Jason Gonzalez has covered an array of sports at all levels over the last nine years. He learned ice hockey, however, long before — during the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, Utah (his hometown). He got a close up look of legendary Gophers alum Herb Brooks and other Minnesota hockey greats. Jason has been with the Star Tribune since 2012.

Follow Jason on Twitter @JGonStrib

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Pregame: Goaltender Wilcox 'day-to-day,' Lehr in net for Gophers

Posted by: Jason Gonzalez Updated: February 26, 2015 - 6:45 PM

The Gophers will be without standout junior goaltender Adam Wilcox for Thursday night's series opener against Michigan State. Freshman Nick Lehr will make his first career start in the net.

Coach Don Lucia said Wilcox is "day-to-day," but didn't offer any more details on the health of the reigning Big Ten MVP. 

Wilcox had only given up 11 goals over the last six games and held opponents below two goals in five of the six, including a shutout of Michigan's nation-best offense. 

His absence doesn't come at a good time as the Gophers are fighting to defend their Big Ten regular-season championship. Michigan State is also an opponent that has given the Gophers problems over the past two years, especially in shootouts. 

Three of the six games the team's have played since the formation of the hockey conference have gone to overtime and eventually required shootouts. Each time the Spartans won the shootout and claimed the extra point in the Big Ten standings.

The Gophers are 0-5 in conference shootouts since joining the Big Ten, but despite the lack of success Lucia said the team isn't spending extra time practicing their skills for the postgame showcase. He's more concerned about refining the penalty kill or other areas of the team's game.

The Gophers showed signs of improvement during their last shootout at Wisconsin a month ago. The teams went seven rounds before the Badgers pulled away for the extra point. 

Every point has extra value with three weeks in the regular season remaining and four teams within two points of first place in the conference standings. The Gophers' three shootout losses this season equate to three lost points, the value of a Big Ten victory. 

Michigan State goaltender Jake Hildebrand has a good track record against the Gophers and will play a big role in stealing any points in the Big Ten race this week.

"Hildebrand has had a great career and he's having another outstanding season," Lucia said. "I like [the Spartans'] D-score. They're a tremendous shot-blocking team. ... We know goals are going to be at a premium."

The Gophers and Spartans will be in BTN's spotlight all Thursday night. The men's basketball teams open up the night of coverage at 6 p.m. and the men's hockey programs follow with the 8:12 p.m. start. Gophers hockey continues to play a big role in BTN's winter doubleheaders that feature different sports from the same university. 

• The Gophers are 6-1-1 over their last eight games and have climbed back into the rankings and playoff picture thanks to the revival of the senior class. Read about the six veteran's run of success and watch video of coach Don Lucia and senior forward Seth Ambroz previewing this weekend's series. 

• Series Preview: No. 15 Gophers vs. Michigan State
8:12 p.m. Thursday and 8:12 p.m. Friday at Mariucci Arena
TV/live stream: BTN and BTN2Go both nights; 107.1-FM on Thursday and 1500-AM on Friday.

Minnesota (17-10-3, 8-3-3 Big Ten): The Gophers know they control their destiny in the Big Ten race entering the three remaining regular-season series. Each of the top four teams split last weekend, keeping the standings stuck with the Gophers and Michigan tied for first place and Michigan State and Penn State just two points behind. The Gophers, however don’t need help from anyone to defend their title, they just need to win and are hoping that a home-ice advantage in four of the last six games will help them. They continue to get production throughout the lineup with the seniors contributing in a big way. Four of their five goals against Penn State last weekend were scored by seniors. The Gophers opened Big Ten play with a win and tie that ended in a shootout loss at Michigan State in early December.

For more on Michigan State and it's hockey goaltender, read the full series preview.

• Gophers' Thursday lines
Forwards (left wing, center, right wing)
Leon Bristedt, Kyle Rau, Hudson Fasching
Sam Warning, Travis Boyd, Seth Ambroz
Taylor Cammarata, Justin Kloos, Vinni Lettieri
 A.J. Michaelson, Christian Isackson, Jack Glover

Defensemen (left, right)
Brady Skjei, Ryan Collins
Mike Reilly, Jake Bischoff
Ben Marshall, Michael Brodzinski

Goaltenders
Nick Lehr, Ryan Coyne

Three Gophers women's hockey standouts named Patty Kazmaier Award finalists

Posted by: Jason Gonzalez Updated: February 26, 2015 - 1:25 PM

A trio of Gophers women’s hockey standouts were named finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award the USA Hockey Foundation announced on Thursday.

Junior forward Hannah Brandt, sophomore forward Dani Cameranesi and senior defenseman Rachel Ramsey are among the 10 finalists. Warroad, Minn., native and North Dakota junior goaltender Shelby Amsley-Benzie is also on the list of candidates considered for women’s college hockey’s top player award.

Brandt leads the Gophers with 62 points (27 goals, 35 assists). Cameranesi is second in scoring with 55 points (21 goals, 34 assists). Ramsey leads a defensive core that is giving up just 1.20 goals per game and also plays an offensive role with 31 points (eight goals, 23 assists).

The winner will be announced on March 21 at the McNamara Alumni Center as part of the women’s Frozen Four hosted by Minnesota at Ridder Arena. The last Gophers women’s hockey star to win the award was Amanda Kessel in 2013. The last Minnesota native to win was Krissy Wendell in 2005.
 

2015 Patty Kazmaier Award Top 10 finalists

Shelby Amsley-Benzie

University of North Dakota

G

Junior (redshirt)

Hannah Brandt

University of Minnesota

F

Junior

Dani Cameranesi

University of Minnesota

F

Sophomore

Alex Carpenter

Boston College

F

Junior

Kendall Coyne

Northeastern University

F

Junior

Brianne Jenner

Cornell University

F

Senior

Emily Pfalzer

Boston College

D

Senior

Marie-Philip Poulin

Boston University

F

Senior

Rachel Ramsey

University of Minnesota

D

Senior

Haley Skarupa

Boston College

F

Junior

Gophers continue to rise in college hockey rankings

Posted by: Jason Gonzalez Updated: February 23, 2015 - 2:48 PM

The Gophers continue to improve their standing in the college hockey polls, jumping two spots to No. 15 in the USCHO rankings on Monday.

Their seven-game unbeaten streak was snapped Saturday night with a 4-3 overtime loss to Penn State, but the Gophers won the series opener 2-1 and settled for the split. The Gophers were alone at the top of the Big Ten standings after Friday night's victory, however Penn State's overtime rally and wins by Michigan and Michigan State on Saturday kept the standings stuck where they were a week ago.

The Gophers and Michigan share first place, and Penn State and Michigan State are just two points behind with three weekends remaining in the regular season.

Michigan fell to No. 17 after splitting with Ohio State, and Penn State continues to receive top 20 votes.

North Dakota remains at No. 1 with Minnesota State, Michigan Tech, Boston University and Miami rounding out the top five. Minnesota Duluth is No. 6. 

The Gophers also continue to improve in the PairWise rankings and are now tied for 10th. If they can settle inside the top 10 entering the Big Ten tournament, they should be able to secure an at-large bid for the NCAA tournament.

They return to Mariucci Arena this week for a Thursday-Friday series against Michigan State. 

Complete USCHO men's poll, the top 20 results, the PairWise rankings, and Big Ten results and standings

• Single-session tickets for the WCHA Final Five are now available for the league's championship tournament at Xcel Energy Center, March 20-21. 

Tickets are $35 and Friday's session includes both semifinal games. Saturday's session includes the Broadmoor Trophy championship game. Two-day packages are $69. Get more details and your tickets here

Rau, Wilcox pick up Big Ten hockey weekly honors

Posted by: Jason Gonzalez Updated: February 17, 2015 - 12:42 PM

Kyle Rau’s four goals and Adam Wilcox’s impressive effort in the net earned the Gophers a pair of Big Ten hockey weekly honors the conference announced on Tuesday.

Rau picked up the Big Ten Second Star of the Week after scoring three goals on three shots for the hat trick in Friday’s 6-2 victory over ranked Michigan, and then added an open-net goal late in Saturday's game to secure a 2-0 victory and the series sweep.

The senior forward also recorded his 150th career point over the weekend and ends a two-year drought without a hat trick.

Wilcox was the Third Star of the Week after holding Michigan’s nation-best offense to two goals through two games. Wilcox made 21 saves in Friday’s win and shut out the Wolverines with 26 saves on Saturday. It was the first time this season Michigan, averaging 4.21 goals per game entering the series, had been held scoreless.

The junior goaltender finished the weekend with a 1.00 goals against average and .959 save percentage. He leads the Big Ten with four shutouts this season and picked up his 11th career shutout.

Michigan State sophomore forward Mackenzie MacEachern was the First Star of the Week.

The Gophers travel to Penn State this weekend for their first of two remaining series against the Nittany Lions. Penn State is only two points out of first place in the Big Ten standings

Six-game unbeaten streak propels Gophers back into college hockey polls

Posted by: Jason Gonzalez Updated: February 16, 2015 - 1:40 PM

The Gophers climbed back into the USCHO top 20 on Monday, ending an extended absence from the college hockey polls. They're ranked No. 17 after sweeping then-No. 12 Michigan and its nation-best offense last weekend at Mariucci Arena.

Three weeks ago, the Gophers fell out of the USCHO poll for the first time since April 2011. Since then, they're on a six-game unbeaten streak and have climbed from the bottom of the Big Ten standings into a first-place tie with Michigan. 

The Wolverines dropped to No. 15 after losing for just the fourth and fifth time in their last 19 games. Penn State dropped from the rankings after being swept by Michigan State, leaving just two Big Ten members in the polls. The Gophers travel to Penn State for two games this weekend. 

Minnesota State fell from the top spot following a tie and loss to Alaska, bumping North Dakota back to No. 1. The Mavericks, Boston University, Michigan Tech and Nebraska Omaha round out the top five. Only two of the top 10 teams avoided a loss last weekend. 

The Gophers remain at No. 13 in the PairWise rankings, the poll based off the formula that will determine the 16-team NCAA tournament field. Minnesota State is No. 1 and Minnesota Duluth No. 4.

Complete USCHO men's poll, the top 20 results, the PairWise rankings, and Big Ten results and standings

Friday replay: Gophers skate with purpose, show off the skill that fans have been waiting for in 6-2 upset of No. 12 Michigan, read Friday night's game story and postgame blog. Watch postgame video of Gophers senior forward Kyle Rau, junior defenseman Mike Reilly and coach Don Lucia.

Saturday replay: Gophers sweep No. 12 Michigan fueled by Adam Wilcox's revival, move into first-place tie in Big Ten standings, read Saturday night's game story and postgame blog. Watch postgame video of Gophers junior goaltender Adam Wilcox, senior forward Seth Ambroz and coach Don Lucia.

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