Gophers coach Don Lucia expects Vermont to be a formidable nonconference opponent this weekend. The two teams meet for the first time ever at 6 p.m. Friday and 1 p.m. Sunday.
"Lasy year [the Catamounts] didn't have the year they wanted," Lucia said. "But the two previous years they were NCAA tournament teams and a Frozen Four team [in 2009] and the goaltender that is playing took them to the Frozen Four.
"I know they are picked to be in the middle of Hockey East and I know we were picked to be in the middle of the WCHA, so it should be a great matchup."
The Gophers are 4-0-0, Vermont has not played a game yet.
"The goal this weekend is to continue to try to improve on areas that we didn't feel like we performed like we could have last week," Lucia said, "and that is what we have been trying to stress in practice so far."
Expect senior goalie Kent Patterson to start both games for the Gophers..
"Until he needs a break, he won't get one," Lucia said. "Kent is our goalie. Whether he plays every game or most of the games -- he is probably going to be playing most nights. And he has earned that right. And if you ask Kent, he wants to play every night."
"He has been really good," Lucia said. "And he was really good the second half of last year, too. When we climbed our way back in the standings last year [to fifth place], a big part of it was how he played. We felt that Kent would give us a chance to win every night he plays and, so far, he has done his job."
Patterson opened this season with back-to-back shutouts over Sacred Heart, 9-0 and 6-0. He had 20 saves in each games. Last weekend on the road, he beat UMD 5-4 in overtime and 5-4 in regulation. He stopped a career-high 46 shots in each game.
"The work ethic, the patience he has showed in his early years here, he just waited for his chance," said Lucia, when asked what about Patterson has impressed him the most. "He never complained. He was a good team guy. And once he got his opportunity he has run with it. It's a good lesson for everybody. We want it all now, but sometimes you have to wait and pay some dues as a college hockey player, especially in that position more than any other."
Patterson became the Gopher's full-time goalie in the middle of last season when Alex Kangas was sidelined by a hip injury in mid-December.
"Kent is an extremely hard-working kid. He keeps himself in great shape. I don't want to say he is un-emotional, but he is pretty flat-lined in that he never gets too high or gets too low. You look at Kent and you probably wouldn't know whether he had a bad game or a good game after."
Patterson is a second team, all-WCHA goalie last season.
"He should be one of the top goalies in the country this year," Lucia said. "And the better he plays, the better opportunity we are going to have to have a great year."
THE DON SAYS
On his new three-year contract extension: "The media makes more out of it than certainly we do. I knew last spring it was going to happen. It was just a matter of getting around to having the conversations that take place. You talk about it than you don't even worry about it for a month or two. Than, oh, we better talk about it again. That's kind of what takes so long."
On the state of the Gophers' program: "I said long ago we are not happy with where we have been the last couple of years. The goal is to get it back to where we want it to be. ... We haven't been that far away the last couple of years.Last spring, if we had won the first round -- we didn't -- we would have been in the NCAAs." ... The Gophers were swept at Mariucci Arena by Alaska Anchorage in the first round of the WCHA playoffs.
On the present team: "I like our kids this year. I like our work ethic that we have shown. They have been a fun group to be around. When you have a good group that you enjoy being around, as a coach you get excited, too, to get out there with them and help work with them and make them better."
On the strong play of the power play: "I like the makings that we have back there. They have done a nice job. Our entry into the zones has been good. We are winning some faceoffs, whether it is on the power play to start possessions -- you lose it [there] and you have to go back 200 feet to get a puck. We are shooting. We have some guys who are pretty handy. So you have some of the makings of what can be a good power play but we also know that [power plays] are streaky. We are off to a good start but are we creating chances? That's the big thing I want to see from our power play." The Gophers power play was six for nine last weekend against UMD. It's clicking at an NCAA-best 39.1 percent through four games.
On the penalty kill's success: "Our penalty kill is what I was most pleased with over the weekend. It was a real struggle for us last year but now some of the guys we counted to kill last year, especially out front, they have that year of experience and they have done a better job of it so far." The penalty kill is 18 for 20, at 90 percent, which also makes it one of the nation's best.