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.
Senior forward Jack Connolly of Minnesota Duluth is the WCHA's offensive player of the week. Connolly, a 5-8, 170-pound Duluth native, had two goals and two assists as the Bulldogs swept Alaska Anchorage 5-0 and 3-1 at Amsoil Arena.
Connolly has six goals and 11 assists for 17 points this season. He has a 10-game points streak for UMD, which is 6-0-2 in its last eight games since being swept by the Gophers.
Freshman Josh Archibald of Nebraska Omaha is the rookie of the week. The 5-10, 170-pound forward from Brainerd had one goal and one assist each game as the Mavericks tied Bemidji State 3-3 and then beat the Beavers 5-1. He has five goals and four assists in 12 games.
UMD goalie Ken Reiter, a senior from Pittsburgh, is the defensive player of the week for the second consecutive time. He stopped 27 shots on Friday in his third shutout on four games and had 33 saves on Saturday when his school-record scoreless streak ended at 166.45 minutes.
He is 6-0-2 with .a 1.23 goals-against average and a .955 save percentage in UMD's eight-game unbeaten streak.
No Gophers were nominated for these three awards this week.
Oh where are the Gophers going to find scorers? That was the concern before the season began.
Maybe their fans don't have to worry so much. Erik Haula, the Flying Finn, is off to a fantastic start. The sophomore center has five goals in three games -- and 19 shots. He had seven shots and two goals on Friday as the Gophers edged defending NCAA champion UMD 5-4 in overtime.
His second goal late in the third period tied the score 4-all.
Freshman Kyle Rau looks like he will score, too. He had two power play goals against the Bulldogs, so he has three in three games. Nice pace.
And the power play, which struggled against Sacred Heart looked better against the 'Dogs. It was three for six and had 19 shots, of course, one of those power plays was 5 minutes, 31 seconds long because of a five-minute major on UMD.
Kent Patterson, the Gophers goalie, perhaps summed it up best after Friday's win.
People are underestimating us. Maybe so but it's a long seson.
What can be disputed is the Gophers are playing some entertaining hockey. Can't wait for the Gophers-Bulldogs rematch on Saturday. I predicted a split. UMD will be fired up.
Will they reached 100 shots combined the second game?
If someone watched the Gophers and UMD all four games last season, it would be hard to imagine their hockey seasons ended so differently.
The U lost in the first round of the WCHA playoffs, the Bulldogs were NCAA champions. But against each other they were 1-1-2. The Gophers scored 11 goals, UMD 12.
So can the Gophers come in and take a few points at Amsoil Arena this weekend? Sure they can. Coach Don Lucia would probably be happy with a split.
Here are three keys for the Gophers:
1. Get off to a good start. Last season in the Gophers' first WCHA series, Nebraska Omaha came to Mariucci and blitzed them. UNO scored the first three or four goals each game in winning 5-4 and 4-2. The Gophers need to stay close or the sellout crowd will go crazy and energize the Bulldogs even more than they will be.
2. Give goalie Kent Patterson a chance. UMD will get its shots on net, but the defensmen have to clear the front of the net and let Patterson see the pucks. And not led UMD players set up near the net for rebounds. Patterson was sensational in three of the four games against UMD, holding the 'Dogs to two goals in each of them despite making 36 to 41 saves. The fourth game got out of hand. Mike Connolly scored five goals and UMD won 6-4. Connolly has moved on to pro hockey, but the 'Dogs have nine of the 12 forwards back who played in the NCAA title game. Enough said. ... P.S. Patterson had back-to-back shutouts against Sacred Heart last weekend, the first and second of his career.
3. Get the power play going. The Gophers were three for 14 on the man-advantage versus Sacred Heart. That's not good enough. A power-play goal or two could provide the separation goals that Lucia always talks about. The Gophers have some big bodies like Zach Budish, Seth Ambroz and Jake Hansen who can park themselves in front of the net for deflections and tips.
Gophers coach Don Lucia was on 1500ESPN, the new radio station for Gophers hockey this season, last Friday. And he dropped a little news the morning of his team's season opener against Sacred Heart.
He said he signed a three-year contract extension. His present contract goes through this season.
"I did my portion [Oct. 6]," Lucia said. "All it needs is a few signatures now."
Presumably two would be the names of AD Joel Maturi and U of M president Eric Kaler. It certainly seems strange in hindsight that Maturi, a couple days after the Gophers' season ended last March in the first round of the WCHA playoffs, came out publicly supporting Lucia and saying his hockey coach would be back.
That was like waving the proverbial red flag in front of a full. His remarks touched off a lot of unnecessary protests on blogs and twitter.
Why not let things calm down a bit? Especially if the signing process is going to drag out for seven months -- like it has -- after Maturi's vote of confidence.
"I am excited and I am appreciative," Lucia said. "I think they will see good results in the near future."
The Gophers have not advanced to the NCAA tournament the past three seasons. What makes that even more painful is that the U of M has hosted two regionals and, this past spring, the Frozen Four. One regional was at Mariucci Arena, the other regional and the Frozen Four at the Xcel Energy Center.
COMPETITION GETS TOUGHER
"It didn't matter who we played this past weekend," Lucia said on Wednesday at the team's weekly media day. "Now we are going to go on the road. We are going to play on a smaller sheet, so it is going to be a different ballgame."
The Gophers opened the season by sweeping Sacred Heart 9-0 and 6-0 at Mariucci Arena. This weekend they play at UMD, the defending NCAA champion.
"The last few years we had great games with UMD," Lucia said. "They all seem to be one-goal games [that] can go either way."
Here are the scores from 2010-11:
Dec. 10, Gophers 3, UMD 2
Dec. 12, Gophers 2, UMD 2, ot, tie
Feb. 4, Gophers 2, UMD 2, ot, tie
Feb. 5, UMD 6, Gophers 4
"Last year we were 1-1-2," Lucia said. "I thought we played pretty well at Amsoil [Arena] last year. But it is going to be a whole new experience for our kids. And we have a lot of young guys. We don't have a lot of juniors and seniors we can rely on when things get difficult. So we are going to have to keep throwing the young guys over the boards. They will get some experience and we will see how they react in a difficult environment."
Lucia said the Gophers will be a work in progress in a very good league.
"Look at Bemidji [State]," he said. "[They] went down to Miami, the preseason top team [and split]. UMD just split with Notre Dame, which is another top team. Our league is going to be very good. It doesn't matter who you play. You have to play well, you have to play smart to give yourself a chance. And that is what makes the league fun. It makes it fun for the players and the fans
"We also have to look at this weekend as our first round trip. We have to look at it as we are going to do some good things and we are going to do some things that aren't very good. That's the teaching part and that is the improvement we have to see. We are only in the second week of practice right now."
Lucia said UMD has nine of the 12 forwards back who played in the NCAA championship game last April as well as "three of their D, their goaltender.
"So they have a great nucleus of players they have won with and [who] know how to win. That will be a great challenge for us."
The Gophers have been practicing this week at Ridder Arena, which has a smaller ice sheet than Mariucci Arena and is similar to the rink at Amsoil.
The Wild and the Gophers both have hockey games scheduled at 7 p.m. Saturday and both will be televised.
The Wild game will be on FSN, the Gophers' game on alternate channels. Gophers Live Pregame at 6:30 p.m. will be on those same alternate channels. Here is the list:
Operator System Area Channel
Ace Communications MN, IA 126
Charter Communications MN 980
Comcast Twin Cities, MN 23 (MPLS), 13 (St. Paul)
DirecTV MN, ND, SD, IA 675
Dishnet MN, ND, SD, IA 447
Hiawatha Broadband Winona, MN 17 or 19
Hickory Tech Mankato, MN 1
Integra Telecom Prior Lake, MN 78 (SD), 747 (HD)
Midcontinent Communications MN, SD, ND 322, 224, or 421
Paul Bunyan Telephone Bemidji, Grand Rapids 60
Polar Communications ND 561 (SD), 761 (HD)
Windom Cable Comm. Windom, MN 69
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