It's Vermont weekend. Time to get the game faces on at Mariucci.
The Gophers and Vermont split two very different games at Mariucci last season. The Catamounts looked helpless on Friday night and were drubbed 6-0 the first night.
Then, after a day off because of a football conflict at TCF Stadium, Vermont had extra time to simmer and stew and came out and beat the Gophers 5-4 on Sunday afternoon.
That's why you don't bet on college hockey.
In the first game on Oct. 21, the Gophers' top line dominated. Nick Bjugstad had two goals and Kyle Rau and Zach Budish one apiece. Vermont had just 17 shots on goal as the Gophers went to 5-0-0. It was the first meeting ever between the two teams.
So what changed Sunday? The Gophers led 3-1 early in the second period, but Vermont took a 4-3 lead with three goals, two on power plays, in the last five minutes of the second period.
The Gophers took some bad penalties, which changed the game, Gophers coach Don Lucia said at the time. Minnesota committed 11 minor penalties.
The U has played three non-conference games -- two with Michigan State, one with Canisius -- and has five nonconference games left, two with Vermont, one with Air Force and Boston College in the Mariucci Classic and one with Notre Dame.
They are 3-0 so far against non-league teams. The Gophers were only .500 in nonconference games last season (4-4-1), Lucia said during his weekly radio show on Monday, which put a lot of pressure on the Gophers to win WCHA games late last season because of how those non-conference losses hurt the U in the PairWise ratings.
Late last season the Gophers were leading the WCHA but still a bubble team to get into the NCAA tournament.
While most college hockey ratings are meaningless, to borrow a thought from colleague Mike Russo, the PairWise are anything but. The NCAA, without openly saying so, uses the same guidelines the PariWise ratings use to picks its at-large teams for the NCAA tournament.
So it behooves the Gophers to keep winning in Vermont. It's the last weak nonconference opponent the Gophers have.
Air Force has been a power in Atlantic Hockey in recent years.
Boston College? "Everybody has been chasing BC the last 10 years, they have just been on phenomenal run," Lucia said. "Notre Dame is leading the CCHA right now."
Vermont played Friday and Sunday this past weekend -- losing to Boston University 6-2, beating Northeastn 3-2 -- and has a game Tuesday at UMass. So when Vermont (2-4-2, all in Hockey East) plays the Gophers, it will be be five games in nine days for the Catamounts.
Chris McCarthy had two goals for Vermont against Northeastern and goalie Brody Hoffman made 33 stops.
The Gophers will be able to take all their players on the road trip to Vermont. In WCHA, traveling parties are limited to 22 players. Lucia said it is hard to leave some players behind for conference series.
BADGERS SERIES PREDICTABLE
Lucia said he expected low-scoring games with Wisconsin -- and the series turned out that way. The teams tied 2-2 on Friday, the Gophers won 3-1 Saturday with an empty-netter at the end.
He said the Gophers moved the puck better the second night, played well defensively and goalie Adam Wilcox was terrific at times.
"We've just got to figure out a way to score to score one more goal a game, five on five," Lucia said. "When we can start to do that, we can take a big step as a group."
* Lucia said Wilcox is playing even better than he expected. He said Wilcox is patient, athletic and competitive.
* There will be a few Thursday-Friday and Sunday-Monday series in the Big Ten Conference because the Big Ten Network is looking for live programming, Lucia said, "but nothing has been decided."
* Lucia said the ideal would be to have two more hockey schools in the Big Ten Conference "so we could have an eight-team league and have more conference games." The Big Ten, when it debuts in 2013-14, will have six schools and everyone will play 20 conference games.
Neither of the two schools joining the Big Ten in the near future, Maryland and Rutgers, have hockey programs.
* Lucia's weekly show has moved to the Beacon Restaurant at the Commons Hotel on campus.
* Injury update: Second line left wing Sam Warning took part in some of Monday's practice. Lucia said the hope is Warning will be ready to play against Nebraska Omaha at Mariucci in a week and a half. ... Backup goalie Mike Shibrowski should be able to return to practice after the Christmas break.
* Lucia said he would like to see players like forwards Christian Isackson and Nate Condon score more goals.
THE DON ON DU
"The scoring that [the Pioneers] are doing, that's what I am surprised at," Lucia said. "When you look at the losses they had off of last year's team, the big question mark was who was going to do the scoring? Everybody seems to be scoring for them.
"They are the highest scoring team in our league. They have got outstanding goaltending. And a very good defensive corps."
Denver is a league-leading 7-1-0 for 14 points. In second are the Gophers, the defending MacNaughton Cup champions at 4-2-2 for 10. Nebraska Omaha, whom the Gophers play in two weeks, is alone in third at 4-1-1 for 9 points.
But when looking at early-season standings, the key is how tough of a schedule have teams played.
Denver has not played a real tough schedule. It's four opponents are 12-12-0. But that's arduous compared to the Gophers' foes. They are 5-15-4.
Minnesota has played two teams tied for 10th in the WCHA (Minnesota State Mankato and Alaska Anchorage), one in eighth (Wisconsin) and one in seventh (Michigan Tech). Nobody in the top half of the conference.
Let's look at one more team, Nebraska Omaha. The red Mavericks have only played six conference games -- two fewer than most teams -- and their WCHA opponents are 4-13-3. The tough part of their schedule is ahead, too.
Here is a look at the record and winning percentages of the opponents of the top six WCHA teams:
St. Cloud St. 11-7-2 .600
Colorado Col. 9-8-3 .525
Denver 12-12-0 .500
North Dakota 4-8-4 .375
Neb Omaha 4-13-3 .275
Gophers 5-15-4 .272
VISITORS STILL AHEAD
Visiting teams still are winning more games than homes teams in WCHA games this season. Last weekend, it came out a draw 3-3-2. But overall, visitors have a two-game edge, 18-16-8.
Vis. Home Ties
Week 2 of season: 1 - 1 - 0 (Gophers at Michigan Tech)
Week 3 2 - 5 - 3 (Three ties prompt shootout talk)
Week 4 6 - 2 - 0 (Road sweeps by CC and UNO)
Week 5 4 - 5 - 1 (One road sweep, by Denver at MSU Mankato)
Week 6 2 0 2
Week 7 3 3 2 (Five overtime games, but in three somebody scores)
Totals 18 - 16 - 8