Roman Augustoviz spends Minnesota's winters covering college hockey, specifically the Gophers, and other University of Minnesota sports. During the summer, he writes about the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx, with a dose of U sports sprinkled in. Follow him on Twitter @RomanStrib.
The University of Alaska Anchorage Seawolves sit at the bottom of the WCHA standings. They are 1-10-3, which translates to five points halfway through their conference schedule.
But they are not a pushover.
The Gophers, fresh off wins over the then No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country, Boston College and Notre Dame, have to do more than show up to beat the Seawolves on Friday and Saturday.
Last time Minnesota played UAA in early November, the Gophers won the first game in the 49th state 4-0, tied the second 2-2.
And just this past weekend, Wisconsin, one of the conference's hottest teams, won the first game 5-3 but in the second game sweated out a 1-0 victory over the Seawolves on Saturday in Anchorage.
Derek Lee scored three minutes into the second period for Wisconsin on a breakaway against junior Rob Gunderson.
The Badgers (8-7-5, 4-5-5) are unbeaten in their past eight games (5-0-3). It's the Badgers longest unbeaten streak since 2005-06.
Wisconsin outshot Alaska Anchorage 22-12. The Seawolves had only two shots in the first period, four in the second. They play a defensive style and maybe were even more conservative than usual this game.
Might be a good chance to give backup goalie Mike Shibrowski a start on Friday or Saturday since freshman Adam Wilcox already has played one game this week, beating Notre Dame 4-1 on Tuesday..
Goalie Joel Rumpel got the shutout for the Badgers on Saturday.
Alaska Anchorage has struggled to score goals. UAA has been outscored 44-24 in conference games. The Seawolves are 2-1-1 in nonconference play for an overall record of 3-11-4.
While UAA plays the Gophers at Mariucci this weekend -- Friday's game has a late 8 p.m. start because its on the Big Ten Network -- the Badgers play at Minnesota State, another hot WCHA team. The Mavericks have won 11 of their past 12 games.
The Gophers have one lineup change for the second game of their best-of-three, first-round series with Alaska Anchorage.
Senior Nick Larson is playing left wing on the fourth line, replacing Tom Serratore.
Otherwise, it's the same lineup:
1st line/ Kyle Rau-Nick Bjugstad-Zach Budish ... Bjugey had seven shots on goal Friday
2nd line/ Sam Warning-Erik Haula-Jake Hansen ... Haula has three goals in his last two games ... all three linemates were a plus-2
3rd line/ Nate Condon-Taylor Matson-Seth Ambroz ... Ambroz took an interference penalty which led to UAA's goal on a power play late in the second period
4th line/ Nick Larson-Travis Boyd-Nico Sacchetti ... Larson gives the coaches another strong penalty killer; the Gophers had to kill off seven penalties on Friday
Seth Helgeson-Justin Holl ... Holl blocked three shots on Friday
Ben Marshall-Mark Alt ... Alt had a game-high four blocked shots
Jake Parenteau-Nate Schmidt ... Schmidt has his 31st and 32nd assists of the season on Haula's goals. His 32 assists are the most by a Gophers D-man since Chris Harrington had 33 in 2006-06
Kent Patterson ... Will start his 60th game in a row over two seasons
THREE KEYS TO VICTORY
1. Stay out of the penalty box ... The only time Alaska Anchorage looked dangerous was on the power play. They had seven power plays and had eight shots during 9 minutes and 28 seconds of a man-advantage. In the other 50:32, they had nine shots.
2. Score first. ... The Gophers seem much more comfortable playing with the lead. And if they get ahead, UAA eventually will have to be more aggressive on offense, rather than just sit back.
3. Get the first line going. ... Nick Bjugstad had seven shots on goal, Zach Budish five and Kyle Rau two. If they keep shooting, the goals should come.
When the Gophers took their helmets off for the pregame introductions, they got everyone's attention at Mariucci Arena on Friday.
All the players had dyed their hair blond. UMD did that last year and it worked for the Bulldogs, they won the NCAA championship.
That is the Gophers' goal, too, and they took step one Friday toward reaching it. They edged Alaska Anchorage 2-1 on Erik Haula's two second period goals.
The three stars of the game were:
No. 1: Haula. He scored two even-strength goals at 1:42 and 9:52 of the second period, both at even strength. They were goals No. 16 and 17 for him this season. He was a plus-2 for the game and took only two shots.
No. 2: Nate Schmidt. The sophomore defenseman had the key assist on both of Haula's goals. On the first one he made a pass from one blue line to the other, to send Haula in alone on UAA's goalie. On the second Haula goal, Schmidt hit the right post with a shot and the puck deflected to Haula -- just as planned. Ha.
No. 3: Chris Kamal. The sophomore netminder for the Seawolves stopped 32 shots, including 14 in the second period.
* Nick Bjugstad of the Gophers had a game-high seven shots on net, which almost equaled the eight that UAA had as a team the final two periods.
* Mark Alt blocked four shots and Justin Holl three for the Gophers, who had 13 blocks total.
* UAA was one-for-seven on power plays with eight shots on net; the Gophers were zero-for-two on power plays, with six shots on net, all on one two-minute man-advantage in the second period.
GOPHERS IN NCAAs?
Tim Brule of USCHO.com studies the PairWise ratings more closely than most. So when he says the Gophers have all but clinched a spot in the NCAA tournament this year, it means something.
And that's exactly what he said Saturday after the Gophers' 2-1 win over UAA. He said even if the Seawolves win the next two games, the Gophers probably wouldn't fall enough in the PairWise ratings to be excluded from an at-large bid.
Right now the Gophers are tied for No. 6 in the PairWise ratings, which mimic how the NCAA fills out its 16-team NCAA field. The top 14 or 15 in the final PairWise ratings after the conference tournaments make the NCAAs.
UMD, No. 2 in the PairWise behind Boston College , also will be in the NCAA tournament.
North Dakota is tied for No. 11, so two losses to Bemidji State might put them close to the bubble. The Fighting Sioux beat the Beavers 4-1 Friday.
Also close to the bubble is Denver, which dropped to No. 13 in the PairWise after losing 1-0 to Wisconsin. Another loss and DU's season could be over.
Denver, one of the preseason WCHA favorites, is getting on a roll.
The visiting Pioneers beat Alaska Anchorage 4-2 on Friday for their fourth win in a row. Senior Luke Salazar had one goal and two assists for Denver. Anchorage native Adam Murray stopped 30 shots.
After a week off next weekend, the Gophers play at Denver in what looks more and more like a huge series.
Ty Loney and brothers Nick Shore and Drew Shore had the other goals for DU. Defenseman Joey LaLeggia had two assists.
“We certainly didn’t make it easy for Adam tonight,” DU head coach George Gwozdecky. “Anchorage really drove the net hard and I thought Adam was outstanding. Our top two lines created a lot of offense and it was nice to see Nick Shore and Luke Salazar score goals.”
Matt Bailey and Eric Scheid scored for Alaska Anchorage, which has lost sixth in a row. Rob Gunderson made 22 saves in the loss.
Denver, which was outshot 32-26, went 1-for-4 on the power play and 3-for-3 on the penalty kill.
The Anchorage Daily News story is here.
It's early, but it still has to be exciting for Gophers hockey fans to see their team in first place in the WCHA standings. It has been a while.
After the Gophers swept Alaska Anchorage 5-0 and 3-1 in the 49th state, here is how the top of the standings look:
1, Gophers 4-0-0 8 points
2. Michigan Tech 3-2-1 7
3. Nebraska Omaha 3-1-0 6
Wisconsin 3-3-0 6
And way down there:
9. North Dakota 1-3-0 2
On Saturday, the Gophers' power play was zero for three (with five shots), and they gave up a power play goal but they still won the special teams battle. Nate Condon and Kyle Rau both scored unassisted, short-handed goals. Rau's goal came in the last minute, shooting at an empty net from the red line.
Zach Budish had the other Gophers' goal.
Erik Haula, although pointless on Saturday, continues to lead the nation in points (7-10-17) while Rau is tied for 14th (7-6--13) and Nick Bjugstad (6-6--12) is tied for 18th. Rau has more points than any other freshman.
Goalie Kent Patterson is tied for fourth in winning percentage (7-1-0, .875), is eighth in save percentage (.939) and 13th in goals-against average (1.74).
The Gophers are averaging 5.38 goals per game -- they are the only NCAA team whose average is five goals or more; defensively their 1.75 goals-against average is tied for fifth.
Their power play (35.9 percent) is first if you dismiss Cornell (one for one); their penalty kill (87.5) is 13th.
In a postgame radio interview on Saturday, Gophers coach Don Lucia said he was very happy having four wins in four WCHA road games and then joked about returning home next weekend.
""We have games against somebody -- I forget who," he said.
Later, he said North Dakota lost a lot of outstanding players but .. "Hey, when it is North Dakota and Minnesota, you don't have to say any more than that."
GOALIE THE DIFFERENCE
UAA coach Dave Shyiak, in a postgame interview on live streaming, said Gophers goalie Kent Patterson came up with some big saves. "But if we play like we did in the second and third periods, we will be OK," Shyiak said.
The Gophers outshot the Seawolves 20-4 in the first period and took a 1-0 lead.
"The first period we were really good," Lucia said, "and had a lot of scoring chances. We probably should have been up by more."
UAA finished one for four on power plays with 10 shots.
* Lucia said Rau made a great play on his unassisted goal. "He ate a puck," Lucia said, referring to Rau's block of a shot. And then Rau skated hard to get the puck and shot it. At the time, the Seawolves had pulled their goalie and had a six on four advantage.
"There's nobody more I'd want to have the puck on his stick at the red line than Kyle," Lucia said.
The Gophers, after having 16 more shots on net after the opening period, finished with a 31-27 edge.
"They [the Gophers] have a bit more quickness than teams we have faced so far," said UAA freshman Sam Mellor, who scored his team's lone goal. "It was a weak backhander. It trickled in luckily."
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