Eight WCHA teams are playing conference games this weekend. Three are playing nonconference series, all against Hockey East opponents, while Colorado College is idle.
The big series for Gophers fans, of course, is at Mariucci Arena. So let's take a look at the Gophers vs. Catamounts first:
Vermont (0-0-0) at Gophers (4-0-0, 2-0-0): One team has played four games, including two that it won in overtime. The other has not played yet. Big edge to the No. 8/10 Gophers there, especially in first game. Five Gophers have scored at least one point in every game and the U has at least one goal in every period. That's consistency. Goalie Kent Patterson is playing well. He has two shutouts and two 46-save games, ... Vermont will have to rely on senior goalie Rob Madore, who will play in his 100th game on Friday. He hd a 2.98 goals-against average and was the Catamounts' MVP last season. And he has seen everything in college hockey. He played in the Frozen Four as a freshman.Vermont was picked to finish sixth in the 10-team Hockey East. ... Gophers SWEEP
Minnesota Duluth (1-3-0) at Providence (2-0-0): UMD is 14-7-1 all-time vs. the Friars and beat them 5-3 and 7-1 last season at the DECC. The Bulldogs last played the Friars in Rhode Island in November of 1998. Last weekend the Bulldogs outshot the visiting Gophers 100-60 but lost two 5-4 games, the first one in overtime. Travis Oleksuk has a goal in all four games for UMD. But the Bulldogs' goaltending has been shakey. UMD opponents are eight for 18 on power plays (44.4 percent). UMD is below .500 for the first time since the end of the 2007-08 season. ... Providence is the surprise team of Hockey East so far. The Friars have scored 11 goals in two games -- a 5-3 win over Boston University and a 6-4 win over UMass -- and has five players with three points, including junior defenseman Myles Harvey with three goals, two on power plays. Harvey had not scored a goal in 53 games coming into this season. The Friars new coach is Nate Leaman. Last season he was at Union, the team that UMD beat 2-0 in an East Regional semifinal. Providence was picked to finish 10th in the coaches' preseason Hockey East poll. ... SPLIT
New Hampshire (0-3-0) at St. Cloud State (1-3-0, 0-0-0): The Huskies are coming off 5-2 and 3-2 losses at Northern Michigan. Jared Festler has a goal for the Huskies in each of the past three games and has six points total. Team captain Drew LeBlanc has a four-game points streak; he has one goal and four assists and has 90 career points. ... New Hampshire was picked to finish third in Hockey East, but has lost three conference games to start the season, falling to Boston University 5-0, Northeastern 4-0 and Boston College 5-1. The Wildcats outshot BC 40-25. Coach Dick Umile, in his 22th season at N.H., remains stuck at 299 conference wins. But he would like any win at this point. ... SPLIT
After two weekends, WCHA teams are 14-12-2 in 28 nonconference games. They are 7-0-0 against Atlantic Hockey, 4-6-0 vs. the CCHA, 2-4-1 vs. Hockey East and 1-2-1 vs. the ECAC.
Inside College Hockey (INCH) recently rated the top recruiting classes. The Gophers' class, led by forwards Kyle Rau and Seth Ambroz and defenseman Ben Marshall, was rated No. 9.
Miami was rated No. 1, North Dakota No. 2 and Denver No. 5.
Rau was rated No. 9 among forwards, Marshall No. 5 among defensemen. Vermont also had two defensemen in th top 20: No. 13 Mike Paliotta and No. 19 Nick Luukko.
* The Independent Scouting Service recently ranked the top prospects for the 2012 NHL draft. Defenseman Brady Skjei, a Gophers recruit, was No. 29. The 6-3, 203-pound Skjei plays for the under-18 U.S. national team in Ann Arbor, Mich.