nate Condon (COL), Jake Hansen (CBJ), Erik Haula (MIN), Christian Isackson (BUF), Nick Larson (WSH), Taylor Matson (VAN), Kyle Rau (FLA), Nico Sacchetti (DAL), Kent Patterson (COL) Drafted: Josiah Didier (MTL), John Lee (FLA), Scott Mayfield (NYI), Paul Phillips (CHI), Beau Bennett (PIT), Zac Larraza (PHX), Drew Shore (FLA), Jason Zucker (MIN), Sam Brittain (FLA)

LANGUAGE REQUIREMENT:


"Players know that he's a good player. They know his assets and what he does well on the ice, and he's still able to have a successful year so far. ... He's very focused and he's very disciplined. If he continues to work the way he has, he's got the mental set-up to continue to improve and hopefully play for us in the National Hockey League one day." -- Minnesota Wild Director of Player Development Brad Bombardir on team prospect and Denver sophomore Jason Zucker.

"Either a big glove save or making a big breakaway save. Any clutch save that gets the crowd going is probably the most exciting. It is always good to make that key save that you need for your team to win." -- Gophers goalie and Avalanche prospect Kent Patterson on what kind of save gives him the biggest rush.

TAKING NOTES:

NHL connections: Minnesota's Nick Bjugstad's uncle Scott is a former NHLer, while Kyle Rau's older brother Chad is a Wild prospect. Sophomore Tom Serratore's cousin Robb Stabuer played for the Los Angeles Kings. Denver forward Larkin Jacobson is the stepson of Ruslan Fedotenko, and Ty Loney's father Troy won two Stanley Cups with the Penguins. Shawn Ostrow is the younger brother of Blue Jackets' prospect Kyle. ... Tale of the Tape: Minnesota has the second-ranked offense at 3.72 goals per game, and the No. 2 defense, giving up just 2.03 goals per game. Denver's offense scores at a 2.46 goals-per-game clip, sixth best in the NCAA. The Gophers are the third-biggest team in college hockey, weighing an average of 193.59 pounds per player. ... Prospecting for Gold: Minnesota's 17 drafted players are the most on any NCAA team -- combined with Denver's nine, the game will feature prospects from 17 different teams. Florida leads the way with five draftees, while Columbus, Washington, Minnesota and Colorado have two each. ... Breaking the Ice: Zucker is the first Nevada native to be drafted by an NHL team. ... Air of Familiarity: Bjugstad, Rau and Zucker were all teammates on the U.S. entry in the 2012 WJC.

Quote of the Day

I came into a team that had 65 points, that was at the bottom of the basement, a team that everybody wrote off as never going to be good. My goal is to go from the very bottom to the very top.

— Forward Brandon Dubinsky on signing a six-year contract extension with the Columbus Blue Jackets