The temperature and calendar say it’s November, but what transpired in October on the Minnesota hockey scene gave us a first impression on what to expect for the 2019-20 season. It’s a mixed bag of successes, disappointments and teams looking to improve. Here’s a snapshot:
* Wild: We knew that new General Manager Bill Guerin and coach Bruce Boudreau would face some early challenges, especially with a road-loaded schedule and a team with ill-fitting parts. The results might be worse than predicted, with the team sitting at 4-9 overall and 1-8 on the road. Though a three-game home win streak shows some promise, that come-from-ahead, 6-3 loss at Dallas on Tuesday gave a look at all the team’s warts. The Wild already has a minus-15 goal differential. With eight of the team’s 15 November games on the road, that stat doesn’t figure to improve. Management doesn’t have to force a strategy of tanking for better draft picks. The tank is finding the Wild.
* Gophers men’s hockey: At 3-3, coach Bob Motzko’s team is about right where many thought it would be through the first three series. The home-and-home set against Minnesota Duluth, especially the 5-2 loss last Friday, showed how much the Gophers must grow to be a contender for an NCAA tournament berth. Minnesota’s next six series include ranked teams in No. 5 Notre Dame, No. 12 Penn State, No. 7 Wisconsin, No. 14 North Dakota and No. 13 Ohio State. It would behoove the Gophers to mature quickly.
* Minnesota’s other Division I men’s teams: Minnesota State (5-0-1) looks like a national contender, and the talented and veteran Mavericks will have chance to show that in March. Minnesota Duluth had a trio of early hiccups against Lowell and Wisconsin, but are you gonna bet against a team that has Scott Perunovich and Hunter Shepard? St. Cloud State, at 1-1-2, hasn’t yet hit its stride. Bemidji State (0-2-2) tied St. Cloud State twice and hung with North Dakota for a game. Key series to watch this month: No. 1 Denver at UMD on Nov. 8-9 and Minnesota State’s visit to the Bulldogs on Nov. 29-30.
* Gophers women’s hockey: After an 8-0 start, the Gophers faced a stiff test at No. 8 Ohio State and settled for a split. The intensity ramps up Saturday and Sunday with a visit from top-ranked Wisconsin, the defending national champion. These teams met six times last year, the final two for the WCHA tournament title and the NCAA championship. So far, signs point to that happening again.
* Whitecaps: With several top players sitting out this season in an effort to bring about a league with better financial conditions, the Whitecaps are 3-3 in defense of their NWHL championship. A sweep at the hands of unbeaten Boston by 3-1 and 5-2 scores shows that Minnesota has some work to do. We’ll know more when the Whitecaps resume play Nov. 23-24 at Buffalo.