Not to take anything away from the Gophers’ two impressive wins to open the 2012-13 campaign, make no mistake, Michigan State is not the same Spartans team that made last year’s NCAA tournament.
They lost 10 letterwinners, including Hobey Baker finalist Torey Krug. They have 12 new players, including five defenseman.
So despite 5-1 and 7-1 thrashings to open the season (please read the game story on www.startribune.com/gophers
for the particulars), I promise you, the Gophers are not yet going to be awarded the national championship.
Still, this upcoming week, you can bet the Gophers will be the No. 1-ranked team in the country in every poll that exists.
In addition to the Gophers being dominant in every area against the Spartans, defending NCAA champ Boston College was upset tonight by Northeastern to have its 19-game winning streak extinguished.
So that should catapult the Gophers, the top team in last week’s USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll, to the tippy top of the USCHO.com poll.
Tonight, here in Minneapolis, seven Gophers scored goals and 15 had points as freshman Adam Wilcox had to make only 10 saves to win his first college game.
“We had the puck a lot [this weekend],” coach Don Lucia said after his 599th career ‘W.’ “Our D skate well, and they get back to pucks and make a play, so it’s hard to forecheck them. If we made mistakes with the puck, more often than not, it was at the offensive blue line.
“We were clean coming out of our zone.”
Erik Haula had a goal and an assist, Brady Skjei (this kid honestly is terrific and you can read a feature I wrote on him in June here
) scored his first goal and assist of his college career, Kyle Rau had a goal and assist, Christian Isackson had two assists, Justin Holl, a defenseman playing wing most of the night, had two assists, and for the second straight game, captain Zach Budish had two assists.
For the second game in a row, Nick Bjugstad scored the winning goal, this one coming off a beauty Rau setup after Isackson showed impressive patience and poise by stopping short and waiting for Rau to enter the zone.
Isackson, who looks oh-so comfortable alongside Bjugstad and Rau and probably wouldn’t even be there if Connor Reilly didn’t blow out his knee before the season, also set up Rau to open the second when he protected the puck along the wall, won the board battle and sent a pass through his legs to the front of the net after hearing Rau yell for the puck.
The only negative that could probably be said for the weekend is the Gophers power play didn’t really connect. They had a lot of offensive-zone time, but Lucia felt they were trying to be too cute, make too many passes. The one goal they scored tonight came on a five-minute major when Skjei just shot the puck.
But let’s be honest: The power play isn’t exactly a concern with the depth this team has up front and on the back end.
The goalies didn’t see a lot of work this weekend, mostly because the Gophers had the puck a lot. Lucia said they will be tested next weekend at Michigan Tech, if for no other reason than the game will be played on the small ice sheet.
For that reason, the Gophers will practice all week at Ridder to prepare.
Wilcox wasn’t tested a ton, obviously, facing only 11 shots. But he made a heckuva save with the game scoreless 55 seconds in to rob Matt Berry. Haula scored the game’s first goal 30 seconds later.
Wilcox is smooth and aggressive playing the puck – maybe too aggressive. Lucia said there were probably three icings waved off because he came out to play the puck, something the coaches will talk to him about. But Wilcox, like Michael Shibrowski the night before, looked good.
Like I said, this team is deep. I mean, last night defenseman Jake Parenteau played wing and threw his weight around impressively. Tonight, Holl plays wing and gets two assists, and frankly, looked great there.
So it’ll be interesting to see what 22 players Lucia decided to take to Houghton.
Isackson continues to impress. Ryan Reilly looked terrific in his college debut. Skjei and Mike Reilly continue to look outstanding on the back end.
Pretty good stuff so far.
After two games, Budish leads the team with four points. Bjugstad, Haula, Isackson and Rau have three each, while Mike Reilly, Ben Marshall, Seth Ambroz, Nate Condon, Sam Warning, Skjei and Holl have two points each.
The Wild's season opener was scrapped for some reason tonight, but the Houston Aeros dropped their opener, 3-1, to Charlotte. Jonas Brodin scored his first professional goal.
I didn't see the second and third periods, but I watched the first and the Aeros' first line looked to be creating chances, but Justin Peters kept stoning them. Not sure what happened late, but the game was scoreless into the third.
Here were the Aeros lines:
Coyle – Granlund – Zucker
Foucault – Phillips – Fontaine
Bulmer – Larsson - Palmieri
Broda – Rau – McMillan
Brodin - Scandella
Kampfer - Connelly
Bagnall - Cuma
Hackett started in net
Kuemper backed up
How deep are the Aeros? Fredheim, Genoway, McIntyre and Palmer were scratched!